However, occasionally, when the sidekick gets its chance to shine, he can either fall flat or in some cases, outshine the hero. In the case of Metropolitan Festival Orchestra (MFO), its live performance of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’s soundtrack and score quite simply blew the film out of the window—no mean feat considering director Peter Jackson’s vivid imagery of Middle Earth, filmed in New Zealand’s lushly beautiful landscapes.

Conducted by Justin Freer, who has written advertising music for films such as James Cameron’s Avatar and Aliens and who is also conducting orchestras playing the Fellowship of the Rings score in Vienna, Dublin, Hong Kong, Lucerne, Adelaide and Brisbane, MFO brought the Howard Shore’s Academy and Grammy award winning score to a live audience, making it so clear how intricately the film and the music are melded together. This performance also marks MFO’s first show. They wanted to kick off their debut season with a huge bang, and they certainly did, as it doesn’t get any bigger and grander than the Lord of the Rings’ epic score.

The orchestra opened the 3.5 hour-long show even before anything came on the screen. The iconic uplifting themes of Shore’s score filled five thousand-seater Star Theatre in the Star Vista at Buona Vista before diving straight into the film with a quick, sudden change of pace as the film starts off with narration of the history of the One Ring by Galadriel.

The movie itself features a huge range of emotions and the score does remarkably well in delivering these to the audience, more so with a live orchestra. While this is pertinent throughout the film, it’s most prominent when the 9 who make up the Fellowship of the Ring go through the Mines of Moria.

The score changes from the impeding doom and gloom, almost creepy, bass notes when fighting Orcs and the Balrog, to the inspirational celebratory themes when Frodo and Aragon manage to jump a huge gap when escaping Orcs, to the depressing sadness and spacey tones when Gandalf the Grey gets dragged into the shadow by the Balrog’s whip, all within 10 minutes.

Save for a couple of mistakes from the brass section, the orchestra was practically flawless in delivering the score to the audience, with impeccable timing even in the start/stop nature of a movie score, with parts requiring totally silence. Shore’s elaborate score also features unusual instruments such as the dulcimer, musette and mandolin to further bring Jackson’s visual masterpiece to life. These instruments bring something more intimate to the score, instead of a usual bombastic orchestra.

The film was screened concurrently on a screen, that spreads the length of the whole orchestra, behind the orchestra and because of the spotlights on 250 musicians and vocalists on stage, the screen paled in comparison, making the viewing experience slightly disappointing for those hoping to see Jackson’s highly acclaimed film on the big screen again. But of course, the spotlights were in the right place; the star of the show was the score of film during the performance.

With 3 performances, the show also features the voices of soloists, Kaitlyn Lusk and Singaporean Samuel Yuen, with the latter only aged 10. While they do have some vocal solo parts during the film, their singing could be more clearly identified during the credits, as their singing during the film was almost drowned out by the chorus.

Lusk performance of Enya’s “May It Be” was immaculate and pristine. The amazing control this Pennsylvanian has on her voice even at high pitches was an aural treat. This should, however, come as no surprise; Kaitlyn has clinched the role of featured vocalist and been in Shore’s Lord of the Rings Symphony for over 25 orchestras in both the United States and Canada. Her voice manages to bring the range of emotions – from the melancholy to optimistic – the songs required and her performance on the night was superb.

Performing beside Lusk, local boy soprano Samuel Yuen, chosen because of MFO’s ethos of giving Singaporean musicians a chance on the big stage and that Howard Shore’s score features a boy soprano soloist on “The Breaking of the Fellowship”, gave an admirable performance despite being visibly nervous, and this showed in his singing, as he was pitchy at parts. Considering his age and lack of experience (his only other big scale performance came at this year’s Chingay) however, Yuen’s performance deserves commendation.

The MFO, itself comprised of local professional musicians, should also be praised for using Singaporean talent, and having as one of their aims the plan to showcase Singaporean talent in world-class productions.

As the 250-member MFO brought the incredibly rich and elaborate score to a close, they received rousing applause and a standing ovation from the appreciative audience who are mostly fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, many of whom were possibly re-watching the first film in the trilogy for the first time in over a decade. There were some younger ones in the audience that couldn’t possibly have watched the Trilogy on the big screen when it first came it out in 2001.

Even if you happen to be in the minority of those who are not fans of the LOTR movies, the way the music accompanies the film in parts such as when the Fellowship going through the Mines of Moria and when they were in the forest of Lothlorien, makes for a moving experience that will keep you glued to your seats despite the very long performance time.

Judging from the audience response, they’re all hoping the MFO can reprise their performance with the music of the next 2 films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well.


Photos courtesy of MFO.