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November 12, 2014

'Lord of the Rings' trilogy to screen with live orchestra in San Jose

Richard Scheinin, Mercury News
Oh, ye lovers of Frodo and Gandalf, pay attention to the awesome news from Middle Earth: In a cultural coup for the West Coast, the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy will be screened in its entirety in San Jose next April, with the original score performed live by Symphony Silicon Valley.

The film showings will be in HD on a giant screen, while the orchestra's 90 musicians and 160 choristers perform the music from the soundtrack in sync with the films.

"The logistics are huge. It's the biggest project we've ever done," said Andrew Bales, president of Symphony Silicon Valley, which will present two cycles of the trilogy at the Center for the Performing Arts, with separate screenings for each of the three films over a four-day period, April 16-19, on a 48-by-20-foot screen.

It will be the first American orchestra ever to present filmmaker Peter Jackson's entire trilogy in tight sequence. The project amounts to a marathon for the musicians, since composer Howard Shore's score runs to more than 10 hours in total.

Bales hopes that fans of the popular films -- and of the J.R.R. Tolkien novels on which they're based -- will snap up ticket packages, priced from $150 to $330, depending on seating, for each cycle of three films. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday at www.lotrssv.org.

"We think this is a good market for it to work," Bales said of the project. "The gaming community and the engineering community are here. It's an affluent community, very tech oriented. It's the right mix of people who will want to get in on this kind of phenomenon.

"Our musicians will be right there on stage, illuminated," he added. "You're going to see the spectacle of this music being presented."

Symphony Silicon Valley will lay out about $700,000 in salaries and other production costs to present the films but could gross $1.1 million in ticket sales -- and wipe out its $300,000 debt in a single swipe, if the 2,500-seat CPA sells out for each screening.

The San Jose presentation of the trilogy will follow similar screenings with live music April 8-12 in New York, where Switzerland's 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will accompany the films at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

Direct from New York to the South Bay -- Bales likes the sound of that. "San Jose doesn't take the lead over San Francisco very often," he said, "so it's nice to have one in our corner for a change."

The musicians of Symphony Silicon Valley, as well as the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale and Cantabile Youth Singers, will have their hands full. Shore's score runs 1,200 pages and will require 39 hours of rehearsal to master the 10-plus hours of music. That's almost as much music as the orchestra typically performs in its entire season. And the choristers will have a special challenge: mastering lyrics in the Elvish languages invented by Tolkien.

"We know how the movie's going to end, but will our musicians make it to the end, or will they drop from exhaustion?" joked Bunny Laden, an Apple software engineering manager who sits on the orchestra's board of trustees. She is a fan of the films, which have won 17 Academy Awards.

"I'm just kidding -- they'll do fine," she says. "But there's an element of real live people here. It's like going to a football game: How's it going to turn out?"

The idea of bringing "Lord of the Rings" to the South Bay dawned on Bales when he heard about plans for the New York performances.

With only a few mentions in the New York media, and little advertising, tickets were grabbed up: "We're 90 percent full, and we're six months out," said Gillian Friedman, booking agent for CAMI Music, which is producing "Lord of the Rings" at Lincoln Center. Symphony Silicon Valley is the San Jose producer.

The New York shows have been promoted on social media including Twitter, where fans participating in a Middle Earth-Halloween costume contest left comments like this: "Lord of the Rings Trilogy with live orchestra ohh myy #nerdingout #lotrinconcert."

Bales said Symphony Silicon Valley will do much of its marketing through social media and fan sites for the films.

Previously, the films have been presented just one or two at a time with live symphonic accompaniment at venues such as New York's Radio City Music Hall and Oakland's Oracle Arena, where the Swiss orchestra performed in 2011. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented and accompanied the entire trilogy at the outdoor Ravinia Festival near Chicago -- but it took four years to get around to all three films.

'Lord of the Rings' Trilogy Screenings
with score performed live
by Symphony Silicon Valley

Cycle one: 7 p.m. April 16, 17 and 18
Cycle two: 1 p.m. April 18 and 19, 6:30 p.m. April 19

Where: Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose
Ticket packages: Go on sale 10 a.m. Wednesday for all three films at $150, $240 and $330, depending on seating; 408-286-2600, extension 23; www.lotrssv.org
Single tickets: A sale date for single-screening tickets will be announced later.

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at
www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him at Twitter.com/richardscheinin.

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