Music preview: Composer Howard Shore unveils ‘Hobbit’ piece with PSO

By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This piece originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette June 21, 2016:

Howard Shore’s journey to Heinz Hall and back again began in 2005, when a tour landed the composer in front of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to conduct his “The Lord of the Rings Symphony.” This weekend, Pittsburgh will be the start of the journey for “The Hobbit for Symphony Orchestra,” a world premiere 30-minute piece in four movements, culled from the three “Hobbit” films.

‘The Film Music of Howard Shore’
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.

With: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $24-$84; or 412-392-4900.

If the composer’s name sounds familiar, it may be because you pay attention to movie credits. “Music by Howard Shore” has appeared in nearly 80 films, earning three Oscars and four Grammys. He has composed music for best pictures “The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Departed,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Spotlight” and is a frequent collaborator of directing titans David Cronenberg, Martin Scorsese and Peter Jackson.

His long career in movies, which began with “Drop Dead, Dearest” in 1978, got a jump-start in his native Canada, where a group of pals created summer shows in northern Ontario. Among the pack was Lorne Michaels.

“We did comedy and sketches, we played music,” recalled Mr. Shore, 69. “There was a group of us who became writers, actors, directors — I did a little of each of those things — and I continued with music, and Lorne continued with television, and we came together in 1975 with another group of writers and performers and created ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”

Mr. Shore was “Saturday Night Live” music director from 1975-86. Among his contributions, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd became The Blues Brothers at his suggestion, after they appeared in a 1976 sketch with “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band.”

The program in Pittsburgh is titled “The Film Music of Howard Shore,” for which he will be a guest speaker, with Ludwig Wicki conducting. The first part is dedicated to “The Hobbit,” and the second concludes with selections from “The Lord of the Rings” films. The program also samples his scores for psychological thrillers such as “Dead Ringers” and films with a lighter touch, such as “Ed Wood,” about the filmmaker critics dubbed “the world’s worst director.”

The theme for Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” featured the theremin, whose signature high-pitched sound signaled “spooky” in science fiction movies such as “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Lydia Kavina, whose great-uncle Leon Theremin invented the electronic instrument, will be a soloist this weekend with the PSO.

“It’s very special to have her there,” Mr. Shore said. “She’s going to play the piece from ‘Ed Wood’ that was written for her.”

Other collaborators have included Tom Hanks (“That Thing You Do!”) and Kevin Smith (the Pittsburgh-filmed “Dogma”). With Martin Scorsese, Mr. Shore has scored “The Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and “Hugo.”

“He’s a fantastic director, one of the best in the world, and he has fantastic ears and a great collection of music,” Mr. Shore said. “And he’s a lot of fun to work with — I think it’s a mutual love of filmmaking and music. I love working with Thelma Schoonmaker, the great editor who Marty works with. When I’m working with them, it’s a great collaborative spirit.”

The most recent film scored by Mr. Shore was the Oscar-winning “Spotlight,” about real-life journalists uncovering a church sex scandal.

“That score is very thematic,” he said. “We discussed ideas about legacy journalism, investigative reporting. I wrote pieces based on those ideas and wove them into the story in a way that made it feel thriller-like, because they were hunting a story, trying to track down the truth. So it had that kind of anticipatory atmosphere to it.”

For his weekend with the PSO, Mr. Shore’s priority was to create a night’s entertainment for lovers of music and movies.

“Film music is very much an emotional language and becomes part of the experience of what you feel when you are watching the film,” the composer said. “And when you hear the music played by a great orchestra like the Pittsburgh Symphony, I think it will evoke all of those feelings, and you’ll be swept back into that world in a very nice way.”

Sharon Eberson: or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.