To Battle! Ludwig Wicki conducts The Lord of the Rings

The following appeared in the Munich newspapers last week, relative to a showing of the second film in the LOTR series, "The Two Towers."

After conducting The Two Towers, Ludwig Wicki feels as if he had fought in the battle of Helm’s Deep. Winded, exhausted. But happy, for he is victorious. It’s an almost Herculean exertion to perform The Lord of the Rings live: the movie is shown on a huge screen, but without the music, which is played by Wicki live and in color – along with about 80 members of the Munich Symphony Orchestra and 170 singers of the University Choir of Munich

If you think, this has something to do with opera, you’re wrong. After all, Wicki has to deal with a merciless time corset: The music has to match the movie exactly - preferably to the centisecond. The consequence: minimal freedom, maximal concentration.

The trick: Wicki has not just the score in front of him but a laptop as well. There he sees the movie – and more: This is everything he needs and what’s confusing the rest of us: colored stripes that move from the left side of the screen to the right, white flashing punches and figures. To quote the movie: One screen to rule them all.

There are almost no breathing pauses for the orchestra and the conductor (the choir has a bit less to do): the movie runs for about three hours, the music for about 2 hours and 40 minutes. “That means, you can barely relax. You’re permanently under high tension.” conductor Wicki illustrates. Of course, even if there’s no music you have to pay attention, otherwise you’d miss your cue.

Incidentally, Wicki even flew to NY to program the conducting aid and adjusted the Auricle to meet his wishes. “I’ve tidied it up, so I can focus on the essentials.”

The rehearsals were “uncompromising” Wicki says smilingly. On one day from 10am to 5pm and on an other from 10am to 5.45pm. Still, if you attend a rehearsal, you can sense it: Wicki’s cheerful, democratic nature appeals to choir and orchestra. “Fortunately, the times of the old, autocratic conductor’s stand stars are over.” Wicki says.

The Lord of the Rings is pretty much the most difficult piece of its kind – more difficult than conducting one of Chaplin’s silent movies, for instance. Wicki explains the difference: “Modern Times, City Lights – they have more consistent musical arcs, coherence. But this [LotR] is all about rhythm changes and tempo changes. For three hours.”

What makes this production really expensive is the backup: The movie is shown on the big screen and on Wicki’s laptop – to ensure maximum security in case one system fails. It would be fatal indeed if the music would stop right in the middle of the battle of Helm’s Deep, wouldn’t it? So: To battle!

Ludwig Wicki was born 1960 in the Canton of Lucerne and is a very versatile musician: He was a trombonist in the Lucerne Symphonic Orchestra in the ‘80s, directs a choir, and is a lecturer and musical director of the Hof Church in Lucerne. Ten years ago he founded his 21st Century Symphony Orchestra, which is specializing in film music. Last year he conducted the world premiere of The Fellowship of the Ring in Lucerne, the first part of the Rings saga, – and the following performance in Munich.