When conductor Markus Huber saw Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies, he had no idea how big a part the score would play in his life.
"I remember seeing the movies in my homeland Germany, and my first impression of the music was that it seemed to be highly sensitive and psychological, especially the aggression in the battle scenes," Huber said by phone from a hotel in Detroit, Mich. "I never thought that I would be conducting a symphony from these movies. But doing so has made a dream come true.
"Here I am, a conductor from Germany conducting symphonies in the United States. All German conductors dream of conducting a symphony in the United States. And this symphony has allowed me to be here."
Huber will be at the helm next weekend as the Utah Symphony takes the audience to the land of Middle Earth for the "Lord of the Rings" symphony. Huber was called a few weeks ago to fill in for "Lord of the Rings" composer Howard Shore, who was originally scheduled to conduct.
Shore ran into some scheduling conflicts due to his commitments to writing the score for Martin Scorsese's upcoming film "The Aviator." However, Huber is no stranger to the "Lord of the Rings" symphony. It was he, along with Shore and fellow conductor John Mauceri, who put the work together.
"Howard had more than 13 hours of music written for the movies," said Huber. "The difficulty was cutting it down to 2 1/2 hours. So, according to the information we had, Howard had the idea of following author (J.R.R.) Tolkien's idea."
That idea, said Huber, was to follow the "Lord of the Rings" book format. Although the story was released as three novels — "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" — it was originally written as one epic novel. The novel is divided into six books, two each under these titles. "So, Howard created six parts for the shorter symphony. And they follow the story. In a sense, you can say that Tolkien also had a hand in making the symphony."
Huber said this symphony, as with the full score, was an overwhelming project. And he was a little worried about conducting. "The symphony score we play has more than 600 pages of music. That is quite a volume of music. That isn't very common.
"But when I was asked to conduct this in Chicago, I talked with Howard, and he said to look at the symphony like it's an opera. And that helped me understand it more. Because I used to conduct for the (Gera Opera, and the Esienacha, Chemnitz and Detmold) Opera Houses.
"That advice made sense to me," Huber said. "The music Howard wrote is like Wagner, Richard Strauss and Giuseppe Verdi. It is operatic."
Although Huber rehearsed and felt prepared to conduct the symphony, he was surprised when he looked into the audience. "We had children and older people in their late 50s dressed up in 'Lord of the Rings' costumes. They were wearing bare feet and elvish ears. It was very enjoyable to see them. The audiences of this particular symphony know the music. It is unbelievable how much they know this music, and I take it very seriously."
The Utah Symphony is encouraging concertgoers to dress up not only in "Lord of the Rings" attire, but in Halloween costumes as well.
Soloist Susan Egan said that to see the enthusiasm in the audience is encouraging. "In this time, where the arts are struggling, it seems that the live symphonies are bringing in bigger audiences," Egan said by phone from Los Angeles. "To see younger people come and experience the live symphony performance opens doors for them to come back to a different performance."
Egan, who is known for her work on Broadway's "Beauty and the Beast" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie," will be singing the Grammy Award-winning number "Into the West," originally performed by Annie Lennox. Egan will also be singing throughout the performance, taking on Enya's "May It Be" and the dramatic vocal crescendos made famous by award-winning soprano Renee Flemming.
"I don't feel a lot of pressure when I'm singing those works," said Egan. "I'm trained classically, but my forte is Broadway. So I approach the songs from an acting point of view. I'm used to singing songs other people have sung. So that makes it easier for me."
If you go. . .
What: "Lord of the Rings Symphony," Utah Symphony
Where: Abravanel Hall
When: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.
How much: $27-$45
Phone: 355-2787 or 1-800-451-2787
Also. . .
What: Auction and dinner (preceding Friday's concert)
Where: Bambara Restaurant
When: Friday, 5:30 p.m.
How much: $75 (includes concert; tax deductible with $20 going to Jackson Elementary School music fund)