Thanks to you and to Ryan for posting the note about this concert. I live about a mile from Irvine Auditorium, but had never been inside before. When I saw the post, I couldn't resist. I don't know if you are interested in a review, but I wanted an excuse to put my thoughts on paper, so here they are.
The performance was really enjoyable. The first half was chamber music, including a beautiful renaissance piece for the brass by Gabrieli. I enjoyed several of the selections, especially the brass and the percussion. By intermission the house was about 2/3 full. The second half was the de Meij, along with a narration that was composed by a Penn student in 1995. I had never heard the symphony before, but it was a very nice piece. The performance was (to my inexperienced ears) quite expressive and well executed. I have a couple of bones to pick with the narration however.
The Moria and Lothlorien movements were switched from the usual order (/Gandalf, //Lothlorien, //Gollum, //Moria, //Hobbits/) so that the narration could follow the storyline of the book. This was (IMHO) a mistake musically, since it grouped the two more dramatic movements (/Gandalf/ and /Moria/) at the beginning and the quiet movements (/Lothlorien/ and /Hobbits/) at the end, which makes the second half seem like a letdown. It also focuses much too narrowly on a small part of the narrative. The first, third, and fifth movements are character sketches, which evoke scenes from throughout the story. Thus we have both Gandalf the Grey at Weathertop and Gandalf the White at Helms Deep, Isengard, and Pellenor. /Gollum /portrays Smeagol killing and stealing, Riddles in the Dark, as well as Ithilien and Cirith Ungol. That gives us important scenes from all three books, and a sweeping focus that could not be captured by 5 movements in a strict chronological order.
Thus the climactic /Moria /movement, if performed fourth, would also bring to mind scenes from Mordor and the finale triumph and escape from Mt Doom.
Unfortuately, the narration, with its revised ordering and linear story line, focused only Gandalf the Grey, Moria, and Gollum's pursuit of the company from Moria to Lothlorien. Thus it distracted the listener from the grand sweep of the music as it depicted scenes from throughout the story. It also conflicted directly with the music at a few points, especially in the Gollum movement (here the text was not drawn from Tolkien and frankly mischaracterized Gollum). And it made it seem that the piece skipped everything between Lothlorien and the return to the Shire/Grey Havens (with a brief explanation by the narrator) which brought to mind the abrupt end of the Bakshi movie.
In general I thought the narration was a good idea, and it could have been great if it were better executed. Where it was drawn from the original text (especially in the Moria movement) it really helped the listener to connect with the story. However, through much of Gollum the narration was wholly invented and agreed with neither Tolkien nor de Meij, and it really pulled me away from the music. In the Hobbits and Gandalf movements, the text worked with the music to paint images of the characters, and I think this could have been even better with less emphasis on the storyline and more on the variety of images from throughout the story. Also, changing the order of the movements from the composers original intent is rarely a good idea. I would love to hear the George Takei narration sometime. Overall, it was a great showing by the Penn Wind Ensemble, and a treat for this Tolkien fan.