REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert
Mar 17, 2017
Composers, Events, Fan Events, Films, Films - Soundtracks, Fun, Harry Potter and the Philosophers / Sorcerers Stone, HPPS/SS Film, Movies, Music, News, Review
Leaky finally had the chance to attend a performance of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert this past weekend at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
This first of it’s kind movie-concert event is advertised on the website as:
“A live symphony orchestra performing, to picture, every note from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Audiences will be able to relive the magic of the film in high-definition on a 40-foot screen while hearing the orchestra perform John Williams’ unforgettable score.”
Since it’s debut on June 23rd 2016 in Philadelphia, with only six symphonies originally scheduled to perform the show, the tour was grown exponentially. The concert series is now available not just in multiple US cities, but also in many countries worldwide, including most of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina. With the expansion of the show, the performances became much more easily accessible for fans and finally presented an opportunity for us here at Leaky to attend!
Justin Freer, Producer/Conductor of The Harry Potter Film Concert Series, says this about the event:
“The Harry Potter film series is one of those once-in-a-lifetime cultural phenomena that continues to delight millions of fans around the world. It is with great pleasure that we introduce for the first time ever an opportunity to experience the award-winning music scores played live by a symphony orchestra, all while the beloved film is simultaneously projected onto the big screen. It will be an unforgettable event.”
Brady Beaubien, Concert Producer for The Harry Potter Film Concert Series, adds:
“Harry Potter is synonymous with excitement around the entire world and we hope that by performing this incredible music with the full movie, audiences will enjoy returning to this world, and to the many wonderful characters and adventures that inhabit it.”
This particular concert was performed by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra which, after watching the performance, I can say with confidence is a group of exceptionally talented musicians.
Even with the many additional tour locations, this particular concert was still a 4 hour drive away, but it was definitely worth the trip! After spending all those hours in the car though I was anxious to finally get to the show. Even just walking towards the venue, witnessing fans of all ages decked out in their favorite Harry Potter gear approaching from all directions, my anticipation and excitement were already building.
Although this attire would traditionally be out of place for most symphonies, where formal dress is typically encouraged, it seemed fitting for this event since it had the more casual element of the film playing in the background. Plus, who could expect fans to attend a Harry Potter event and not put on their favorite themed t-shirts and house scarves?
As we entered the building there was a lot of chaos with all the people milling about waiting for the show to begin. We made sure to arrive fairly early which was lucky because it turned out there was more offered at the event than I had been anticipating.
I was surprised, but thrilled, to see that there was a merchandise table that was offering a pretty decent variety of items. The table had t-shirts, sweatshirts, house scarves, wands, books, concert programs and more for sale. I managed to resist the temptation of adding to my collection and talked myself out of buying something at least for the time being. However, I figured I would stop back later, either during intermission or after the show, knowing that would give me some time to ponder the options before deciding what to buy.
The next tempting surprise was at the refreshment tables where a variety of Harry Potter themed snacks and beverages were featured. I was delighted and impressed that they had all these additional themed goods for sale to make the event more immersive for fans. The menu featured butterbeer, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Acid Pops, candy wands and other Harry Potter themed treats. A few muggle food and beverage choices were offered as well. Since I had just eaten before the show, not anticipating the concessions, I was able to fight the desire to jump in line and pick up some snacks so instead we proceeded on to find our seats.
Although ideally I would’ve loved to sit just a little bit closer and more centralized, for the price, the seats were excellent. There was a clear view of the entire orchestra and the screen was so large that seat location in the theater did not affect viewing much at all. As we waited for the main event a series of clips played on the screen featuring scenes from the movie, as well as bits of interviews with various crew members. There was also a screen displaying that the orchestra would be performing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert on October 28th, of which I of course made mental note. It was a nice little preview of what was yet to come and was an appreciated touch as it was nice to have some entertainment while we were waiting.
Eventually the lights began to dim, the Harry Potter Concert Series logo appeared and everyone quieted down. The conductor then took to the stage to introduce himself and the musicians. He also lead with a short foreword about the performance and how it was unique from most typical symphony concerts in that audience participation was encouraged. He told the audience to clap at the their favorite parts, cheer to show house pride, and even boo when villains were on screen.
As soon as the Warner Bros. logo started to appear and the orchestra began playing Hedwig’s Theme, I could tell this was going to be a great performance. The orchestra played so flawlessly that if I could not see them in front of the screen, I would never have suspected that the music was not coming from the movie itself.
Since the first Harry Potter film is so iconic, even though I’ve seen it at least 20 times, watching it will always be enjoyable for me. The addition of the symphony playing the beautiful film score alongside the movie put enough of a twist on seeing this classic to make this experience unique. The orchestra did an amazing job capturing all the key moments of John Williams’ score down to the last chime.
During certain parts of the show, a particular element of the music would stand out and spark my curiosity as to what instrument was responsible for creating that specific sound, so I would start to scan through the orchestra to try and determine which musicians were playing. Oftentimes it was very difficult for me to find the source, because it would be a solo keyboard player or percussionist way in the back. Realizing this, I was amazed that a singular musician could be responsible for creating such a key part of the score. This was something that I had never thought about while watching the movie at home and it gave me a whole new perspective on how difficult it must be to compose a film score. It was intriguing to witness in person how all of the individual components from each instrument come together to create the music that seamlessly accompanies each scene.
The audience participation made the event reminiscent of watching one of the movies a midnight premiere. Everyone got very invested in the performance, clapping at all the iconic parts of not just the movie, but the musical score as well. People cheered when their house was awarded points, booed when Malfoy and his cronies took to the screen, and even stayed to clap through the credits at the appearance of their favorite actors’ names.
There was a short intermission during which I decided that I needed to try the butterbeer, and so naturally I ended up walking out of line with not just a frozen butterbeer float, but also a Chocolate Frog and a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. The butterbeer was remarkably tasty thankfully because it was $10 which is rather expensive for any beverage, but not unexpected as event prices tend to be inflated. It was a frozen cream soda flavored drink that reminded me closely of how it is served at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios. I barely managed to make it last into the beginning of the second act.
Another part of the performance that was exclusive to this event occurred when the big finale scene of the movie ended and the credits began to scroll. In a traditional movie-viewing experience the credits are usually the time that the audience begins to exit the theater. For this performance, however, the credits were one of the best parts. In a film score, the music accompanying the end credits is usually a composition of the music from the entire film highlighting key pieces from the most important songs. Although some attendees still got up to leave despite the orchestra still playing, most made it a point to stay through the end to give the musicians and conductor a proper standing ovation, that they most certainly deserved.
After the show I made it a point to stop by the merchandise table to pick up a program so I could read more about the film score and the performance. The program contains the traditional order of the song titles, broken down into two acts, as well as pages featuring key measures of some of the more popular songs accompanied by images from the scenes in which the song is heard, and many other images from the film. There is also a very interesting article inside about John Williams, his history, how he began work on the films and an incredible breakdown of the musical score itself. I was shocked to learn that Williams composed Hedwig’s Theme without seeing a single frame of the movie.
The program goes into extensive detail about how Williams developed certain “themes” and where in the movie they are used. A “family theme” is used for Hagrid’s Arrival as well as in Leaving Hogwarts, and a pomp and circumstance-style “Gryffindor theme” is used during the sorting, in Diagon Alley, and for most of the Quidditch scenes. He created a “mystery theme” for use in Gringott’s, when the trio first discover Fluffy, often when Snape or Nicholas Flamel are discussed, and most notably at the reveal that Quirrell has been the antagonist all along. There is also a recurring “magic theme” and “conflict theme.”
It’s enlightening to read about how Williams used music to create suspense and cast doubt and mystery onto certain characters or scenes and how he reuses these themes throughout the story to tie together certain broad sweeping concepts. Reading the program note from Williams himself it is clear that he was very honored to be chosen for the project.
Below is a brief preview of the program highlighting some of the more visually appealing pages, but the real magic lies in the wordier pages of the program. Within the article you can read about how Williams compiled the sounds of individual instruments into the memorable songs that we’ve all grown to love. It delves into how the specific sounds of each of those songs are used to convey a certain mood and into how he used the similarities in the feelings created by those sounds to connect certain plot points and to instill ideas into the viewers mind all with the power of music. If you want to fully appreciate how Williams created the music that brings the scenes to life before you when you watch the movie you will have to get your hands on a program of your own. If you’re planning to attend the event, I highly encourage you to buy and read the program in advance so you can watch the movie and try and hear the themes as they’re played. I’d love the opportunity to see it again now that I’ve learned so much more about the details of the film score.
I left the show thoroughly impressed and grateful that I had the opportunity to finally attend this spectacular performance. I hope, in the future, I’ll have the opportunity to attend another performance for at least a few of the other films. I highly recommend checking out a the event for yourself, especially if you are both a Harry Potter fan and interested in music. You can catch the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s encore performance of the show on March 31st and April 1st at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
To see other Harry Potter Concert Series tour dates and locations and to buy tickets for a show you can visit the website here. If you are not yet convinced that you need to see this performance for yourself, these promo videos from the website will surely do the trick.