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SCRUTINY | Toronto Goes Hufflepuff Over Harry Potter With Live Symphony Orchestra

By Brian Chang on October 13, 2017

(Photo: Brian Chang)
(Photo: Brian Chang)

The Sony Centre and Attila Glatz Concert Productions co-presented Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets featuring the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Produced by CineConcerts and conducted by Joshua Gerson. October 12-14, 2017 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

“I’m a big Harry Potter Fan”, shares Noa, fully dressed in Slytherin robes, ready to go (Snape would approve). Her enthusiasm for the world of wizardry beams off her. That was me, 15 years ago when the movie came out, albeit a Hufflepuff. I’m still a huge fan, and Noa and I are in good company with the thousands showing up for these live concert performances.

Midsummer, the Sony Centre and Attila Glatz Concert Productions added an additional performance to the already announced two show presentation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Live Concert. There is an incredible appetite for Harry Potter in this city, and these concerts present astonishing numbers. At a capacity of 3100, over 9000 witches and wizards will have experienced the second Harry Potter film presented in live concert by the musicians of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Another Hogwarts student catches my eye, Sacha, decked out in Gryffindor gear and Harry glasses. “I definitely love the music, it’s one of the reasons I chose to come,” she tells me. “The range of emotions, Harry coming into his own, he’s had a year behind him. It’s being excited about being in school and learning new things and friendship…” A normal patron of the TSO, Sacha relishes the chance to hear and see the TSO in action with more contemporary music.

Notably, the producers of this concert chose not to hire to a choir, or they reworked the orchestration to work without one. Some parts were noticeably absent in the voices like the opening titles, the flying car arriving at the castle, and the battle with the basilisk. The city doesn’t lack for any number of capable choirs or ad hoc voices that can be brought together on short notice. The TSO, which excels at sight reading, is more than capable of the intense demands of a difficult score. The fact that the entire film concert is a seamless event is because of the skill and discipline of the orchestra. Unfortunately, issues of cost and profitability continue to plague authentic musical productions, even ones as lucrative as Harry Potter.

The theme of friendship dominates this particular film. Into their second year of school, Hermione, Ron, and Harry are a known trio and are inseparable. Even when Hermione is petrified, her smarts and preparation are enough to keep her two less-capable friends right on track. Williams uses a strong motif in the strings that appears throughout this film. If nowhere else, you’ll recognize the theme because the ending of the first two films finishes with it. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it plays as Harry and Hagrid say goodbye on the Hogsmead train platform, and again the theme plays in Chamber of Secrets as Hagrid is welcomed with cheers and the film ends. The very first time that we ever hear this theme is when Harry first enters Diagon Alley in the first film. It is a warm, inviting sonic reminder of the best moments of Harry’s life – his friends and family.

Prior the show Deirdre Kelly, a Globe and Mail Arts journalist was joined by TSO Harp player Heidi Van Hoeson Gorton in a Pre-Concert Talk. Gorton notes Williams as one of her favorite composers specifically noting his “knack for orchestrating, matching instruments together, weaving together themes, and making his music one with the plot”. She prepared a slide deck of characters with relevant instrumental themes like the “slow, ominous, scary” sound of the Malfoys; the “quirky and sinister” notation marked in the scores for the Dursleys; the Bass Clarinet, pizzicato, and glissandos for Gilderoy Lockhart. Much of what makes the Williams scores so successful is because they pair with the action of the movies so well.

Justin Freer, the producer of the Harry Potter Film Concert Series, and normally its principal conductor, was not able to conduct these concerts “due to unforeseen circumstances due to scheduling conflicts” according to the Sony Centre. Joshua Gerson, assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic stepped in to cover the Toronto performances.

The fast-paced action of the Qudditch scene is breathtaking on so many levels. The action of the spot, the danger of the rogue bludger, and the epic match-up of arch-rivals Draco and Harry is matched by the furious playing in the orchestra. In the pre-show, Gorton notes that this particular section is exhausting. I couldn’t help staring at the orchestra through this whole section, even in spite of the action on screen. Watching Gerson conduct, furiously gesturing at speeds 160 bpm or faster including meter changes in three, four, and five beats per bar — the orchestra, strings especially, furiously battled their way through the rhythms and notes. The programme notes describe this as “pure, propulsive action material”; all well-suited to the energy on screen. Williams excels at these “action scherzos” which you can find in his Star Wars: the Force Awakens (Scherzo for X-Wings), Jurassic Park (Hungry Raptors) Home Alone (Making the plane), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra) soundtracks. It is through sections like this that the hard work of the TSO shines through.

With only two of the eight films down. We’ve got a couple solid years of great Harry Potter music ahead of us thanks to the Sony Centre. For kids like Noa and former kids like me, it’s a chance to relive Harry Potter over and over again, and find more to love each time.

Additional information cited from the Promotional Program  “From J.K. Rowling’s Wizard World: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert Produced by CineConcerts

Catch our review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone here.

[Correction (Oct. 13, 2017): We regret that a previous version misspelt the names of Deirdre Kelly and Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton.]

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