Imagine watching your favourite movie or any movie for that matter, without any music.To be honest, I can’t. Movies and music have always naturally intertwined. Whether the film is action-packed or a tear-jerker drama, the right song at the right moment will never fail to elevate the scene.
I remember watching the first Harry Potter instalment Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone when it was released way back in 2001. I got goosebumps when the tinkling sound of the celeste (an instrument which looks similar to an upright piano) in the beginning of the movie came on. Hedwig’s Theme was the title of the score and it was composed by Oscar-winning composer John Williams who has composed some of the most popular and recognisable film scores in cinematic history such as Superman, Star Wars, E.T, Jaws and all four of the Indiana Jones movies.
“People who know the book and the film will know that Hedwig is that wonderful, beautiful white owl. So Hedwig needed some music that was gossamer, light, and so I thought celeste,” Williams said in an interview on his first Harry Potter journey many years ago.
He went on to explain how a few quick notes played on the celeste gave out a beautiful little blurry sound, not unlike a floating bird feather. To my amazement, I learnt that Williams composed Hedwig’s Theme without even seeing the movie first-hand. He’s truly a (musical) wizard!
I got the opportunity to relive the magic of Harry Potter recently at the Plenary Hall KLCC in Kuala Lumpur in the best way possible — through a live symphony orchestra. Brought here by Creon Asia, the idea was first conceived by CineConcerts which has in the past engaged millions of people worldwide in concert presentations that redefined the evolution of live experience. As advertised on the CineConcerts website: “Audiences will be able to relive the magic of the films in high-definition on a 40-foot (12-metre) screen while hearing the orchestra perform every unforgettable score live to picture.”
Walking towards the venue, my anticipation and excitement are building. A huge poster of the concert catches my attention first as I reach the top of the escalator at Level 1 of the convention centre. A group of people are decked out in their favourite Harry Potter gear — some wearing the scarfs of their favourite Hogwarts House and some even in full costume, complete with robe and wand!
I am a bit disappointed that there isn’t any Harry Potter concessionaire, except for the MPH book stall near the entrance, luring fans and visitors to its various editions of Harry Potter books. How cool would it be if there was a concessionaire selling Harry Potter-themed snacks and beverages such as Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans where the flavours of candy can range from cringe-worthy (vomit-flavoured) to the sublime and of course, the deliciously popular (amongst Hogwarts students, that is) Butterbeer. That will definitely add depth to the magical performance later. Unfortunately, there are only muggle food and drinks for visitors to purchase. In the Harry Potter book series, a Muggle is a person who lacks any sort of magical ability and not born in a magical family.
The crowd grows bigger by the minute and as soon as the door opened at 7pm, I make a dash towards Door 6. The usher shows me my seat which is on the left side of the stage. Although ideally, I would’ve loved to be seated at the centre, the seat is excellent nevertheless. There is a clear view of the orchestra and the screen is large enough that the seat location in the theatre doesn’t affect viewing at all.
As I wait for the main event, the screen projects clips of the music-making process for the movie which includes an interview of music maestro Williams himself. While this is going on, the ensemble from the Malaysia National Symphony Orchestra — 85 of them — take their seats onstage and began preparing their instruments.
LET THE MAGIC BEGIN!
It is 8pm and the lights begin to dim. A spotlight focuses on the conductor as he saunters to his platform and introduces himself as John Beal.“This is no ordinary concert,” he announces. “We want you to let loose!”
The iconic Warner Bros logo then appears on screen and the orchestra begins playing Hedwig’s Theme.The attention-grabbing celeste solo for this score gives me the same goosebumps I felt sixteen years ago when I first encountered the world of Harry Potter on screen.
The flawless rendition by the orchestra together with the film melds into one amazing surreal experience.The music flows in tandem with the scenes and sounds like it’s emanating from the movie itself. The notes flow effortlessly in legato and the orchestra does an amazing job capturing all the key moments of the movie until the last chime. The lively and exhilarating music accompanying the Quidditch match and the ominous sounding Voldermort’s Theme has me at the edge of my seat.
There are clearly Harry Potter fans in the hall tonight. Lots of people have nostalgic memories of the first instalment of the Harry Potter series and they take Beal’s encouragement “to let loose” to heart. The audience clap and cheer when their favourite characters come on, and I find myself anticipating and then applauding all my favourite characters and classic Potter dialogue.
Normally, audience would leave a movie as soon as the end credits come on, but it is not the case for this one. The end credits are actually one of the best moments of the show as the audience is captivated by the soothing music from Harry’s Wondrous World in its entirety, beginning with the familiar notes of Hedwig’s Theme and then moving into a tender, hopeful theme that soon transitions to one that is triumphant. As soon as the music stops at the flick of the wand (or rather, baton) from the concert master, the hall erupts with joy and the audience is up on its feet to give the ensemble the standing ovation they deserve.
It’s really a wonderful way to dive once again into the world of Harry Potter. Muggles and wizards alike in Malaysia can rest assured that this is only the beginning. CineConcerts will be presenting more live orchestration shows for the rest of the Harry Potter series, so get your wand ready and brace yourself for magic and music to collide once again in a spectacular, Hogwarts-worthy fashion!
MEET THE WIZARD
Veteran film composer and conductor John Beal has been honoured with numerous industry awards including two Key Art awards, two Golden Trailer awards, two trailer awards from Hollywood.com, a Golden Score Award, International Film Music Critics Association Award, two Readers’ Choice awards, Moviescore Online awards and won recognition for his contribution to two Emmy awards in Music Direction and Composition. The Californian-born maestro has composed music for 45 theatrical features, television films and documentaries, 26 major network television series or specials, and was music director/music consultant for over 20 major network specials!
Tell me about your journey of becoming a conductor. What set you on the conducting path and later on in joining CineConcerts?
I was one of those children pretending I was a conductor as my father played wonderful music of history’s greatest composers. I’ve been conducting for television and movies my entire adult life and with some of the greatest studio musicians as well as concerts around the world. I love film, I love film music and I love our great musicians. For me, conducting these terrific orchestras is the absolute best part of my career.
How would you say your creative process has evolved throughout your career? Has it changed for you throughout the years?
My very early work was pencil and paper and a hand calculator to figure exact timings with the film.Today we have computers that do so much of that work and terrific orchestral samples to help a producer or director hear a demonstration mock-up of the score that will be recorded. There’s a danger though of trying to emulate the music on film in the final product. Nothing breathes like a real orchestra and the emotions that live players can trigger are unattainable any other way than with real musicians.
What have been some of the most notable experiences since you’ve taken Harry Potter on the road? And do you notice a different response in the various cities you go to?
I have been pleasantly surprised — sometimes astonished — at the incredible audience involvement and response to these concerts.They cheer, they laugh, they boo — everyone has a wonderful and engaging experience.
What are the challenges of conducting a whole soundtrack live and in time with the movie playing?
Staying in perfect synchronisation is quite challenging for the conductor and the orchestra. The wonderful technical team of CineConcerts has created visual references best described as streamers and punches for me to watch on a small screen at the podium. This keeps everything synchronised.
Hedwig’s Theme is the signature piece to the Harry Potter movies and instantly recognisable as the music that will take you to the world of J.K. Rowling. Do you have a favourite from Philosopher’s Stone that has that magical feel?
The entire piece of Harry’s Wondrous World which is played in its entirety in the end credits of the movie just soars so wonderfully. It is a joy to perform with the orchestra.
Which Harry Potter character is your favourite?
Rubeus Hagrid. I love this actor, and he has completely transformed himself into the amazing and quite amusing half-giant, half-human Keeper of Keys and Grounds who cares for magical creatures. And the audience always responds to the wonderful things he says.
If there’s a sorting hat on you right now, which Hogwart’s house would you want the hat to put you in?
I have already been assigned a house and it is Hufflepuff. I often wear my house tie at concerts!