Music

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert – Event Review

Score composed by John Williams
Performed by the English Chamber Choir and the BBC Concert Orchestra
Conducted by Justin Freer

There can be very few people who would not recognise ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from the Harry Potter films, composed by John Williams and now synonymous with the wider wizarding world of JK Rowling. But hearing a live orchestra play the theme while the opening credits of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets appear on a 40-foot screen in the Royal Albert Hall is a spine-tingling experience that should not be missed by any Potter fan.

The Chamber of Secrets, the second offering in the eight-film series, was first released in 2002 and watching it now years after the all the films have been released and the story of Harry Potter has been played out, is a unique experience. There is the nostalgia of seeing the young Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, who teeter on the cusp of adolescence but are still childlike enough to be very cute.

While the film is a visual treat, especially in the spectacular surroundings of the vast Royal Albert Hall, John Williams’ score is a delight to listen to. The various tracks, whether it be ‘Fawkes, the Phoenix’s’ theme or ‘The Flying Car’ are filled with mischief, mayhem and are whimsically magical. Williams deftly balances the score between comforting romantic melodies that invoke a world of epic fantasy and the darker more adult themes of the film, such as the track ‘Meeting Tom Riddle,’ which builds slowly as hollow sounding flutes announce the arrival of the young Voldermort. Williams uses the entire orchestra in his composing, not one instrument is wasted in musically fleshing out the world of Harry Potter and anyone listening cannot fail to be impressed.

The experience of seeing a live orchestra play the soundtrack simultaneously as the film is being shown is both a fun and confusing experience. For some cinema goers this will be the first time they see what goes in to making a soundtrack, how many musicians are involved, the different instruments used and the timing of the music in relation to the action on-screen.

For this performance the BBC Concert Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir directed by Justin Freer were performing for a lengthy period and this poses all sorts of questions not normally asked during a classical concert, such as, how are the musicians not distracted by the action taking place on-screen? How does the choir warm up their voices when suddenly being required to promptly stand up and sing at the correct moment during the film? Either way, playing along live to a long film must be exhausting and both the BBC Concert Orchestra and English Chamber Choir performed so well they received a standing ovation at the end of the night.

Watching the film while the orchestra furiously played away beneath the screen was at times also confusing. You can be torn between paying attention to the orchestra and watching the film. A good movie score is meant to add to the film, to blend in with the action, to give you emotional pointers during the plot. In this case Williams’ music never distracts from the story. The choir singing when Harry opens the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was an especially magical moment of blending of the music and action.

Perhaps one of the most delightful aspects of viewing a film like this is the audience and their reactions to the characters. Conductor Justin Freer in his introduction to the evening encouraged everyone to cheer for their Hogwarts’ house and greet their favourite characters when they appeared on-screen. This led to some heart-warming cheers for the late Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, some boos at the nasty Lucius Malfoy, but perhaps the biggest cheers and applause of the evening came when Dobby the House Elf was set free from slavery.

After such a wonderful evening of music and film when the audience filed out of the Royal Albert Hall, more than a few people could be heard happily humming ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ as they headed out into the dark London streets.

Have you experienced watching a movie with a live concert orchestra? Were you at this performance at the Royal Albert Hall? Let us know!

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