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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone In Concert Review

The soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by John Williams is actually one of my favourite scores from the maestro.  So imagine my reaction when I was contacted by CineConcerts asking if I would like to see Harry Potter in Concert at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff?  Of course I jumped at the chance and had high expectations for this worldwide tour.

Once we found our seats near the front of the stage I wasn't alone in my anticipation.  The buzz in the arena was electric and infectious.  A large screen dominated the front of the arena, along with the stage where the full orchestra would assemble in a matter of minutes.  Before that though, while the muggles still found their seats, a behind the scenes featurette played on the big screen which included interviews with the master himself, John Williams.

The orchestra followed by the conductor appeared on stage to a welcoming audience.  Justin Freer, the conductor for the evening encouraged us muggles to have fun and to cheer when we hear our house mentioned, whether it be Slytherin or Gryffindor.  The lights dimmed and the movie was about to begin.  The orchestra sprang into life as they played their first piece, the Warner Bros. Logo jingle.  Then for a brief second it went quiet.  The anticipation was now at its highest.  John Williams signature Harry Potter piece played, The Prologue.  Its was note perfect.  I had a huge smile on my face as did the thousands around me.  An appreciative round of applause erupted all around.  This was going to be a magical evening.

For the next ten minutes  I was captivated by the orchestra playing.  Justin Freer with a display in front of him timing each piece perfectly with the movie scenes that played on the big screen.  The balance of the sound was slightly different to what you would expect if you watched the movie in the cinema and for good reason.  The music volume which of course was the orchestra was set higher than the dialogue and the rest of the audio tracks.  There were subtitles on the screen so the dialogue was still easy to follow.  Enjoying the movie was effortless, and in fact after around ten minutes I stopped watching the orchestra and realised I was engrossed in the movie.  In fact I started to forget the orchestra were actually there and that's not a criticism, more a compliment to their seamless playing and note perfect performance.  By the time Harry Potter had visited the zoo and had a conversation with a snake I was no longer watching Harry Potter in Concert but I was actually in the magical world of J.K. Rowling where the music of a great wizard (John Williams) takes precedence.

I mentioned the atmosphere and I've never been to an experience like this.  The thousands of muggles around me were obviously all Harry Potter fans.  Some were in cosplay and most had some evidence of their favourite house.  Cheers would erupt when an iconic line from the movie would play out.  "You're a wizard Harry" was greeted with whoops and rounds of applause.  When each of the main characters appeared for the first time they were again greeted with applause.  Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom and the rest of the team all prompted a reaction from the audience, but it was clear that the most popular character in the movie, based on the thunderous reaction was Professor Snape played by the late and sadly missed Alan Rickman.

A short interval half way through the movie was welcomed to stretch my legs and to check out some of the merchandise that was on offer.  I bought a program (£15) which I must confess, I am not normally a big fan of, due to their unimaginative and generic format.  But I was pleasantly surprised by this one.  The cover is of high quality and inside there is even a few words from John Williams.  Insights into how they put the show together and detailed articles on the soundtrack are all inside.  This is more of a collector's magazine rather than a program.  One for my collection and a welcome addition.  T-shirts, hoodies and Cd's were all being sold at a reasonable price, even Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans were being sold.  Of course I had to try some.  Soap and Pepper were my unfortunate choices.

Back to the second half of the concert and I was especially looking forward to this half.  The Quidditch match and the Christmas scenes were all yet to come.  Once again, my focus moved from the note perfect orchestra to the movie.  When I say they were note perfect I really mean that too.  Not one note out of tune.  I've listened to the soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone so many times that I would know if something sounded different.  But this was like listening to the CD.  Timing, pitch all of it was just perfect.  The responsibility of the conductor is huge.  I recently asked Justin Freer what the challenges are of conducting a whole soundtrack live in time with the movie.  He told me:

"I think the single greatest challenge with presenting these scores live to picture is keeping everything synchronised from beginning to end. It requires a great deal of focus from the podium and from the players on stage. I prefer to conduct these without click track, or an audible tempo in the ears of the musicians. We do everything with streamers and punches from the conductor video stream, which I think brings a much more organic experience to the music on stage."

Before I knew it the two and a half hours in the wizarding world were almost up.  The orchestra were playing "Leaving Hogwarts" and Harry Potter was saying goodbye to his friends explaining that he wasn't going home, not really.  We still had one more treat, the end credits.  This gave me one last chance to focus on the orchestra and marvel at their supreme...almost magical like talents.  A huge standing ovation was well deserved for them and of course our conductor for the evening.  The whole event was a masterpiece.  The atmosphere, the sound quality and of course the expertly played music.  Harry Potter in Concert is a masterpiece and any fan of the wizarding world, talented musicians and of course John Williams should not miss this tour.  Even the legendary composer admits to being a fan and is very proud of the tour:

"I know I speak for everyone connected with the making of this film in saying that we are greatly honored by these events...and I hope audiences will experience some measure of the joy and fun that we did when making the film"

Well John, we certainly did and cannot wait for more.  In fact Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tickets are on sale now.

December can't come soon enough.

Rob "not a muggle" Wainfur

Read our interview with composer Justin Freer here.

The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.




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