Friday Night Classics: The Music of Harry Potter – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Michael Seal

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

While this concert from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is advertised as The Music of Harry Potter; in fact, it’s rather more. The atmosphere is set as lots of youngsters attend dressed as wizards, witches or even Harry himself. And our host is Tommy Pearson who remains in character (and cloak) as an unnamed member of Hogwarts doing a pretty good job of summarising the action in each film at intervals complementing the musical highlights we enjoy. The stars of the show are the musicians of the CBSO with peerless playing that fills Symphony Hall with its superb acoustics.

Of course, the only possible opening is John Williams’ Hedwig’s Theme from The Philosopher’s Stone. The other-worldly tinkling of the celeste and fluttery violins evoke the owl beautifully as we hear the familiar theme swirl around Symphony Hall under the baton of Michael Seal, who gives every appearance of enjoying the evening, conducting with impish glee. Of course, all is not sweetness and light in the Harry Potter universe, and there are frequent changes of mood with darker pieces – for example, The Philosopher’s Stone with a sombre, rather than wondrous, feel.

Williams scored the first three films and his scores take us to the interval. There can be no doubt that these scores have a familial resemblance and are unmistakably the work of Williams, taking simple themes wrapped in rich orchestrations. Moods vary: we hear the flute soar above the orchestra in Nimbus Two Thousand as well as the playful in Dobby the House Elf and the anarchic in The Night Bus.

Sweet singing from the CBSO Youth Chorus adds further depth as the first half comes to a close in Double Trouble from The Prisoner of Azkaban singing witches’ words originally heard in Macbeth.

The composers who followed in the footsteps of Williams may have referred to his pieces at times, but in style are markedly different. After the interval and we move to The Goblet of Fire, scored by Patrick Doyle and the difference in style is immediately apparent with rippling pizzicato evoking a feeling of desolate cold in Harry in Winter, while the Quidditch World Cup feels like a jig and Potter Waltz is light and airy.

The next two films were scored by Nicholas Hooper, who, the programme notes tell us, listened to all of Williams’ music before deciding to do it his own way. His treatment of percussion is certainly different in A Journey to Hogwarts in which insistent drumming brings a distinctly martial air to proceedings, while playful pizzicato in Professor Umbridge evokes the feeling of cat-and-mouse.

French composer Alexandre Desplat was recruited for the final two films with his own distinctive style again, with occasional melancholic vocals from the chorus.

For those who know and love the Harry Potter stories and films, this concert is a fine reminder of a reason why; for the few who maybe haven’t experienced them yet, the music still works to manipulate moods so we can enjoy the ups and downs of an ordinary teenage wizard doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times.

Reviewed on 12 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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