By Robert D. Thomas
Southern California News Group
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in Concert
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Justin Freer, conductor
Next concert: “Star Trek” in Concert
Friday (July 8) and Saturday (July 9); Hollywood Bowl
”Harry Potter and the Scorerer’s Stone” was shown on Hollywood Bowl’s big screen and digital monitors last night with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Justin Freer, playing John Williams’ score live before a large audience. (Photo by Nikki Thomas)
One of the more interesting concert-programming concepts in recent years has been screening full-length motion pictures with the scores played live by orchestras.
The first such venture I can remember was in 1987 when André Previn conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion accompanying Alexander Nevsky, the great 1937 film by Sergei Eisenstein. One of the things that remain memorable about the Previn/LAPO/Alexander Nevsky pairing was how it brought Sergei Prokofiev’s score to life (Previn once remarked that Prokofiev’s music “the greatest film score ever written trapped inside the worst soundtrack ever recorded”).
From that point forward, the Phil realized how significant this sort of programming could be and, since 1997, film screenings with orchestral accompaniment have become an annual occurrence at Hollywood Bowl. This season’s offerings began last night with a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and continue tomorrow and Saturday nights with screenings of Star Trek — The Movie. (The annual “Sing-along” presentation of The Sound of Music last month didn’t include live orchestral accompaniment.)
There’s nothing simple about these sorts of performances. The soundtrack has to be stripped out of the movie print while leaving the dialogue and other sound effects in place. In performance the conductor and orchestra have to match the score to what’s showing on the screen, all — in effect — without aid of a safety net, i.e., you get no “do-overs” as you would have in a film studio.
Last night’s audience of 17,000+ got a demonstration of that issue because the opening had to be re-started. Moreover, the “click track” (the device with which the conductor judges the speed by which to play the score) was audible for a few seconds before a technician realized the error and shut it off. Freer, a Huntington Beach native whose composing credits include movies and numerous film commercials, seemed calm and collected as he steered the musicians expertly through the various machinations.
Technical challenges notwithstanding, the audience loved the evening. They laughed, cheered and/or booed at each main character’s first appearance in the movie, quieted down and got caught up in the gripping elements in the second half, and stayed through the credits to give thunderous ovations to Freer, the LAPO instrumentalists and the uncredited women’s chorus who brought John Williams’ sweeping score to life in a way that a soundtrack simply cannot match.
Given that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first of eight “Potter movies” (all based on the book series by J.K. Rowling) and the large crowd — especially notable for a weeknight — one can only imagine that the next seven installments will show up in future years. Moreover, with Williams’ music having such a luxurious, symphonic style, might one expect to see other movies with Williams scores, including Episodes 4, 5 and 6 of Star Wars, to make it to the Bowl big screen?
• I may have been the only adult in attendance who has never seen one of the movies or read the books. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and my wife, who is a confirmed “Potter-phile” loved it!
• When it was released in England, the initial segment in the Harry Potter series was entitled Harry Potter and the Professor’s Stone.
• One of the technical challenges of screening a movie at the Bowl in the middle of summer is that the sky didn’t darken enough to see the screen clearly until about 45 minutes into the performance. The evening didn’t end until nearly 11 p.m., which accounted for the 8 p.m. start time, but perhaps showing movies in September makes a lot more sense.
• For one of the few times in recent Bowl memory, the concert began just two minutes late. Consequently, hundreds of people, arrived late.
• The screening was preceded by a fascinating 15-minute feature on Williams and how he scores movies. Unfortunately it was hard to see because of the ambient light (see the first bullet above) and the noise from party-goers. Posting the feature on the Bowl’s Web site would be a nice touch.
• The Bowl opens its classical season on July 12 when Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel leads the Phil in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist in the concerto. (INFO On July 14 and 19, Dudamel, the Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale and a dozen soloists will perform Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in concert. (INFO)
(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.