The people who entered the auditorium were mainly comprised of three different groups. The first, middle-aged and elderly couples in suits and dresses, the typical symphony attire. The second group was made of families in casual t-shirts and jeans. You see this every once in awhile, especially at more kid-friendly events. The third? People in Hogwarts robes, complete with wands and hoods. This was new. Some wore sweaters with their Hogwarts house on them. Others wore so much fan merchandise I was convinced they raided a “Hot Topic.” It was one of the most beautiful culture clashes I have ever witnessed.
However, these three groups were united by two things: their love of “Harry Potter” and of music. The event they were gathering for was the “Harry Potter” Film Concert Series, brought to life by CineConcerts in collaboration with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. It was held in Ovens Auditorium from Oct. 20-22. How exactly does a film concert work? Upon walking into the theater, one was greeted by a large movie screen lowered as close to the orchestra as possible. The movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was to be played on the movie screen. The entire score was removed, for it was up to the orchestra to supply the music.
The conductor for the performance was Jeffrey Schindler, an extremely accomplished conductor. He has worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, and the Orquestra Filarmónica de Puerto Rico, among others. He has also lead a number of studio recordings for Hollywood motion pictures. These include sessions for “X-Men Apocalypse,” “March of the Penguins” and the locally-filmed “Talladega Nights.” Schindler was an absolute joy to watch conduct. It was clear just how much he enjoyed working with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and he had a great rapport with the orchestra members. He also actively engaged the audience and invited the audience to cheer, boo and participate in the film-watching experience.
The most obvious aspect of this movie screening that made it unique was the orchestra. It was truly great to be able to hear John William’s score live and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra played it perfectly. The first note of “Hedwig’s Theme” actually gave me chills. The harp soloist’s song, featured in the scene with Fluffy the three-headed dog, was surprisingly gentle and intimate. It was also interesting to see the sheer effort that goes into playing these pieces of iconic music. The concertmaster’s fingers seemed to fly across her violin at impossible speed. Not only were the notes perfect, the volume was as well. It provided just the right balance of volume to the pre-recorded movie, soft under dialogue and loud during large, dramatic moments. I cannot imagine the amount of practice it must take to perfect the volume balance so one does not overpower the other.
However, it was the audience engagement aspect of the concert that truly made it a worthwhile experience. Audience engagement is typically only reserved for showings of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and is not encouraged at movie screenings, orchestra concerts, or other formal performance venues. Yet instead of silence, fans were able to cheer for their favorite characters and their respective Hogwarts houses. People quoted their favorite lines and talked back to the characters. The Dursleys received the most well-deserved booing of all time. Every time the audience clapped and cheered, I felt my heart grow a little warmer.
“Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone” runs for about two and half hours. During the concert screening, the smile didn’t leave my face for that entire length of time. The event was a celebration of things I truly love: Harry Potter, fan communities and music. Active audience participation and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra managed to transform a movie screening into something truly special. In that room full of talented musicians and engaged fans, a feeling swept through the audience. A feeling of excitement, a feeling of happiness, a sense of community. And maybe, if one looked hard enough, there might have been some magic there too.