When you go to see an orchestra play, it’s a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. Examine the musicians on stage closely tonight and you’ll spot a Bellatrix Lestrange, a ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody, assorted Death Eaters and quite a few outsized Harry Potters.
It’s a charming thought: ‘What do you mean, you need to borrow little Jimmy’s school tie? It’s Saturday night and you’re a bassonist with one of the UK’s leading symphony orchestras.’ A couple of chaps have gone the full Dumbledore and a witch has to hitch up her voluminous sleeves to start walloping a timpani drum. It’s quite the spectacle.
This, the venerable Hallé‘s first Pops concert of 2019, is a celebration of JK Rowling’s boy wizard under the banner The Magical Music of Harry Potter. That’s to say it’s a programme of highlights from the film series’ soundtracks, without the presentational crutch of clips projected on screens. Inevitably, proceedings kick off with John Williams’ soaring main theme. Of the eight films, Williams scored only the first three, with Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat passing the baton along thereafter. Williams’ work stands out, of course – his brass-drenched, Wagnerian style is immediately identifiable and is so influential that it’s hard to imagine what the modern blockbuster would sound like without him. His Potter scores are Williams in excelsis. At the other end of the saga, Desplat’s work is more restrained and impressionistic, whereas in between the two it can be a bit of a stylistic blur. Overall highlights of the night include Williams’ celeste-borne Hedwig’s Theme, his loopy, jazzy Knight Bus, the lump-in-the-throat sweep of Doyle’s Harry in Winter and the twinset and pearls menace of Hooper’s Professor Umbrage.
Yes, there are points when it’s all much of a muchness and you’re aware that the highly skilled artists here present aren’t exactly being stretched, as though you’d asked top chef Aiden Byrne to come round and fry you an egg. But it’s all good fun and never less than exquisitely done. For the occasion the Bridgewater Hall is packed to the rafters with happy audience members of all ages. Northern Soul‘s in-house 9-year-old companion declared the show to be “swell”, sitting wholly enraptured throughout and genuinely appreciating the opportunity to hear the music live in isolation without dialogue, spells and Quidditch games getting in the way. (Mind you, he also thought the lyrics to one piece, cribbed directly from Macbeth‘s witches, went ‘double, double, toilet trouble’.)
The Hallé Youth Choir, resplendent in Hogwarts uniforms, add wonderful vocal colour here and there throughout the evening, with soloist Molly Becker wordlessly stopping the show with Desplat’s aching Lily’s Theme. Stephen Bell conducts with skill and a dash of panache and presenter Sarah-Day Smith pops up between suites to introduce and contextualise what’s next. It’s a testament to the strength of the scores that the whole thing hangs together just enough as a whistle-stop version of the entire Potter saga. Yes, sometimes less is more, a lesson JK herself could do with learning sometimes.
The show is set to tour with Leeds and Sheffield dates already lined up and it’s very much recommended. At best, like it says on the tin, it’s magical. Hallé Orchestra? Harry Orchestra, more like.