As lovers of cinema, we shouldn’t have to hammer the point home that music is, well, instrumental (groan) in evoking an emotional and visceral response to the images and story playing out on screen. Music is key (there we go again) to the science of filmmaking and yet so many film-goers seem to forget this or worse, ignore music entirely. Unless it’s a John Williams score, really. The revered composer is rightly lauded for his signature sound and iconic scores and themes for classics like Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Jurassic Park, ET and more (and really, we can cite basically every Steven Spielberg film as theirs is one of the greatest of all director/composer relationships). Williams is such a recognized artist that a bulk of his scores are arguably more famous than the films they support. I mean, everyone knows the double-bass note Jaws theme. But not everyone has seen Jaws.
But Williams’ work in the Harry Potter movies isn’t as celebrated or recognized, outside of the devoted fanbase those pictures command. It hasn’t managed to weave its way into the stream of popular culture like Star Wars or Raiders has. Which is why it was a truly magical, remarkable experience to attend the multi-media performance of Williams’ score for the second Potter film — Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — last night at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. The world-famous Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) set up shop on the massive stage and, as part of Sony Centre and Attila Glatz Concert Productions’ ongoing “In Concert” series, expertly performed the score for Chamber entirely in front of a massive screen that ran the full feature film. Under conductor Joshua Gersen, the orchestra meticulously brought that Williams score to life, using a projected DCP that had the recorded music removed. The experience was perfectly timed and beautiful and, very often, rather terrifying.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is — like many of the Potter movies — a picture that veers deep into the macabre, the Grand Guignol and, in many instances, outright horror. With its malevolent giant spider attacks, sociopathic teenagers, murdered ghostly dead girls haunting toilet stalls, smeared blood and blind serpents from Hell, the film is violent and scary, a point hammered home by Williams’ beautiful but occasionally harrowing score and brought to vivid life by the TSO.
For the Potter fan — many of which in the sold-out crowd who came in costume — the experience was palpable, with Gersen encouraging the audience to treat the experience like a rock concert and scream out at the villains and monsters and applaud at their favorite moments. They did this, on occasion, but more often than not they sat in rapt attention, watching the film (still this writer’s favorite in the series) and then watching the orchestra, whose visual dynamic made this hybrid of cinema and performance unlike any other. I brought my three kids and they barely budged during the almost three hours (feature film plus 15 minute intermission). It was stunning.
And it was stunning to just LISTEN to the music, to hear that Williams magic pulling away from the speakers of a movie theater and performed with love, craft and grace. The Sony Centre will continue spotlighting the majestic, darker side of Williams in December when they host the live score/screening of Jurassic Park and then again on May 16-18, 2018 when the third Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban runs. And hey, in March, 2018 you can also see the TSO go full-blown terror and attack Jaws at Roy Thomson Hall. We will be sure to attend all of these performances…
And if you’re in Toronto (or even if you’re not… make the trek!) you should attend them too. There’s still one more run of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tonight. Go here to see if there are any seats left.