“Nothing Can Beat a Live Performance!” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone In Concert at NJPAC
It’s Saturday, March 11, 2017, and our automobile dashboard clock says it’s nearly 1:30pm.
As we drive up Newark, NJ’s MacCarter Highway — just about ready to make the left turn onto Center Street — we smile.
Because here on this busy city street corner, we happen to observe a man rapidly making his way towards Newark’s glittering jewel of a concert venue, The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), wheeling an enormous stand-up bass…on a cart!
When the light changes, we turn left onto Center Street and soon enter the underground parking garage located directly across from the theater.
In the garage, we see several women with violin cases strapped to their backs briskly walking through the lot, all taking the escalator up to the street.
We park our vehicle and climb the stairs to busy Center Street.
Outside, our gaze focuses on a myriad of families with young children, college-aged students, and adults of all ages as they cross the street, pull open the large double doors of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and make their way inside the NJPAC lobby. They’re all here to participate in the unique musical event that is happening today — a presentation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone In Concert with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra!
This program comes fresh off the success of three performances in January of Raiders of the Lost Ark with the NJSO, an entertainment experience where audience members were treated to a showing of the blockbuster Hollywood film with live music performed by New Jersey’s gem of a symphony orchestra. Based on the popularity of Raiders, today, the NJSO has decided to present two performances of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert, including a matinee performance at 2pm and an evening presentation at 7pm.
As NJSO Director of Artistic Planning, Patrick Chamberlain, recently said in an interview with Spotlight Central about this exceptional presentation, “to hear and experience a great film with a great orchestra performing the score, it’s really like you’re seeing the movie for the first time.”
And now that we’ve arrived at NJPAC, we’re ready to find out just what that experience is like.
Inside the venue’s stunning lobby, we look around to see kids (and adults!) of all ages ready to root for their young hero, Harry Potter, on the big screen.
Many have arrived in costume. For instance, we see children sporting scarves around their necks and wearing Harry Potter’s famous black rimmed spectacles on their faces.
Others are decked out in much more elaborate ensembles comprised of velour robes and ornamented magic wands. Although the colors of all of the different dormitories, or houses, that comprise Potter author JK Rowling’s fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are present, it’s the crimson and gold of Potter’s own Gryffindor House that’s featured most prominently here at NJPAC today.
As the clock strikes 2pm, the fans find their seats inside stately Prudential Hall where NJSO guest conductor, Justin Freer, welcomes the capacity crowd.
Freer playfully asks if there are members of the audience who can identify with any of the four houses that make up Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Audience members associated with each dormitory cheer when they hear their house’s name called.
And, soon, the lights dim.
As the film — a 2001 Academy Award nominee for Best Original Score — is projected onto a huge screen in the spacious concert hall high above the orchestra, the fabulous New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, seated below, begins to play.
And, oh, what a sound they make!
As Chamberlain suggests, it really is like seeing the movie for the first time — the orchestra front and center, creating the mood and underlining the action taking place on the screen.
On sequences like “The Arrival of Baby Harry,” “Visit to the Zoo,” “Letters from Hogwarts,” and more, as the large screen draws each theater-goer’s attention upward, the music played by the orchestra emanates from the stage below and fills the concert hall — and each listener’s ears — with stunning crystal clear sound.
In addition to the magnificent string, brass, woodwind, and percussion sections of the orchestra, the live appearance of such instruments as a celesta — think of an upright piano with small keys that strike metal plates — and a harp help to make this an awe-inspiring listening experience.
Watching the film in the grand Prudential Hall is truly a communal event, the audience clapping as Harry blasts through the wall of train station Platform #9 3/4 and cheering when they first see the Hogwart’s Express arrive — all synchronized to the exquisite soundscape provided by the NJSO.
And, of course, as the film continues, the music changes the mood of each changing scene. Depending on the action, the music can alternate from playful to mysterious to exciting.
For instance, the frenetic energy of Harry’s first Quidditch match is heightened by the depth and breadth of kinetic sound provided by the live NJSO orchestra.
Moreover, the addition of the live ensemble is particularly effective when communicating the emotion of sequences where there is no dialogue.
For example, when Harry initially lays eyes on his long-lost parents in the mysterious Mirror of Erised — seeing them smile at him for the very first time — the music not only heightens the scene for the viewer by making it more dramatic, but by helping to personalize it as well, enabling the movie-goer to more directly empathize with Harry and identify with him in his situation.
As an entertainment experience, this afternoon’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert presentation is utterly engaging and the music is synchronized so seamlessly, audience members — at times — tend to forget there is a living, breathing symphony orchestra present! But each time the group starts to play, if one truly listens, one does not only hear — but, also, has an opportunity to viscerally feel — the music of these world-class NJSO musicians as they magically breathe life into one of composer John Williams’ most enduring film scores.
When the credits role, it’s interesting to note that the vast majority of the audience members in Prudential Hall do not get up to leave. Rather, they remain in their seats and continue to listen to the orchestra play, cheering for the names of their favorite stars’s names when they appear and wildly applauding when composer John Williams’ name lights up the screen.
As conductor Justin Freer continues to wave his baton while leading the musicians through the credits, in the darkness of the theater, one can even see a lighted wand — or, perhaps is it cell phone? — of a young person down in the front of the auditorium imitating Freer. Perhaps he or she is showing signs of someday becoming a musical wizard him or herself?
Following an enthusiastic standing ovation for Freer and the NJSO, we take a moment to bask in the glow of this treat for the senses. Then, we spend a few moments chatting with several members of the audience, asking them to share their feelings regarding this afternoon’s presentation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone In Concert at NJPAC.
Says Stephanie from Pompton Lakes, “The orchestra is awesome! I used to play the flute and we performed one of the songs from the movie in junior high school — but seeing it put together now with the film and the entire orchestra is really cool.”
Len and Judi, two grandparents from Wanaque, tell us they purchased tickets for this special performance for their entire extended family — notably their grandchildren who are all Harry Potter fans and who all play musical instruments.
While Grandpa Len calls the afternoon’s experience, “spectacular,” his granddaughter, Carly, 13, from Livingston states, “I love it because of the live music. It seems more real because of the orchestra.”
Carly’s sister, Leah, 10, agrees noting, “It’s really good. It’s special seeing a movie with a live orchestra.” Going on to add, “I really like the bass,” Leah acknowledges enjoying seeing one of the NJSO bassists on stage this afternoon wheeling his enormous bass down the street before the concert!
Lastly, Carly and Leah’s cousin, Griffin from West Hartford, chimes in, “This is the first time I’m seeing the whole movie. This orchestra is really good.”
We also chat with a group of friends who’ve not only come to enjoy today’s performance of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert at NJPAC, but say they also plan to purchase tickets when the NJSO performs the show again on March 31 and April 1 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
States one of the friends, Nina, from Elizabeth, “Because of the orchestra, I was drawn into the movie in a different way than I’ve ever been before, and I’ve seen the movie and read the books countless times.”
Nina’s daughter, Catherine, 9 — all dressed up in her green and silver Slytherin robe — agrees, adding, “It was an amazing experience.”
Catherine’s music teacher, “Miss A.,” goes on to note, “Recordings don’t do this music justice. For instance, did you hear the French horns? The French horns were just great!”
And, lastly, Vi, from Queens, NY — also fully dressed in Slytherin garb — reveals, “The orchestra brings you one step further into the movie. It’s just amazing,” going on to conclude, “Nothing can beat a live performance!”
For more information on future performances of the NJSO — including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall on March 31 and April 1, Warner Brothers Presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony on June 3 and 4, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert on October 28, please go to www.njsymphony.org