The showcase of a motion picture with live musical accompaniment is nothing new.
Over 100 ago, the silent works of the Keystone Cops would often be accompanied in theatres by a live pianist, for additional aural assistance.
But to take a orchestra-backed cinematic production on a global tour of arena venues? That requires a film where the music can match the status of the movie – and in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first of the Harry Potter in Concert Series, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has found a superb match
The boy wizard’s first foray onto the silver screen was a box-office behemoth in 2001 and spawned a shared media empire unrivalled in popular culture.
Narratively, it is a more faithful retelling of JK Rowling’s novel than later films, albeit one lumped with clunky exposition. Visually though, it is a warm technicolour explosion, with joyous echoes of classic Hollywood; sixteen years later, it remains a potent nostalgic fixture for those swept up with Pottermania.
Part of its charm remains solidly indebted to John Williams’s Oscar-nominated score, which the RPCO render with aplomb at Leeds’s First Direct Arena. The leitmotifs littered throughout Philosopher’s Stone, from the twinkling Hedwig’s Theme to the raw Leaving Hogwarts, are as iconic as the characters themselves.
It remains a rollicking childhood yarn and fan-pleasing nods are aplenty too; conductor Tim Henty oversees proceedings with a wand-shaped baton, and the instrument played on Fluffy’s Harp is an exact replica of the one used in the film to lull the three-headed dog, into a gentle slumber. Chocolate Frogs are available at the concession stands too, for a complete wizarding experience.
Such recitals do have a drawback in a sense, with little spontaneity or room for deviation. But then elements of the score lost in the bombast on film breathe above the dialogue when live, intoxicating gems rarely heard in the rush.
Unlike a traditional classical performance, this is a more brazen outpouring of emotion too; the audience hollers, hisses, cries and celebrates every scene and character appearance like a high-budget pantomime.
It works throughout – with such a cohesive performance between orchestra and crowd, every reaction feels genuine.
It would be churlish to consider the Harry Potter in Concert series anything other than a communal triumph; quite like the titular stone of this first film, it looks set to turn everything it touches to gold.