Concert Blog: The Full Muscle and Finesse of the ‘Magical Music of Harry Potter’

Conductor Andres Franco wears the Sorting Hat and is added to Team Gryffindor.
Conductor Andrés Franco wears the Sorting Hat and becomes an honorary member of Team Gryffindor.

Picklesburgh served up pickled jams and cupcakes on the Rachel Carson Bridge to eager enthusiasts. Beerfest celebrated its fourth anniversary of craft beer samplings at Stage AE. And Heinz Hall transformed into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra embraced the “Magical Music of Harry Potter” on Saturday evening, July 16.

Excited fans of the beloved J.K. Rowling series roamed the Hall with handcrafted wooden wands, teased wigs, and Harry Potter signature scars on their foreheads. The orchestra stage illuminated in a soft, cool hue, setting a nostalgic backdrop for fellow wizards and witches. When the orchestra, donned in their crisp white shirts, began to play, the audience was immediately captivated by the magical, musical celesta in the Symphonic Suite. The classic score, nimbly intricate and precise, utilized the full muscle and finesse of every instrument and orchestra member, including the always entertaining and endearing Colombian conductor Andrés Franco.

From the soaring crescendos in “Buckbeak’s Flight” to the majestic stanzas of Hogwart’s Hymn and the instantly recognizable brass melody in “Hogwart’s March” to the distinct drum baseline in the “Flight of the Order of the Phoenix,” the orchestra continued to build anticipation. “Harry & Hermoine” was simple and sweet, like snow fall. “Obliviate” resonated with a soft, dark urgency that came to an abrupt end. “Lily’s Theme” felt like a funeral march during a cold rainfall. “Courtyard Apocalypse” delivered sounds of solitude at a slow pace. “Harry’s Wondrous World” ended the comprehensive suite in sync.

During these emotional movements, the crowd remembered the first time they peered inside the castle, watched young friendships blossom, and re-lived even the most haunting moments of the series. They were reminded, intentionally, of the words of Albus Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Composer John Williams’ Suite from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone confirmed why more than 450 million books have been sold worldwide. The Sorcerer’s Stone was hushed, like Professor Rubeus Hagrid’s secrets. In Nimbus 2000, the woodwind section fluttered and flew through the sheet music. Each piece perfectly aided in telling stories of magic, loss, anticipation, hope, defeat and love.

The music of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Daniel Radcliffe’s favorite book of the series, included many character profiles. Fawkes the Phoenix was light and swift. Dobby the House Elf rang melancholy. Gilderoy Lockhart encouraged a musical defense against the dark arts. Chamber of Secrets began like tiptoes down the Hogwarts staircases and crashed through cymbals into full tonal expression.

After intermission the Suite from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban peppered in a bit of composer Williams’ jazz influences. “Witches, Wands and Wizards” was immediate and ambitious. “Knight Bus” was borderline chaotic, working the musicians through each delicate note. “Bridge to the Past” was more subdued, swelling to a fallen tranquility. “Double Trouble” invoked laughter and awe.

Patrick Doyle’s score for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire covered much musical ground. “Quidditch World Cup” was playful and energetic. “Harry’s Love Theme” felt like an awakening. The “Potter Waltz” had the audience swaying in their seats. “The Goblet of Fire” exhaled smoke and metal.

Composer Nicholas Hooper produced both “Fireworks” and “Wizard Wheezes,” two pieces that concluded the performance. As Franco conducted with his wizard wand to the final note, even during the encore, the audience erupted and stood instantly to applaud an evening of magical music.

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