Salt Lake City — This weekend, the Utah Symphony is adding a little magic to its performance at Deer Valley Resort.
On Saturday, July 22, the symphony will bring J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world to life, performing the music to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” while the film plays on the big screen. With a wave of conductor Justin Freer’s wand, the musicians will take their audience on a journey of Harry’s first year of highs and lows at Hogwarts, from Quidditch victories to facing the Dark Lord.
But the magic won't stop there.
Over the next few years, the Utah Symphony will perform the entire Harry Potter series live-to-film under the direction of Freer, who is producer/conductor of The Harry Potter Film Concert Series. In its first year, the series has already traveled to 35 countries, according to Freer.
“We are so excited to roll out all eight films with the Utah Symphony,” Freer told the Deseret News. “It’ll be a great endeavor, and we’re having a lot of fun already at the beginning. We’re all very excited for this multiyear relationship to unfold.”
And while the concert Saturday night gives many a chance to enjoy Harry, Ron and Hermione's adventures, Freer hopes there will also be increased appreciation for the music that weaves through the story.
“What makes (this concert) so much fun is that (what) is in the background in the movie theater all of a sudden is at the forefront of your night of entertainment,” he said. "And I hope that when people hear these types of concerts, they begin to realize just how important music is to film, how powerful music can be and what it does as a storytelling device.”
Although musical scores are an essential part of a film, they often go unnoticed.
“(This concert) is a really wonderful way to share (the) film and to highlight the music of the film, which so often is not highlighted because if a composer does his job, you tend not to notice (the music) because it’s so well-woven into the fabric of the movie,” said Brady Beaubien, concert producer of the Harry Potter Film Concert Series. “By extracting the orchestra and having them be physically present within the concert space, it draws your attention to the fact that (this is) a major art form that contributed to the movie.”
And as the symphony performs the classic John Williams score, it might seem effortless to those in the audience, but playing along to a film is a unique art form that comes with many challenges.
“The timing has to be so exact,” said Jennifer Rhodes, second bassoon of the Utah Symphony. “We might be doing sound effects that coincide with exact events on the screen. With regular concerts and music, the tempos and the timing can be more flexible and more open to interpretation.”
“It’s challenging for all the musicians on stage, (to) all stay together for the course of two and a half to three hours,” Freer added. “It’s a minor miracle that we’re all together at the same place at the end of the film.”
What makes this feat even more impressive is that Freer and the Utah Symphony have only two rehearsals to get its performance concert-ready. Fortunately, as it practices playing to the rhythms of high-speed brooms and fast-flying bludgers, thanks to technology, there are additional ways to help keep everyone together.
While the audience is enjoying the escapades of Harry’s world on a big screen, Freer is viewing the film on a smaller screen near his podium. But it’s not the film he’s watching — he's looking for on-screen visual cues called “streamers” and punches." These cues, he said, help signify important tempo changes or melodic moments in the film.
“Sometimes when you play with a film you have to use a click track, which means all the musicians have a headphone on clicking time so we’re exactly with the film,” Rhodes said. “Luckily, we don’t do it for this because (Freer) knows (the film) really well. He’s able to just cue us exactly.”
And even though the musicians don’t have the luxury of watching and enjoying the Harry Potter film as do their audience members, there’s a certain satisfaction that stems from listening to audience reactions.
“Sometimes they’ll boo when Snape comes on, or Voldemort,” Rhodes said. “People (even) come in costume, and it’s just funny because they get really into it.”
For Freer, his favorite part of the experience is hearing the laughter of children in the audience.
But above all, Saturday night’s concert is an opportunity to gather with friends and family and enjoy what Beaubien calls one of the “most imaginative, stimulating pieces of literature and film."
“The biggest thing to remember about these (concerts) is just how fun they are,” he said. "As an audience member myself in many of the concerts, you rarely feel so much positive energy and so much communal excitement for watching a movie together. There’s something about the combination of the format and how beloved and imaginative Harry Potter is. These concerts are just a lot of fun. They’re energizing, and they remind you of the best parts of life.”
If you go…
What: Utah Symphony presents "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
When: Saturday, July 22, 7 p.m.
Where: Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater, 2250 Deer Valley Drive, Park City
How much: $36-75