There’s several reasons that the Harry Potter movies are repeat-watch-on-a-Friday-night material for millions of fans — it’s the story, the characters, the familiarity of a certain mop-haired wizard with a penchant for trouble. But there’s also the magic of soundtrack.
The film scores, composed and conducted by John Williams, are fantastical unto themselves. Crafted by the same composer who scored Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. and Indiana Jones, the music of the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was epic enough to earn a Best Original Score nomination at the Oscars.
Which is why conductor Justin Freer had no hesitations turning it into an orchestral concert production that will arrive in Abu Dhabi on September 21, 22 and 23 at du Forum.
At the shows, you can watch the film on a 40-foot wide screen, and hear the music live from 85 musicians. It’s an immersive experience that must be seen to be believed, according to Freer, a California-born composer who has made a career of such transformations.
“Being surrounded by the power of John Williams’ music set to picture is a unique adventure as a concertgoer, and certainly helps to shine light on the importance of music in film,” he told Gulf News tabloid!.
Freer’s interest in movie scores piqued as a child, when he heard Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Both left lasting impressions on him, filled with colour and memorable themes.
Seven years ago, he took that passion to the next level and began conducting film concerts around the world. He founded CineConcerts, which has taken on all kinds of scores, from The Godfather and Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Star Trek and the Gladiator.
It’s a fairly new art form, Freer said, and one which he hopes will continue to grow and blossom.
There’s a skill, too, in picking the right films for this kind of large-scale production. According to Freer, it’s best to marry a ‘great film score’ to ‘a well-made film’. In the case of the Harry Potter franchise, add years of heaping fan adoration into the mix.
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, released in 2001, was the first of eight Harry Potter fantasy film adaptations released over the span of a decade, which were based on the best-selling novels by JK Rowling.
The films became some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, making an impact on both adult and young audiences. In Freer’s experience, the live shows are a hit with all ages, too, despite the fact that orchestras can seem out-of-bounds for children. In a way, the shows serve as an introduction point for kids into the world of classical entertainment.
Freer, who began composing and performing symphonic ensemble pieces in his early years — his first work was created at age 11 — before he turned to conducting, said that leading a group of musicians in a project this ambitious presents its own set of challenges, namely being able to synchronise the live score to the film in a way that remains true to the original scenes.
“These music cues, of course, were never intended to be played back to back to back in a concert setting, so it comes with both mental and physical challenges each time we perform,” explained Freer.
He wasn’t sure what misconceptions audiences might have about conductors in general, but added that “the art of conducting certainly comes with its own unique challenges. You have many musicians looking to you for guidance and leadership, so there is a responsibility to achieve the best possible result each performance.”
Looking to the future, Freer is already dreaming up the next film he can transform into a theatrical spectacle. He divulged a couple of titles that remain on his wishlist.
“I would love to develop Lawrence of Arabia, one of my favourite films and scores of all time. Chinatown, composed by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, would be another one that I would love to do someday,” he said.
Tickets range from Dh236-Dh495, depending on the section; the Gold Section, which is priced Dh120-Dh150, is listed as sold-out for all three dates. The show takes place at 7pm on September 21, 7.30pm on September 22, and 5pm on September 23.