Magic at the movies

1 April 2019

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ⋅
Perth Convention Centre, March 29 ⋅
Review by Kevin Runions ⋅

It felt a little odd to forget that the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was playing music at all on Friday night, what with being seated front and centre to their show at the Perth Convention Centre. But then, they were not really the star attraction. For they had the joyous task of playing the score to the fourth Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. What an odd commendation that it was quite possible to forget they were there, playing along throughout. But to compete for our attention against the film itself, projected onto a giant screen behind them, is an unfair contest, given the potent ardour held so visibly by the audience.

This dedication was on full display in the pre-show foyer, filled as it was with a ragtag bunch of Hermoines, Harrys and Voldemorts. Indeed, my nine-year-old became so concerned that his lack of costume indicated a lack of faith that he ended up creating a sign on a napkin: “I love Harry Potter so much I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by dressing up like him. (It would be copying)”.

But were they even youths, this audience?  Many of them looked to be in their 20s, even 30s…. But of course! This was the Harry Potter generation – these people literally grew up with their favourite characters. The first film version (The Philosopher’s Stone) was released in 2002; Harry was an eleven year old. I was there with two people who were born shortly after the last tale of Hogwarts was first published. For the generations coming in the wake of these stories, the appeal is seemingly universal.  These are no odd child-like protagonists with hairy feet; these heroes are children. They don’t just learn their magic from bearded, wise old Jedi; they attend a very English school of wizardry. They have tedious classes. They go through the ups and downs of growing up, right there in front of our eyes, but with the added glitter of magic. So the ardent devotion is understandable to the pre-Hogwarts elders, even if it remains elusive to those who prefer Gandalf to Dumbledore; Darth Vader to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

But perhaps the real hero of the night was conductor Nicholas Buc. At the start of the show, he addressed the audience eagerly, encouraging them to engage with the film and his orchestra’s performance in a manner tolerated by neither cinema nor concert hall in our current day. His warmth and enthusiasm channelled the audiences barely cloaked enthusiasms. The audience proceeded to cheer their favourites (the ardour and applause for the late Alan Rickman’s scenes as Snape was moving to oldies like me), boo the baddies, hiss and call out. A midnight viewer of the Rocky Horror era would have been impressed with the audience engagement.

In a masterstroke of marketing genius, WASO has been performing along to the film series for several years now. This year we’re up to the fourth film, with the heroes and heroines in the first flushes of adolescent awkwardness. As with all the films, there’s a richly evocative score, this time composed by Patrick Doyle. Doyle is an accomplished artist, having composed works for more than 50 feature films, some of these efforts rewarded by nominations for Golden Globes, Oscars and BAFTAs. Doyle’s touches – which may have gone unappreciated in the film itself to the average viewer – brought a wonderful emphasis to particular scenes. In the underwater challenge Harry undertakes there are echoes of John Williams’ famous ominous two-note staccato theme from the Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws. In a notable brass sequence towards the film’s end, a celebratory oompah tune heralding the Triwizard Champion disintegrates into discord and then silence, upon the realisation that tragedy has struck.  It is a potent aural cue of the shift from boisterous contest to tragedy.

The live score added a lushness to the experience, but ultimately, the audience were coming for the film.  I did wonder, if, as a musician, this was slightly discomfiting? As the closing credits re-introduced the oompah band theme, Buc re-engaged the crowd to clap along. Give the people what they want. But when a cellist turned to his colleague with a knowing look, one wondered how it felt to be something of an afterthought after all that hard work. Sure, he’d been playing beautiful and subtle themes all night long, but really, maybe we just wanted a good old tuba theme, after all.

No matter.  By the film’s end, everyone filed out, beaming, exhausted, wishing on Monday they were going back to Hogwart’s instead of regular school.  Magic managed.

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