Harry Potter is a children’s tale about the growth of a troubled boy into a brave and wonderful man. It is about courage in the face of fear and love in the face of evil. It is about the complexity of the human spirit: the power of manipulation and the ultimate value of loyalty. What people tend to forget is that Harry Potter is also very funny. It is full of quick humour that makes it an entertaining read for all ages. Likewise, last Saturday’s Symphonic Sorcery at the Winspear was more than just a chance for kids to experience the symphony. The interactive environment included both kids (wand-waving to conduct the orchestra) and adults (dry wit and surprisingly sarcastic quips).
The show was led by a wizard and his companion, Igor, who gave narrative interludes between pieces. The entire program was composed by John Williams for the Harry Potter films. As a soundtrack, parts of it were better suited to be background music. The wizard described Harry’s various adventures over the ruckus of percussion or the soft sweep of strings. Igor was comic relief, often playing the fool. Using speech and a few “Hogwartsian” props, the pair were excellent at keeping the kids involved without taking away from the aural effect of the orchestra.
The orchestra certainly had an effect to make. John Williams is a notoriously difficult composer, especially to the wind section. Many of the pieces featured not so much wind solos as the potential for a wind train wreck, with bassoons trading off to horns interrupted by marimba and layers piling on layers of sound. Whenever the narrative became aggressive, so did the winds; whenever the narrative described wild broom rides, acrobatic dance scenes or spider attacks, the winds likewise became wild, and in a sense they were acrobatic – climbing over one another in a rush of organized cacophony. This kind of absurdly difficult repertoire is a double-edged sword. The natural stress of performers faced with so much madness adds to the intended tension in an exciting way. On the other hand, it is practically impossible to play. The orchestra did a phenomenal job, pulling off some truly impressive stunts.
From popcorn and crafts in the lobby to the spooky Hallowe’en characters, the show was tailored to amaze and inspire the kids. Symphony for Kids is a sell-out event for a reason. It is a great opportunity for kids of all ages to “let their hair down” at the Winspear, as Professor McGonagall would say.