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CONCERT: The Magical Music of Harry Potter (Antwerp, November 2021)


bollemanneke
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Hi, guys. I’ve just been to The Magical Music of Harry Potter. It’s late now and I have a steaming cup of tea standing next to me, so while that’s cooling down, I decided to start reviewing the evening for you lot already so that none of you will make the mistake I made and buy tickets for this crap fest. Before continuing, I feel obliged to clarify one thing: I was not on drugs or medication during this concert. I am not on drugs or medication now. I am very clear-headed and you can take my word for everything I’m about to say.

You’re probably expecting me to do this chronologically now. Believe you me, I really considered it, but my compulsive need to organise my thoughts in these reviews resulted in another decision entirely: I’m just going to look at the track lists for all eight OSTs and take it from there to jog my memory. (No, Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child weren’t covered, contrary to what the press release said.) My reasoning will become clear to you as this review unfolds.

The journey there wasn’t that noteworthy. We arrived just in time, but never had to rush, which was quite enjoyable. This event took place at the Stadsschouwburg again, a huge hall in which they have to amplify the orchestra and reduce its sound to one speaker. Despite a feverish promotion campaign, tickets had sold so badly that we all got better seats yet again. Also, the background music sounded like a variation of the one the BBC used in their The Story of Ireland documentary series. Don’t ask me to explain that connection.

The concert opened with, you guessed it, Hedwig’s Theme. When the celeste started playing, I genuinely thought I was going to be in for something good. But then the strings came. Let’s put it this way: compared to the London Symphonic & Philharmonic Film Orchestra (did they just make that name up for the evening?), the City of Prague Philharmonic plays on an LSO level. Yes, I’m standing by that remark. But the surprises didn’t end there. Not only were these people not prepared at all, they were also going to spend the evening playing arrangements. Now, hold on. I’m not talking Nic Rain arrangements here. Imagine arrangements made by a ten-year-old with a basic knowledge of an orchestra. Now imagine what those arrangements would sound like played by a youth orchestra in your worst nightmares. That’s what I’m talking about. So unless I’m mentioning it, everything was arranged and played this badly and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Flubs, timing issues, wrong notes, everything. Everything. But wait! I’ve got one more reveal for you. This orchestra, apparently made up of around 30 people (huge problem there, obviously), was also going to skip random bars in most of the pieces. So for Hedwig, they went from the flying theme on woodwinds straight to the orchestral one and then it sounded like the awkward trailer transition on the last track of the LLL HP1 set. I know what you’re thinking at this point: “Were you really expecting an orchestra to play the published sheet music and/or to be fully prepared?” Sorry, I was a fool. Forgive me.

So now that we’ve got all that out of the way, we can move on to the next piece: Harry’s Wondrous World. Surprisingly, that did sound like the proper sheet music, but they also played the OST ending and that glockenspiel player just wouldn’t stop either. The middle part was missing entirely, so when the tempo changes for the family theme, they skipped to the part after Quidditch, when Harry’s theme returns. At this point, the person sitting next to me had already guessed this evening wasn’t living up to my expectations because of all my facial expressions and movements.

Then we got the first of many speeches by Chris Rankin. My brand-new South African PA (yay!) had this to say during the break: ‘What’s he doing in this hall?’ Well, I’m paraphrasing now, but she did raise an interesting point: What the hell was Chris Rankin doing in a bad hall and an awful orchestra in Antwerp? Proudly told us that they learned how movies were made on the Harry Potter sets too, but apparently that wasn’t enough to kickstart a proper career because he’s now wasting his time with the worst musicians in the whole goddamn world trying to save the worst possible Harry Potter concert in the whole goddamn world. His speeches were mostly nice, if a little childish (for there were children with parents in the hall too, oh yes…) and at one point he was interrupted by a loud bang, to which he said: “Death Eaters already?” Never found out if that was an accident or on purpose. So, yeah, that was the level. And he repeatedly told us to get our chocolates ready when they were going to play creepy music and then went and hid, but they never played any Dementor music, so I don’t know why we were asked to prepare to shout Expecto Patronum either. Oh, and he also said he was so surprised to see how great Stuart Craig had managed to make the Great Hall look in HP1. ‘He must have just put the picture I had in my head while reading the book into his Pensieve’. What…? How…? Huh? Finally, he said he loved being on stage with an orchestra. Yeah? How would you know? Here’s an idea: Tune into Classic FM some time. Or no, buy the upcoming Berlin concert CD. It contains three Harry Potter tracks. Played by a real orchestra. Or try and get a foot in the door with any other semi-professional group (in Antwerp or elsewhere), but don’t humiliate yourself like this.

Next, The Arrival of Baby Harry. They started after the celeste part and inserted Coke Ad after Dumbledore’s arrival and then just stopped, I think.

Then they played some cues around a particular theme, the first of which was ‘getting to Hogwarts’. It opened with Through The Doors (the festive part, repeated three times). Then the Knight Bus, only the first frantic jazz part. Remember, all arranged, all wrong notes. Then, the flying car. Only the strings when Harry’s trying to get back into the car and then the Hedwig B theme statement, but today they never reached the Whomping Willow, the cue just stopped. We did get a choir, but more about them later. And for the ‘traditional journey to Hogwarts’, they played the HP5 OST track with the same name, never mind the fact that half of it underscores a conversation between Harry and Sirius.

Another theme was festive music. They played Christmas at Hogwarts (festive part and the two first stanzas of the carol). Now, that carol was a great surprise, but explain this: if you have a choir, why the fuck not let them sing the whole bloody carol? No, just do two stanzas (in American English) and then everyone turn their pages to proceed to the next excerpt, whatever it is, I really can’t say, it was all disjointed so it really doesn’t matter anyway. Oh yeah, it was Harry In Winter, that was kind of okay. Is now the time to confess that part of me was hoping the singers would grace us with A Winter’s Spell? 

On to HP2. They played a bit of Fawkes’ concert arrangement, the solemn horn part in A major, the first interlude and the two remaining theme statements.

“But now we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to play a little quiz. We’re going to play some music connected to particular characters and you’re going to guess who it is related to.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this really happened. So the first piece they played, with wrong notes, was Gilderoy Lockhart. Someone shouted: “Crookshanks!” HOW??? Next, they played Sir Cadogan. The audience responded: “Hagrid!” AND CHRIS RANKIN SAID CORRECT. Someone quickly looked at the OST track titles in preparation, methinks. Next came Gilderoy Lockhart (again), and professor Umbridge. They repeated Lockhart ‘to be a bit cheeky’. Ha, ha, ha, but at least it was the Duelling Club version now.

So as I’ve said before, they played some creepy music. For HP2, it was the spiders, meaning their theme and some of the middle part of the escape cue.

Back to the choir. They did play Double Trouble. An arrangement of the OST version, which, granted, was a good thing because the concert version messes up Shakespeare’s lyrics and is just inferior anyway, but it doesn’t sound good when you have males joining in.

And dare I ask you to imagine an arrangement of Buckbeak’s flight? No, wait, I’m going to make it worse: the audience loved it: lots of ‘ooohs and aahs’. That was another theme, ‘flight’. So before that, they played Flight of the Order of the Phoenix, but of course we needed VERY LOUD BASS TO BACK UP THE TIMPANI. WE WANT THE HALL TO SHUDDER, DO WE NOT?

Then, Window to the past. OST arrangement. They stopped after the end credits section. That was part of a ‘losing people’ suite, followed by part of Godric’s Hollow Graveyard from HP7. And also Farewell to Dobby, mostly completely intact.

Then, something really weird happened. They opened the second half with the real Witches, Wands and Wizards suite, so not an arrangement. After the flute solo, however, which went surprisingly well, all things considered, the conductor, a show guy, according to my companion, insisted we clap for them, so I thought we were never going to get the snowball fight, but we did. They played that piece surprisingly well, really, the first half was definitely the worse. Then, they played the end of Living Death from HP6, segued right into Hogwarts March from HP4 (no B section and clap, clap, clap, everyone!), and then repeated quidditch, Third Year! But this time, it was an OST arrangement with a full ending but minus the harpsichord opening. Really weird. Oh, and I’m almost forgetting the best part. Remember that choir I mentioned earlier? They didn’t join in for Sirius’ theme. They played it on brass, wrong notes and all. Twice. So if you’re still wondering why I’m sticking to the OST track order (though I can’t imagine why you would): they switched from one score to another every two seconds, so I honestly don’t remember the order of the set list and I highly doubt anyone is remotely interested in it at this point either.

From HP4, they also played the Durmstrang entrance music. The only problem was that the choir seemed to chant ‘stop’ every time. And again, remember, horrible arrangements, all of them. The Black Lake was another piece they mostly covered entirely, but they skipped the creepy choir part. Oh, and when the Death Eater theme on trumpet came, they played a B instead of a B-flat, twice. By that point I was cringing, pulling faces and gasping in exasperation. I didn’t care what people would think anymore and just wanted to GO. And Hogwarts Hymn. The arrangement could have sounded okay if the players hadn’t been that bad.

Time for a story you’re all going to love to hear. The first half ended with another speech that opened with Rankin talking about how they filmed everything in illogical order and  laughing rather stupidly. “We’re going to do something nasty now. Were you all hoping for a classical concert? Were you all hoping to hear the sweeping strings of John Williams? Are you ready for some real music now?” At that moment I felt a genuine wave of anger and blurted out: “Yes, I was.” Yes, Chris Rankin, I was expecting a classical concert and the sweeping strings of John fucking Williams. Yes, Chris Rankin, when I pay €78, I expect to get a real orchestra playing the real sheet music on clarinets that don’t sound like cors anglais or accordions, not a bunch of amateurs who can’t play for one straight minute without making eleven mistakes. In response to my muted fury, Chris Rankin sang Do the Hippogriff (good voice) and they all ‘mamama-mamama-mamama’ed’ along. I didn’t, I was sighing and playing with my water bottle. “Some real music…” You know what? That Hippogriff song actually did sound like ‘real music’ compared to all the other garbage you threw at me. Oh, and he also sang Magic Works, which, again, he did rather well, but yeah, arrangement, and British English this time. Continuity, please!

HP5. Believe it or not, they did not play Fireworks. They did play Dumbledore’s Army, well, the jolly part, sort of. In Noctem from HP6 was actually rather good.

Then, another theme, romance. After we had had to shout who our favourite couples in the series were (I was still doggedly refusing to participate), we got the middle part of Harry and Hermione (the part where Lavender interrupts them) and I honestly cannot remember what else, though the ending of Inferi in the Firestorm definitely came up at some point. Forget Dumbledore’s Farewell or When Ginny Kissed Harry. Why? I don’t fucking know.

HP7. Okay, this is going quickly. Good, cause I want to go to bed now. They played the middle and final part of Obliviate, with horrible, horrible wrong chords, and in yet another weird twist, they launched into Snape to Malfoy Manor, played a few bars, stopped, and started again after a 30-second silence, and then they extended that cue for five minutes. The one advantage that had was that I was sitting very close to a violin.

HP8. Lily’s theme. Sung by the whole female section. And augmented by low synths and extra timpani, you know, cause we need it to be totally epic, man. Ultimate awesomeness! How about My Love Is Always There?

They played Battlefield too. Twice, or once and then shorter the next time, or the other way around. More disgusting arrangements. And Courtyard Apocalypse, the timpani opening and then some of the middle and end section, with wrong chords that could have worked had the horns not fucked them all up. And Voldemort’s End. The part where the final wand battle happens, but not Lily’s theme, just the ‘cool’ bit.

The concert ended with ‘happy music’. So for HP1, that meant a random part of Gryffindor Wins (the moment when Dumbledore shouts it), and, wait for it, the final bars of Leaving Hogwarts augmented by choir! Is this some alternate I’m not aware of? Also, just so you don’t get wrong ideas, these pieces were not arranged or connected to one another in suite form. They just played those random moments one after the other without any transition or any movie clips. Apparently the only thing people got to look at was a 15-second animated loop of an owl and the concert title, I kid you not. Must have been captivating. Oh, and they threw in the final bars of the last HP5 cue as well for the opening of the happy suite and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, which never made the film in the first place, but at that time the two of us were already leaving the hall because I’d had more than enough, though I could swear they repeated Hedwig’s theme after that again and I think I heard Rankin say, “I hope to see you for part two in August.' Yeah, in your dreams. Can I first stop apologising to my friend for having dragged her along to this atrocious thing?

And that was it. Are you happy now? No? good, cause I’m not either. I feel really cheated and taken for granted. I would have been happier had they thrown eggs at me (or if I had had some rotten tomatoes on me, but sadly, possibilities for rioting are extremely limited if you only have hand sanitiser on you). WB could have made this a wonderful occasion. They could have played Williams’ three suites and I think Doyle published some cues too. Or they could have played some of the live-to-projection score. I wouldn’t even have minded that. I wouldn’t even have been annoyed if they had shown some movie footage either, with or without dialogue. But this? No, sorry. If money was an issue, though I can’t believe it was, how about dropping Rankin and paying for a real orchestra? How about doing the concert at the goddamn Singel or Queen Elisabeth Hall? How many times will it take before someone at the top of this pathetic studio realises that ticket sales are going so horribly badly that it would be a good thing for everyone involved if they just moved this shit to smaller halls?

FIGHT BACK! YOU COWARDS, FIGHT BACK!


 

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Sounds awful. And very familiar as there were a couple of similar concerts here in Finland this week, one for the music of Hans Zimmer and one for the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and those were apparently so bad it even made the newspapers. I didn't go as the LotR one sounded dodgy from the start and certainly not one approved by Shore and his people in the first place, but one of my friends attended and she said it was sort of adequate even if badly mixed.

 

The newspaper report with quite a few quotes from disappointed fans mentioned that the performing orchestra was changed twice before the concert as it had been postponed twice due to covid and the obscure Romanian one they had been able to book was apparently no good and half as small as it should have been. They seemingly didn't know the music at all and played the same stuff twice in some cases. The presenter of the Zimmer concert tried to rouse the audience in rock or pop concert style by making them shout and clap their hands but failed miserably as the stunned fans sat in baffled silence. People reportedly left in the middle of the Zimmer concert as it was so atrocious and the arrangements and performances so bad. And of course they didn't even perform some of the music promised in the promotional material. I wonder if these concerts are arranged by the same company.

 

And I know that this HP concert it coming to Finland. And I will definitely be skipping it.

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I'm hoping my review will attract enough attention too. I was actually considering just going away during the break, but then part of me actually wanted to see how much worse it could possibly get.

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4 minutes ago, bollemanneke said:

I'm hoping my review will attract enough attention too. I was actually considering just going away during the break, but then part of me actually wanted to see how much worse it could possibly get.

I hope so too. These half-baked concert tours feel like some awful hoax  and people should be made aware about it.

 

At least an all John Williams concert I attended three weeks ago here in Helsinki was fantastic, played by a professional orchestra and augmented by a great youth choir. Apparently you can count yourself lucky these days to hear this music performed well.

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2 minutes ago, Incanus said:

At least an all John Williams concert I attended three weeks ago here in Helsinki was fantastic, played by a professional orchestra

We had a local one too that I've been waiting for for a year (got postponed due to covid last year) that was by all accounts fantastic. ...I couldn't attend after all that waiting because of health issues. But at least I had the Berlin concert live online the week after.

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10 minutes ago, bollemanneke said:

I'm so baffled WB is allowing this to happen. Surely they know about these concerts? I mean, copyright etc. must be involved, right?

I am equally baffled but there have been these less than legit concert tours of e.g. the LotR music before where they perform what can only be described as "done-by-ear" arrangements of the music. One hopes that these are not sanctioned by the copyright holders or companies and that they keep track of this kind of stuff as these dodgy concerts do more harm than good to their reputation, even if indirectly.

 

The Finnish newspaper also reported that many people (close to 200) had already contacted the Finnish promotion company of the concert tour which of course explained that the original German promotion company was the one responsible. Many concert goers were demanding their money back or filing complaints to the Finnish consumer ombudsman.

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Yeah it is really puzzling as apparently they had rounded up Jed Brophy (Nori) from the Hobbit films and Royd Tolkien to work as hosts of the LotR concert. Originally Billy Boyd was supposed to be the host and perform but since the concerts were delayed twice, the schedules must not have worked out.  

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