By MIKE CHAIKEN
In the era of silent films, especially in the larger markets, the soundtrack to movies often would be performed by a live orchestra.
When the “talkies” came around, however, the music became part of the recording and the live performances were dropped.
But, the music will step out from the screen again on Saturday, April 6, when the Hartford Symphony Orchestra performs the score of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” while the popular film about wizards and muggles is shown on a 40-foot screen behind them.
The composer/conductor for the evening will be John Jesensky, a Cheshire High School graduate
He explained, “Our concerts (overseen by CineConcerts, which also has presented a performance of the score of ‘The Godfather’ live) are very reminiscent of those golden days in the birth of cinema.”
“During my time at The Hartt School (at the University of Hartford),” said Jesensky, “one of my favorite professors was Dr. Patrick Miller, who not only helped me to get a grasp on music theory, but also had a love for performing live piano to old silent pictures at a local theater.”
“This was a great throwback to the years when a live musician was required for every film screening,” said Jesensky. “They would sit and watch the film with the audience and quite literally create the film score in real time based on the events they were witnessing. It goes without saying that this was a monumentally difficult task that required a musician who was expert not only at capturing the correct mood, but also seamlessly improvising brand new music.”
“So, truly, the first ‘Live to Picture’ concerts were a century ago in movie houses across the country, and it’s my pleasure to be a part of our modern version of that,” said Jesensky.
Performing live to a film today – in this era click tracks and computer technology still has its challenges.
“To me, the most difficult aspect of performing live music against a moving picture is that at times there is a need for acute precision – it’s absolutely essential, in fact,” said Jesensky. “ If we are in the middle of a Quidditch match, and a bludger whizzes by Harry’s head, to play the music that accompanies that moment even a quarter-second late is to ruin that moment – it’s that close.”
“Luckily,” said Jesensky, “what makes the experience easy is the excellent level of musicianship found in the ensembles that I perform these concerts with.”
The scores of “Harry Potter” films composed by John Williams work well for this approach of live symphony accompaniment, said Jesensky.
“Whenever I hear any John Williams score – and this is certainly true with his wonderful Potter scores – I am struck by the unique approach he takes to composing.”
Jesensky said, “Maestro Williams doesn’t write music to capture an explosion, or a kiss, or even the waving of wands. He opts, instead, to capture the emotion of the characters who witness the explosion, who have the kiss, or feel the thrill of being a part of a wand duel.”
Jesensky said the Williams’ score for the Potter film compares favorably to any classical music composer’s work. “It is written very much as a classical concert piece of music that happens to fit perfectly with the events happening in the film.”
“As an orchestra, we are able to truly make some wonderful music and breathe as an ensemble in the same way we would if we were performing a piece by Prokofiev or Mahler,” said Jesensky.
The live performance for the score of a popular film sometimes is the first exposure to a symphony concert for some in the audience.
“Back in the early 1990s, I began to discover my love not only of my parents’ classic rock collection, but also the scores to films like ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Rudy’ or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ said Jesensky. “My love of movies became the stepping stones towards my love for orchestral music, and finally to my love for classical and modern symphonic music.”
“I hope that with our performances of ‘Harry Potter in Concert,’ we not only are allowing fans to experience a beloved film series in a unique way, but also inviting potential new lovers of classical music into the concert hall,” said Jesensky.
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents “‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Concert’” on Saturday, April 6 at 1 and 7 p.m. at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford.
Tickets are available at hartfordsymphony.org, at The Bushnell Box Office, and by calling 860-987-5900.