Harry Potter in Concert will return to The Hollywood Bowl in LA this week with Order of the Phoenix in a CineConcerts performance by The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. We had the chance to speak to conductor Sarah Hicks, who will be leading the performance on the day, about what goes into these shows, and her experience working on the live performances!
If you’ve ever been to Harry Potter in Concert, you’ll know how breathtaking the experience is, and if not, you’ll be more than familiar with the score – Hedwig’s Theme is enough to give anybody goosebumps! Harry Potter in Concert sees a Harry Potter film played on the big screen at some of the world’s best concert venues, whilst the original score is performed live by an orchestra. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will play at The Hollywood Bowl this Saturday 29th May, led by conductor, Sarah Hicks.
Sarah has conduced some of the world’s top orchestras, and has adopted something of a speciality in movie soundtracks, having led popular live concert versions of Disney movies, Tim Burton movies and much more, and she’ll return to the Harry Potter series for Order of the Phoenix at The Hollywood Bowl. “I want to bring this amazing music to people who are not usually exposed to it”, she once told The Spectrum. That quote encapsulates everything experienced at a CineConcerts performance, and it was fascinating to find out more from her on the process in our interview. Find out more below!
Q: Firstly, I just wanted to say that I saw Prisoner of Azkaban at Royal Albert Hall and I absolutely loved it. I’d never really seen anything like that before, and I’d never seen an orchestra perform live, but I’ve always loved the film score, so hearing it performed live was incredible. I didn’t realise–what I wasn’t expecting–was how much energy it takes to be a conductor! I saw Justin [Freer] just jumping around all over the place, and they’re pretty long films! It was crazy!
What made you decide to move into this career? I know you’ve done so much with film – where did it all start?
A: Sure! As a conductor, most of us start out playing instruments, and I was a pianist when I was young, and I injured my hand in my late teens, so I needed to switch to something, and I happened to have a great high school orchestra. So I was able to start conducting at a fairly young age – most start a bit later. Then I went to university a a conservatory to study conducting, and started doing mostly classical stuff.
The movies – the movies with the live orchestra – have been around for a decade, even maybe a little longer, but they’ve become really popular in the past six or seven years. I was an early adopter, because I happen to love movies, I love movie scores, and it’s a special skill to do these movies with orchestra, because you’re not just conducting music, you have to line up music with film, which is a very particular skill set, and I enjoy that, and I’m also good at it! So it was a good combination.
I’ve done a lot of film, I’ve done the Harry Potter films up to number six, I do Star Wars, I’ve done E.T. , Casa Blanca… Just dozens and dozens of movies, so that’s kind of a specialty of mine.
Q: That’s amazing! Are there any films you’ve wanted to do, or any films scores you particularly love and you haven’t performed yet?
A: Oh that’s a good question! I know they’re coming out with Black Panther, which I think is just an amazing movie, and another really big movie. I’m looking forward to that!
The production of these films for orchestra is another big business, and really, really complicated to actually create the product, so there was a lot going on behind the scenes that we hope the audience doesn’t know about, because we just want you to enjoy the experience. But there’s a lot of work that goes behind it!
Q: …So, that was actually one of my questions! [laughs] Is there a lot of watching the films over and over, just trying to get yourself in that space? Is there a lot of coming together and looking at the score? I don’t want to ruin the magic, but I’m so curious!
A: It’s actually really technical! There’s a special version of the film that’s produced just for the conductor, and it has a lot of information on it. There’s a count for the measure, for the number of the cue, it’s got a digital countdown, we have things called flashes — just a lot of technical information that helps us line up to the score.
The music is specially prepared for performance, where the information that is lined up to the specially produced film, so it’s a matter of me watching the study film. I mean, I have to learn the music first, then learn the music with the film. Then I have that film on a monitor in front of me while the actual movie is being screened on the big screen. So I’m looking at something completely different during the performance, and I’m working off of that. That’s all specially produced just for the live experience, so yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on!
Q: I could see that screen! I was right at the top of the theater when I saw a show, but I could see the little digital screen the conductor had, and now I know why! How cool that there’s a whole other version of the films just for conductors!
When I was watching the show I basically had goosebumps the entire time, and I was wondering if that’s the sort of experience you have too. What’s it like for you up there leading the whole thing?
A: For a lot of it, I’d say. I always tell people that in a movie, the music is really a character. It’s so important – it’s part of the narrative, it’s part of the drama and part of the emotion, so to be a part of that and creating that live, it’s pretty amazing. I mean, there’s certain parts of the music that I like in particular, but it’s more the sense that we’re creating this mood, and this energy, and this emotion, that really changes the way [the audience] experience the film. So that’s the most brilliant part is that we’re able to do that.
I think it makes a huge difference to have live music, because you’re seeing the energy of so many people on stage creating something right there. It’s just really visceral and powerful. I just love being a part of that.
Q: Are you a Potter fan? What has this taught you about the series?
A: I am a Harry Potter fan! I read all the books and I saw all the films, but what this has taught me, because I’ve had to study the films so much and do them over and over, is how different the filmmaking styles are with each director. Both visually and in terms of the storytelling, and also how different these scores are depending on who wrote them, and how that changes the impact of the film.
In the States we call it ‘Inside Baseball’, it’s really behind the scenes, really nitty gritty of how things are produced and just being able to see that. But also just the brilliance of the storytelling in Harry Potter in general, because it’s such a powerful story, such a powerful narrative. To be able to see it over and over, it’s really cool.
Q: Which has been your favorite film to conduct? You’ve done six so far?
A: That’s a good question! I like parts of them all, but my favorite film from a filmmaking perspective is Prisoner of Azkaban. I love the story, but that was also the third score by John Williams, because he only did the first three, but that was my favorite score that he composed. Just because I think that the music is so emotional, it moves me, even thinking about it! So that sort of my favorite to do, but I mean they all have their amazing bits, and they’re all a lot of fun!
Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the Order of the Phoenix score?
A: Yeah, I do! Towards the end, where they’re in the veil room at the Ministry, and Sirius arrives and says something like “Get your away from my godson”, and then there’s this big battle scene, and the music for that is so driving, it almost rocks! I just love that, I love that energy.
Q: I love that people get involved, too – there’s people cheering and booing, and it’s so different to seeing a film in the cinema! Is that something you guys encourage? Should people be dressing up and getting involved?
A: Totally! I usually wear my Gryffindor scarf when I conduct, or at least when I come out. I love it when people come in costume, and we encourage people to! The best part of being part of a live experience like this is that the audience is a part of the action, and the audience provides a lot of the excitement in the room, so I want everyone to cheer and boo and applaud, and be a part of this experience altogether. I think that’s the most fun part of these films with an orchestra!
Q: Why should people come to The Hollywood Bowl in particular? It’s an amazing venue!
A: Oh absolutely, well first there are so many people. It seats 18,000. So imagine, if it’s even halfway full, that’s 9,000 people. It’s like, just that amount of Potter energy… [laughs]. It’s a fabulous orchestra at the Bowl, and the venue is so beautiful, it’s outdoors, and it’s gonna be such a fun time with a great movie, with a live orchestra creating that excitement, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Summer evening!
Neither can we, Sarah! We’re so grateful to Sarah and to CineConcerts for sharing some of the behind-the-scenes of these experiences! Look out for our coverage on the event this week, and get your tickets to the event here!