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What to expect from the Florida Orchestra's 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' show

Courtesy of the Straz Center
Published Sep. 26, 2017

With just a few short tings from the celesta, a small piano-style instrument, and you're instantly transported to Harry Potter's wizarding world.

That's how iconic John Williams' Harry Potter film score is.

The instantly recognizable tune is sure to elicit a lot of grins and goosebumps at the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts this weekend when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in Concert comes to town.

"There's something quite magical when you have a good score that interacts with the audience," said John Jesensky, conductor for the concert series. "That really brings out that extra power in the scene."

While the entire first movie in the series plays out on a giant screen in the Straz's Morsani Hall, Jesensky guides the Florida Orchestra through the iconic music.

Naturally, Jesensky is a huge Potter nerd who credits Williams' score for Sorcerer's Stone with inspiring him become a composer. He talked about that, his rehearsals with the Florida Orchestra and his favorite piece of the film during a recent phone call with the Times.

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How did you first get into composing music?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is actually the film that made me want to become a conductor and composer in the first place. I was in high school when it first came out and it inspired me. Being able to create that magic for people in real time is a dream come true. It's an honor to conduct John Williams' music.

You've also conducted shows with the scores from Star Trek and The Godfather. Sounds like you're a pretty big music nerd.

It does go back to that Harry Potter story. I'm a huge John Williams nerd. He taught me how to compose, and I geeked out studying every note he's written. Everything from Jurassic Park and Star Wars. I wanted to create these inspirational moments, and I realized at a young age that music has such a big part to do with this.

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What can guests expect from the Harry Potter concert?

We're basically screening the entire film on the big screen, but the major difference is that we have a live orchestra playing the film's music note for note. It's a much different sound than a recording; you get to feel the air moving in the concert hall. It adds electricity and you get those feelings of the bass notes in your gut.

Do you have any pieces that are your favorites to play for audiences?

My favorite is also the hardest — the entire Quidditch sequence. There's so much going on in the drama of that scene. This one is the most intense, but when it's done right it's so powerful. Every spin with someone on a broom, every point scored, every moment people are tussling for the snitch; it's captured so beautifully through music. I've had some audiences do standing ovations after that.

What are your responsibilities as conductor for this concert series?

On the technical side, my role is really to guide the orchestra. Wherever we go we use the premiere orchestra in the area. They do much of the heavy lifting; it's my job to make sure everything lines up perfectly with what's happening on screen. When someone scores a point playing Quidditch, the music has to line up perfectly.

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How much time do you get with the Florida Orchestra to practice?

We really don't get much time, but I'll have a little more with the Florida Orchestra. I usually only get one day of rehearsals to practice the whole score. Luckily, they're pros, so they'll carry me along in some places. I have not been disappointed (in a local orchestra) yet.

With concerts for Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Final Fantasy and so many others, pop culture shows seem to be all the rage right now. Why do you think that is?

I think pop culture concerts are important for the same reason I think they're popular. It's an introduction to the orchestra for so many people. These days you don't have a lot of people who know famous composers or classical musicians. But so many people watch Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. It's a chance to experience the orchestra for the first time in a way that's exciting for them. They come out to listen to their favorite music and then realize the power of it. It can create a new generation of film music and orchestral music lovers.

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Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow @chelseatatham.

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