Philharmonic prepares to make magic for ‘Chamber of Secrets’

April 5, 2019 GMT

At age 15 in Russia, Violetta Todorova read the first Harry Potter book about the young wizard’s arrival at a magical boarding school. At the same time, she was preparing to come to the United States to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.

“So, as I was reading ‘Harry Potter,’ I was imagining that that arts boarding school was going to be just like Hogwarts,” she says. And though there weren’t flying brooms, mail-delivering owls and sorting hats, she says it was still magical because everything was so different being in a new country.

“To me, it wasn’t that far of a step (from ‘Potter’),” she says. “There was a lot of magic involved.”

Todorova currently plays first violin as concertmaster for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, which is performing the score for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” during two screenings of the film at Embassy Theatre next week. The movie is the second installment of the Potter franchise. The Philharmonic performed the score with the first movie, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” for about 3,500 people at Memorial Coliseum in 2017. The Embassy can seat about 2,400 people for each performance next week.

John Williams wrote the score for the first three films of the Potter franchise. The five-time Academy Award-winning composer is known for works that challenge musicians.

“He really pushes the orchestra musicians to our limits in this score,” Todorova says. She has played selections from all the Potter scores and finds Williams’ the most challenging.

Music by Williams is even starting to appear on audition lists for major orchestras, says Luke Fitzpatrick, principal flute for Fort Wayne Philharmonic. That’s because the parts are technically demanding and show how much command a musician has of his or her instrument.

For “Sorcerer’s Stone,” Fitzpatrick says the most challenging part him was during scenes of quidditch, a magical sport that involves players flying around on brooms, throwing balls through goals and hoping to capture a snitch that flits around the field.

“Chamber of Secrets” also features quidditch, “and the part looks just heinous,” Fitzpatrick says with a laugh. But he says musicians with the Philharmonic always get excited by the challenges.

Williams’ Potter scores have quick changes for musicians playing more than one instrument (Fitzpatrick will play flute, piccalo and alto flute during “Chamber of Secrets”) as well as sections that put demands on a player’s breathing.

There are different challenges for violin players, who don’t have the same demands on their breathing as woodwind musicians. Violin players are capable of playing fast notes for a long time, Todorova says.

“Not that we like it!” she laughs.

Their bow arms can get tired, but Williams has written the fast notes as “slurred,” meaning eight to 12 notes can be made with one stroke of the bow by manipulating the strings with the fingers of the other hand.

Todorova says that a score like “Chamber of Secrets” was never meant to be played all the way through in one sitting. The movie has a 2-hour and 54-minute run time, after all.

Though this will be her first time playing the entire “Chamber of Secrets” score in concert, Todorova has played many selections of music from the Potter franchise with various orchestras during the past five years. 

She counts “Hedwig’s Theme” among the hardest parts for violin because it contains a flurry of notes to give a sense of magic.

“Hedwig’s Theme,” first heard in “Sorcerer’s Stone,” is what you might think of as the franchise’s main theme. It can be heard in some variation through all eight Potter movies.

Though the Philharmonic doesn’t rehearse the score as a group until the week of the performances, each player has been going over the music on their own. Individual preparation is key so that the musicians are ready to go at rehearsal.

“A huge amount of our work as professional musicians is done before we walk onstage for the first rehearsal,” Fitzpatrick says. That includes musicians learning the notes of their parts and figuring out how those parts interact with the orchestra as a whole.

Norman Huynh, associate conductor for the Oregon Symphony, will conduct the Philharmonic for “Chamber of Secrets.”

During the performances, the musicians will watch Huynh, who has a small screen showing the movie with a clock counting up from the start of the movie. Flashes of light on the screen tell the conductor when to start a movement and what the beat is.

Movements are segments of music, often coming between scenes of dialogue. Some might be short, such as transitions between scenes. Others can be longer, like what you might hear during an action sequence. Todorova counts 46 movements in the music for her part, Violin I. Her book of music for Violin I is 117 pages.

Eight of those pages are the music for the end credits. Some people might not pay much attention during the end credits at a movie theater, but that is when an orchestra is doing some heavy lifting.

“The end credits are always some of the hardest stuff to play,” Fitzpatrick says. “That’s when there’s more of a focus ... on the orchestra.”

Although he doesn’t consider himself a die-hard fan, Fitzpatrick has seen all the “Harry Potter” movies and read several of the books. He says it was fun to see the fans come in their Potter outfits for the performance of “Sorcerer’s Stone.”

He and Todorova both say that performances like these bring in new faces to the Philharmonic. Not just that, but they create an experience of live art that audiences wouldn’t get watching a Potter movie at home or even in a movie theater.

“I think it’s a much more powerful effect when you see 90 people onstage playing different instruments at the same time to a movie,” Todorova says. “I think that’s a very special experience that you cannot get anywhere else.”