It can be a daunting task to conduct an orchestra that’s providing accompaniment for a film. For the most part, the conductor has to keep the timing perfect, down to the split-second, so that the music syncs up with the film the way it’s meant to. That means the conductor has to watch the film, follow the score and keep an eye on the musicians, all while leading the orchestra through powerful and intricate music.
So says conductor John Jesensky — and even he isn’t exactly sure how he does it.
“Sometime I feel that I must have four eyes,” he said.
Jesensky was calling from his home base in Los Angeles, but later this week he’ll be in Tampa for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone In Concert.” Jesensky will conduct the orchestra performing the score as the film screens.
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It promises to be a powerful musical experience, as the orchestra is massive.
We will have upwards of 80 musicians. Any score by John Williams requires all hands on deck.
“We will have upwards of 80 musicians,” Jesensky said. “Any score by John Williams requires all hands on deck.”
Jesensky, who has a lot of credits as a film and television composer himself, is a fan of both Harry Potter and John Williams. Aside from the challenges Williams’ work presents for the conductor, it’s as complex as some classical music for the musicians.
“I consider good film music, especially by a composer who really understands the orchestra, to have the same beauty that you can find in Beethoven or Mahler,” Jesensky said.
Heightening the challenge is that, although Jesensky is touring the country conducting the score, he’s not bringing an orchestra with him. He uses local musicians everywhere in each city he goes to. In Tampa, he’s performing with virtually the entire Florida Orchestra. He knows the orchestra’s work and he’s excited about working with them. But his rehearsal time with the musicians will be severely limited.
There are stretches of the score during which Jesensky and the musicians can be just a bit looser with tempo, which gives Jesensky a chance to vary the music slightly from one performance to another. But they always have to catch up or slow down to hit some notes that need to be played at a precise moment.
For the screening/performance, the orchestra will be on stage, with the film showing on a large screen above them. It will likely draw a different kind of crowd than the typical orchestra concert attracts.
“We’ll have a lot of younger people there, and maybe this will be the first orchestra concert that some of them have ever been to,” Jesensky said. “Maybe we’ll even get some converts.”
I consider good film music, especially by a composer who really understands the orchestra, to have the same beauty that you can find in Beethoven or Mahler.
Jesensky said that if the “Sorcerer’s Stone” concerts prove successful, the producers will create concerts featuring later films in the Potter series. Those will present different musical opportunities. While the score from the first film featured mostly contemporary orchestral instruments, later films incorporated medieval instruments that few people play these days.
There’s every reason to believe the concerts will be successful. The Straz Center added extra shows to accommodate the overwhelming demand for tickets.
For the moment, though, Jesensky’s concentrating on the majestic score for the first film, to performing with an orchestra that he admires, and even to the difficulty of synchronizing the music to the film.
“It will be a challenge,” he said. “But we’ll get through it.”
Details: Sept 29-Oct. 1, Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $45-$135 plus service charge. 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org