Superman dropped in to rescue the first violins. Predictably, perhaps, killer clowns had infiltrated the bassoons. And back in the percussion section, a Tyrannosaurus rex was on the loose.
For Saturday morning's Philadelphia Orchestra family concert, the first of the season, much of the orchestra and audience turned out in Power Ranger or Pikachu best. Halloween was the theme generally. But more specifically, John Williams' music from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone apparated into Verizon Hall, and with it, the classical vernacular into young ears.
Dumbledore was, more or less, the host, played by magician Marc DeSouza, welcoming the audience of first years to a kind of Hogwarts of classical music. Orchestra programmers cleverly repurposed the sorting hat from the Harry Potter tales to sit upon musicians' heads and declare where they belonged. Instead of Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, their true personalities were revealed to be strings, brass, woodwinds, or percussion.
Placed upon the head of flutist David Cramer, the hat explained the characteristics of his instrument and declared him woodwind. Then the woodwinds played a section highlighting their place in the Harry Potter score, making them sound perhaps the brethren of Slytherin.
Aram Demirjian was the conductor - garbed as Harry himself - leading a program that included non-Potter treats while DeSouza and fellow magician Alexander Boyce did the tricks. Liadov's Baba-Yaga depicts a witch, and while the orchestra played the piece it was tough to appreciate the music as Boyce made white birds appear out of nowhere.
But most of the program was exceptionally well-considered for its ambition to turn Harry Potter fans into concertgoers. So many Potterheads turned out this summer when the orchestra played the score to the first movie that the Mann Center stopped selling tickets at the 10,700 mark. It would be nice to think that the music, which is infallibly wonderful, is a big part of the reason.
From Saturday's opening solo celesta part, played by Davyd Booth, to the lustrous strings and the glittery magic of the percussionists, this is music with the kind of immediacy the genre sometimes lacks.
When the orchestra played the last excerpt, Harry's Wondrous World, it may have sounded like closing title music. But for some receptive young listeners new to the concert hall, it will no doubt function as overture.