INTERVIEW: John Jesensky conducts Harry Potter Concert Series at PPAC

by Frank O’Donnell

John Jesensky finds his work conducting the Harry Potter Concert Series daunting. “It’s some of the most challenging film music I’ve ever seen,” he said in our recent phone chat. “To create the magical sound, the whimsical sense requires a lot of notes to be played.”

Jesensky will be conducting the Rhode Island Philharmonic on February 16 as “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is projected in high definition on a 40-foot screen at the Providence Performing Arts Center. 

“We really try to combine the best of both worlds,” says Jesensky. “These films still have a very passionate audience that comes to see them. We’re combing the film with a special live concert experience.”

Jesensky and the Philharmonic will play to a special version of the film. “They yanked out the music tracks. It’s very easy to pull out the score so we could play along. All the sound effects and dialogue remain.”

Jesensky explains that he has “a little television monitor in front of me that has the film and special cues for me to sync up exactly. Before we start a movement, I have a countdown timer, a bright white light for one frame when I should be at a certain point. It’s my little cheat sheet.”

Jesensky has conducted this concert about 200 times, but this will be the Philharmonic’s first shot. “At this point, I’ve become a pro at getting through this challenging music while not driving the musicians insane.” The 80 musicians will get about five hours rehearsal time before having to perform.

Playing music composed by John Williams, who earned a Grammy nomination for this score, is a little nerve-wracking for Jesensky. “Williams’ composition of ‘Jurassic Park’ was my first experience with film music. And I’m a Harry Potter geek. A card-carrying member of the club.”

He says he was introduced to Harry Potter by the films, and then went back to read the books after seeing the first film. “I was a freshman in high school when I saw the first film. At the time, I knew I wanted to do something with music. I enjoyed film music, but I didn’t think I could do anything with it.”,

Before that, “I was learning to play piano to be Billy Joel or Elton John.”

At that point, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. “My parents were a little concerned about my career choice,” he said with a laugh. “But music is such a special thing for those of us who find it.”

A native of nearby Cheshire, Connecticut, Jesensky now makes his home in Los Angeles. “But I’m traveling, literally all over the world.”

He says that for many in the audience, it will be their first time seeing “Chamber of Secrets.” “It will also be a special experience of seeing a live orchestra. Many people these days haven’t experienced that.”

As for that monitor he watches, “if it died, I’d be okay. Probably.”

[The Providence Performing Arts Center presents the live concert version of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” Saturday, February 16 at 2 and 8PM. For tickets and information, call the box office at 401.421.ARTS or visit their website at]