festival: danny elfman's music from the movies of tim burton

adelaide festival - danny elfman's music from the movies of tim burton
Danny Elfman's Music from the Movies of Tim Burton is a hell of a mouthful, but it does tell you exactly what you're going to get.

Danny and Tim have been working together since Pee-wee's Big Adventure all the way back in 1985, through Beetlejuice and Batman, Mars Attacks and Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish and Corpse Bride, all the way up to the recent Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie.

And this Australian premier of the concert exclusively for the Adelaide Festival took in all of these and more.

Conductor John Mauceri and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra were in fine form, and I don't know if it was because we had front row tickets or if it was just the nature of Elfman's music but there seemed to be more members of the orchestra than I remember from previous excursions like Bugs Bunny at the Symphony. It's possible that it also gave that impression due to the members of the Adelaide Festival Chorus along the back of the orchestra, because if it's one thing Elfman knows how to do, it's make use of a chorus.

Mauceri is a brilliant conductor, he's so bouncy and energetic and just seems like he'd be a fun maestro to work under. He clearly also loves the music.

I occasionally have a love/hate relationship with some of Burton's movies. There are some that I love, specifically The Nightmare Before Christmas (which technically isn't a "Burton" movie because it's not directed by him, but his DNA is all through the story and characters and the overall look of the thing), but also Sleepy Hollow, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, and for all its flaws, Planet of the Apes.

So I will admit that either there are some of the movies I've only seen once, or while I've seen them a few times, I'm not necessarily someone who pays complete and total attention to the score. And in a few cases, that's what the ASO were playing, just the score... like with Batman, Prince did the soundtrack for that, Elfman did the main title theme and all of the other music that wasn't one of Prince's songs. But really, once you've got a full symphony orchestra playing the Batman theme, what else do you really need.

That's all kind of a really long way around to say that while I've seen all of the movies they were featuring music from except for Pee-wee's Big Adventure, there was music (even from movies I've seen multiple times) that I didn't instantly recognise. But almost all of it was recognisable at some point as an Elfman creation, or more specifically a Burton/Elfman collaboration.

I did notice that there were more than a few sections that featured circus inspired themes, specifically the aforementioned Pee-wee, Batman Returns, Big Fish... and I feel like there were others that are slipping my mind at the moment. And it took me a second or two to realise that it wasn't that Elfman has a particular weakness for that circus sound, it's that Burton has a fascination for them and that the three movies I mentioned above all feature a circus, or circus performers.

There was something wonderfully off-balanced about those sections though.

There is a particular Elfman sound though... I don't have the musical vocabulary to describe exactly what that is, but hearing all of his Burton scores back to back to back definitely shows it off. In fact I'm sure that the "Making Christmas" sing-song rhythm from Nightmare shows up in one of the later scores (I just can't for the life of me remember which one). And there's also something of the military march in a lot of his work... which is actually some of the parts that I love the most.

What was interesting to see was which of the Burton/Elfman collaborations stand out as being different. Planet of the Apes is very heavy on some wonderful percussion while Big Fish, at least until it gets to the circus portion, has a more fifties kind of vibe.

Each suite of music also had visuals to go along with it... both Tim's original sketches (and although Ma and I went to the Burton exhibition in Melbourne five years ago, quite a lot of the sketches they showed were things I hadn't seen before) and snippets from the movies. But at a certain point, the screen turned to a very Burton black and white swirl design which gave me a chance to focus on the orchestra and Mauceri's wonderful energy.

There were also three guest soloists, singer Bertie Blackman (more on her shortly), violinist Sandy Cameron and local boy soprano, nine year old Charlie Wells. Wells was so adorable, especially during the Alice in Wonderland suite which was the first of two encores. He was so earnest and has a glorious voice and you could tell he was as proud as punch to be there.

I'll be completely honest though, Cameron, during her solo in the Edward Scissorhands suite, left me completely cold. Firstly she just seemed to be trying too hard to make her solo look interesting. It was all "look at me and how sexy and interesting I am while playing this violin". The slightly Edward inspired outfit didn't help, since it was more Disco Dominatrix than it was Scissorhands, but it was mostly all the bouncing around and back-bends and some of extra twiddly bits she did on the violin that bugged me. But the rest of the audience seemed to think she was awesome, so this seems to be one of those "probably more about me than her" things.

As enjoyable as the rest of the concert was, really all of this is just a lead up for me to talk about the Nightmare Before Christmas suite.

Because that was when Danny Elfman came out on stage.

I guessed it would be, since he is the singing voice of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, but it was incredible to just watch Danny but hear Jack. And they definitely saved the best for last, because they did almost all of the numbers, and certainly all the Jack numbers.

A video posted by Yani (@yaniism) on

That's my favourite number from the whole movie... "What's This?".

This is definitely when having front row seats was brilliant, watching Danny stalk around the stage, bringing more than a little bit of Jack to life in his performance.

Also brilliant was the "This is Halloween" number where he was joined by four of the chorus (who sadly aren't listed specifically in the program), and they really hit it out of the park, funny voices and all.

And the part of Sally in "Sally's Song" (unsurprisingly) was where Bertie came in... she was actually a brilliant Sally and it was a little bit of a shame that she didn't return to sing with Danny for Jack and Sally's brief duet at the end of the movie, but it is only a couple of lines.

The crowd, myself included, were loving it though, and by the end Danny and the orchestra must have had at least four standing ovations... but not before Danny came back out for the very last encore after the Alice suite and did "Oogie Boogie's Song", with Mauceri filling in with the Santa Claus parts.

It was a brilliant concert though, any my hands are still a little sore from all the applauding we did. Plus, a thoroughly perfect end to my birthday!

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