Done well, a film score enhances a movie to another level. Handled expertly, it not only supports the film but transcends it and becomes a classic piece of art in its own right. There are not many composers who achieve this and even fewer who do it time and time again. Danny Elfman is one such composer.
Having been a major player in Hollywood over the past three decades, he has created many of the movie industry’s greatest soundtracks. From ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ to ‘Spider-man’ by way of ‘The Simpsons’, he has created some truly iconic music and forged some fruitful collaborations. Although versatile, there’s a quality to his work that makes it ‘Elfmanesque’. A quirky creativity which perfectly complements the work of visionary director Tim Burton. Their partnership has proved incredibly successful and has spanned the majority of Burton’s films. Being a massive fan of both artists it was an opportunity too good to miss when the BBC Concert Orchestra accompanied by the Maida Vale Singers convened at the Royal Albert Hall to perform the brightest highlights from their collaborative back-catalogue.
The orchestra was already on stage as I took my seat and the venue was almost full with an excited audience. Conductor John Mauceri walked on stage as the lights dimmed and suddenly, (almost without warning), it had started with a medley of Elfman’s finest. As the music played the giant screen above the stage was emblazoned with video and concept art from Burton himself.
After the medley the concert moved into the main structure of the night where each film score was given it’s time in the spotlight accompanied by their own visual references. Beginning with perhaps the most quirkiest of movies, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the orchestra played through arrangements from films including Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish, Corpse Bride, Mars Attacks and Beetlejuice, (garnishing a ripple of laughter for it’s ‘Banana Boat Song’ sample). The audience favourites were clear as cheers of approval erupted for the Batman series, Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland.
By far the biggest crowd pleaser was The Nightmare Before Christmas and rightfully had the most time dedicated to it. As the orchestra played, and without announcement, Danny Elfman walked onto the stage and up to a microphone. On cue, he began to sing the part of Jack Skellington, clearly at ease with performing after his years with American rock band Oingo Boingo. After a few numbers, the highlight of my evening occurred as an unexpected yet very welcome Helena Bonham Carter appeared to give an incredibly well-received rendition of “Sally’s Song”.
The concert ended with an encore from Elfman animatedly performing “Oogie Boogie’s Song” before Tim Burton himself made an appearance to bring the evening to a close. It was the perfect ending to see the two collaborators on stage together and Elfman was clearly overwhelmed by the appreciation for his work. It had been a very enjoyable couple of hours and by far out-weighed the slightest disappointment that not all the films I was waiting for were covered. As a first time visitor to the Albert Hall I was very impressed with the venue and as we all left there was an excited buzz in the air. It is certainly an experience I’d recommend as it showcases a true master of his craft and now it’s just a matter of how quickly I can re-watch all of the films again.