OPERA NEWS - "Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton"
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"Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton"

John Mauceri & Philharmonia Orchestra of New York, Concert Chorale of New York | Lincoln Center Festival 

This year’s Lincoln Center Festival opened at Avery Fisher Hall with seven performances of “Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton,” a celebration of one of contemporary cinema’s greatest director/composer pairings. The captivating multimedia concert presentation featured the Philharmonia Orchestra of New York (an impressively populated pickup group), the Concert Chorale of New York, and some noteworthy soloists, including the composer. Each of fifteen Burton/Elfman films (only the most recent, Big Eyes, wasn’t included) was represented by a symphonic medley from the score and accompanied by video montages that artfully combined footage from the movie with original Burton sketches.

Elfman is rightfully celebrated for his epic, gleefully ghoulish symphonic soundscapes that manage to be creepy, exhilarating, apocalyptic, sweet, and hilarious all at the same time. One Elfman specialty — the demented, driving, off-kilter two-step — revealed its adaptability in several diverse manifestations, including the fiendishly exuberant circus-style theme from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (Elfman’s first movie score), and the clangy, mechanistic toccata that propels Vincent Price’s dazzling laboratory contraptions in Edward Scissorhands. Mars Attacks featured Stravinskian thrashing insouciantly laced with spooky theremin. Less expected but equally impressive were sequences highlighting Elfman’s ability to wring maximum emotion from a scene, such as the heartbreakingly beautiful ice-sculpturing episode from Edward Scissorhands and an unexpectedly touching montage from Frankenweenie.

The sonorous, hardworking Concert Chorale of New York was skillfully incorporated into a majority of the sequences. Mostly they sang wordlessly on “oh’s” and “ah’s,” as in Beetlejuice and Dark Shadows, but they provided portentous Carmina Burana-style chanting in Batman, plus some choral songs with lyrics in Corpse Bride and Nightmare Before Christmas. Elfman himself appeared for the latter segment, receiving a hero’s welcome from the nearly delirious crowd, and providing a larger-than-life stage realization of the stop-action Jack Skellington character he voiced so memorably in the film. Elfman proved to be a remarkably polished performer with an impressively flexible pop-theatrical baritone and a disarming, jovially twisted stage presence. The composer was joined by a quartet of costumed ghoulies for “This is Halloween,” and singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson for an endearingly tremulous rendition of “Sally’s Song.” Violinist Sandy Cameron materialized to deliver a diabolically virtuosic fantasia on Edward Scissorhands. Imagine Paganini reincarnated as a petite, black-leather-clad vixen, swiveling seductively while tossing off seemingly impossible passagework and perfectly tuned triple-stops.

Elfman’s scores sounded spectacular as performed by a large, wondrously present symphony orchestra and chorus (seen July 8). Many of the suites landed as fully credible stand-alone orchestral works. Even amid some occasional ensemble precariousness, conductor John Mauceri managed to be stylish, precise, smooth, clear, and commanding. A team of five orchestrators, led by long-time Elfman collaborator Steve Bartek, deserves credit for much of the orchestral magnificence. Noteworthy solos by pianist Stephen Gosling, theremin player Darryl Kubian, and boy sopranos Leif Christian Pedersen (Sleepy Hollow) and John-Dominick Mignardi (Alice in Wonderland) also contributed significantly to the unalloyed success of this ambitiously, brilliantly executed event. Elfman’s rendition of “The Oogie-Boogie Man” made for a delectable encore. —Joshua Rosenblum

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