Date: March 14, 2015
Venue: Adelaide Entertainment Centre
I first discovered the music of film composer Danny Elfman back in 1986, when watching the cult classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure on VHS one day. It was Elfman’s first film as a composer, having previously been lead singer of the new wave band Oingo Boingo. Tim Burton, who was also making his film debut with the movie, was a fan of the band and frequented many of their concerts in LA, and decided Elfman would be the perfect choice to score his movie. Despite having no experience in film music, he produced a unique, completely revolutionary score and in the process created a completely new approach to scoring films.
Cut to 30 years later and Elfman is now regarded as one of the best and most influential composers in Hollywood history, still working steadily today, with the 2015 releases 50 Shades of Grey and The Avengers: Age of Ultron on his list of credits this year.
Having idolised Elfman for decades, I never thought I would get the chance to ever be in the same room as the great man, let alone hear him perform live and hear his music performed by a 150-piece symphony orchestra. But thanks to the Adelaide Festival and their incredible efforts in bringing Elfman to Australia for the very first time and staging his Music from the Films of Tim Burton concert as part of this year’s line-up, I was able to realise a childhood dream I never thought would ever be possible.
Having scored 16 Tim Burton films over the course of 29 years, Elfman decided to bring all of the amazing music he has composed for Burton’s movies over the years together in one incredible concert piece, which was first staged in 2013. Featuring selections from 15 of the 16 films Elfman has scored for Burton (only the recently released Big Eyes is absent), this two and a half hour concert event was an incredible experience.
Staged at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, which is known more for staging more traditional pop concerts, the venue proved a surprisingly effective venue for this concert. I was expecting it to be staged in a more traditional classical music venue, and was surprised it was more of a traditional music venue, but it proved to be a perfect setting. With more than 150 musicians and singers on stage to bring Elfman’s music to life, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra could not have been more impressive and prove the musical talent we have in this country is as good as anywhere in the world.
The concert followed the chronology of the Elfman/Burton films for the early part of the show, and opened with a piece from 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Although Charlie is one of Elfman’s better recent scores, the concert really gained momentum when the second piece of the night, a selection of tracks from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, was performed. There were tears of joy when hearing music I have only heard on headphones for the past three decades brought to life so vividly by these incredible musical talents on stage.
There is no doubt Elfman’s early career was where he was at the peak of his talents, and the concert wisely chose to not have all of his late 80s/early 90s scores performed at the beginning of the show, and saving some of his best efforts for towards the end. Hearing the main titles of 1988’s Beetlejuice performed live was another amazing moment, still perhaps my favourite film theme of all time. The video posted below featuring the Beetlejuice main titles, posted by an attendee who was at one of Elfman’s 2014 concerts performed overseas, definitely gives you an idea of the incredible impact the music had on the audience over the course of the show’s two and a half hour duration.
I would be hard pressed to name a favourite Elfman score, as there about a dozen I feel very strongly about. But the one I always go back to is 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, which I have often heard Elfman quoted as saying was the score he considers to be his best. Perhaps the musical highlight of the show came as part of the Edward Scissorhands section, as violin virtuoso Sandy Cameron performed an incredible solo that words could not do justice to, instead I will just let her musical magic speak for itself:
Just hearing Elfman’s music performed live would be amazing enough, but the fact that Elfman himself made a welcome appearance in the second act, to sing about half a dozen songs from his musical masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas, from 1993, just made this night all the more special. Befitting a musical legends first visit ever to Australia, Elfman arrived on stage to rousing applause, and didn’t miss a beat when launching into the vocals of Jack Skellington, and to hear the stirring songs from the Nightmare soundtrack performed live was an incredible experience.
Elfman spent about 35 minutes all up as part of the concert, with the lengthy selection of music from Nightmare before Christmas saved until right near the end. Perhaps wanting to let his music speak for itself and not wanting to overshadow the orchestra, Elfman didn’t introduce the show or even speak about his music on the night, again perhaps to just let his scores speak for themselves.
In the end, the effect was overwhelming and something I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s not often a musical performance can elicit tears from me, but the fact that this music has been part of my life for more than 30 years and that Elfman is perhaps single-handedly responsible for my love of film music. I am not really passionate about too many mainstream bands or music, I love a lot of it, but the music I am really passionate about is film music, and it was great to finally have a concert staged in Australia that I could be as passionate about as my friends are for when the Foo Fighters or U2 come to town. Elfman is definitely someone I would see again. Speaking briefly to the crowd at the end of the performance, which ended with an encore featuring his music from 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, a wretched film but it did have an excellent Elfman score, Elfman apologised for it taking his more than 60 years to make it out to Australia and promised to return soon. When he returns to our shores, I will definitely be there as well, as if anything, attending this concert only made me more of a fan.
The Music from the Films of Tim Burton concert will be staged in Sydney in July, at the Opera House, which would be an incredible venue to experience it, but Elfman will sadly not be appearing at these concerts. I would encourage everyone who is a fan of his work, or of film music in general, to race to the show whenever you get the chance as this is truly the best concert experience I have had in my lifetime, and something that will be hard to ever top in terms of sheer emotion and entertainment.