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May 9, 2012
Danny Elfman and the American Youth Symphony
Record numbers pack UCLA Royce Hall for symposium and concert by Marilee Bradford

Danny Elfman in conversation with Jon Burlingame

Danny Elfman in conversation with Jon Burlingame
(photograph by Felisa Ihly)

WESTWOOD, Calif.—More than 2,000 people were in attendance to hear the American Youth Symphony perform the music of Danny Elfman on Sunday at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

David Newman conducted the AYS – one of the nation's leading orchestras of young musicians (ages 15 to 27) – in excerpts from Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Sommersby (1993) and the documentary Standard Operating Procedure (2008).

The concert was in two parts: The afternoon portion was a symposium sponsored by The Film Music Society, and the evening portion featured Alexander Treger conducting the AYS in Bartok's Divertimento for Strings and Stravinsky's Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra, followed in the second act by the Newman-conducted Elfman scores.

The symposium began with Newman conducting five movements of Elfman's score for Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure, the acclaimed documentary on abuses at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Following the performance, Elfman sat in conversation with journalist Jon Burlingame about his life and composing career. Elfman proved a lively raconteur, regaling the audience with stories about London musicians giving conductor Shirley Walker a chauvinistic attitude on the Batman recording sessions; the Tchaikovsky influences on his writing for Edward Scissorhands and how often his fairy-tale, choir-and-celeste ideas have been "borrowed" since; how he left one highly commercial project in order to score the post-Civil War romance Sommersby motivated by the film's unexpected ending where the hero is hanged; and Morris' unusual ideas about scoring Standard Operating Procedure.

Elfman also attended the evening concert and took four curtain calls with Newman and the orchestra at the conclusion, which were met with wild cheers and standing ovations from the packed house at UCLA.

David Newman rehearses the American Youth Symphony for The Elfman Project

David Newman rehearses the American Youth Symphony for The Elfman Project
(photograph by Cathy Merenda)

Newman assembled new suites for all of the films, including 23 minutes of Edward Scissorhands, 10 minutes of which synchronized were with film (the haircutting episode, the famous "ice dance" with Winona Ryder, and the touching finale); the opening and closing music was also performed.

Nearly 8 minutes of Elfman's soulful Americana for Sommersby followed Edward Scissorhands, and 11 minutes of Batman (the main title, the speeding-Batmobile music, the Batman-Joker chase in the deserted cathedral, and the finale) concluded the concert.

Burlingame hosted the Elfman portion of the evening concert. The Film Music Society-published program for the symposium featured rare photographs of Elfman along with an essay by Elfman expert and Danse Macabre author Jeff Bond.

AYS executive director Janneke Straub announced that this is the first year of a three-year project to restore and perform Elfman scores. Support for the project came from the James Irvine Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), and private donations. The AYS successfully partnered with The Film Music Society over the past of three years on a similar project exploring the music of Jerry Goldsmith.

©2012 Marilee Bradford
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