The fact that I was standing in the ticket line behind Beetlejuice was a rather large clue that there might be an unusual evening ahead at the Royal Albert Hall. That and the fact that we were waiting to take our seats for the world premiere of Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton. The queue was abuzz with excitement as we were ushered inside just before the final bell, along with Beetlejuice, to take our seats and be whisked away on a musical adventure by the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Burton and Elfman’s creative relationship stretches back all the way to Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Elfman has scored the majority of Burton’s films ever since. The concert at the RAH was a celebration of this exceptional collaboration and the impact that the pair has had on cinematic history through such cult works as Edward Scissorhands and Mars Attacks! The extent to which their partnership has touched audiences was evident in the rapturous applause given as each film title was shown on a screen above the orchestra.
Elfman’s distinctive style was instantly recognisable in every piece. His diverse orchestrations range from the science fiction of Planet of the Apes to the gothic fairytale of Corpse Bride, but still retain a shared quality that is uniquely Danny Elfman. The BBC Concert Orchestra expertly brought the rich, full sound of Elfman’s work to life, with special praise due to Lydia Kavina for her theremin performance, the theremin being an electronic musical instrument noted for its eerie tone. The Maida Vale singers also lent a ghostly quality to the music, with haunting soprano choruses that soared above the orchestra.
…A slightly nervous-looking Helena Bonham-Carter…
The undisputed highlight of the evening was when Elfman himself appeared on stage to perform Jack Skellington’s part in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Animation from the film was projected onto the screen as Elfman sang ‘What’s This?’ and received no less than three standing ovations. A slightly nervous-looking Helena Bonham-Carter then sidled up alongside the conductor to perform ‘Sally’s Song’ amidst screams from the audience and claims from Bonham-Carter that she was about to lose her live-singing virginity. Elfman himself was clearly having so much fun dancing around on stage that he almost got distracted from singing his part.
It was wonderful to see Burton’s own sketches projected onto the giant screen while the orchestra played Elfman’s scores, as it highlighted the creative process behind each film and suggested the visual inspiration for each piece of music. It was a tight squeeze to fit everything into one evening, but it was a fantastic celebration of the best of their work so far, with future projects such as Big Eyes still to come.