The TSO does Danny Elfman's music from the films of Tim Burton

The TSO does Danny Elfman's music from the films of Tim Burton

Greg Finney
Photo: Don Harder via Flickr

Hello Schmop-Tops,

As part of Halloweek, I was lucky enough to nab tickets to one of the coolest events in the city.

Last Saturday I got myself gussied up in my “Bloody Harry” suit, and trotted through the downtown core of Toronto to head to Roy Thomson Hall to see our very own Toronto Symphony Orchestra tackle the scores of some of film’s greatest accomplishments.

Danny Elfman, probably best known for penning the ubiquitous theme song to The Simpsons, is one of Hollywood’s most intriguing and acclaimed composers. For over 30 years he and director Tim Burton have been able to marry their aesthetics and create some of film’s most memorable moments.

The evening was inspired by the release of original design sketches by Burton for his films. Over the course of the night, as the orchestra played the excerpts, they flashed shots of the sketches which would morph into the actual scenes from the movie. It was a multi-sensory experience that anyone who is a film fan or buff would really appreciate. We all understand how film music sometimes makes the movie. Thinking of the scores for films like Psycho, Indiana Jones, and James Bond, I think we all can agree, it’s time these symphonic masterpieces are regularly heard outside movie theatres and in the concert halls of the world.

Especially when it’s a composer like Elfman. He has a particular colour palette that is undeniably his. You can recognize it anywhere. Beefy percussion sections with heroic horns. I’ve been noticing the term “Brutalist Architecture,” and I’d almost say that Elfman could be considered a “Brutalist Composer”. He uses big swathes of sound, and repetition and variation unlike any other composer today. I found the best example of this to be in his score for the cult-classic Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (yes, I too always forget that that movie is a Burton/Elfman collaboration).

They played from Pee-Wee, Batman, Batman Returns (the Catwoman theme was excellent), Dark Shadows, Big Fish, Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and of course, Edward Scissorhands. Under the baton of Ted Sperling, the TSO were in top form. Using colours and instrumentation that you won’t see often on the Roy Thomson stage (I’m looking at you, synths and saxophone) they, once again, proved why their are a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.

A large part of Elfman’s palette is the use of vocals and choirs. Joining the TSO tonight was the Orpheus Choir. Under direction of Robert Cooper C.M., Orpheus sang cleanly and clearly, and although they were obscured by the large projection screen in front of the orchestra, they were still very much a crucial part of the score and matched the massive TSO’s sound easily.

Special guests for the evening, letting us have a taste of Elfman’s particular fondness for the sound of a boy soprano, were two singers Nicholas Mochoky and Lucas Drube, both from the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. These two young boys sang better at their age than I do now. On the stage the seemed like they’d been doing this for forty years. They were comfortable, at ease, and charming the whole way through. Keep singing boys, you’ll take over the whole industry if you keep going at this rate.

Honestly though, I couldn’t find something that I didn’t like in the evening. It’s probably because I’m a movie junkie, it’s possibly because I’ve been such a huge fan of Elfman’s my whole life. It also may have been the Hallowe’en vibe in the air, but it really was one of the highlights of my Halloweek.

The TSO does concerts like this, and I definitely plan to check out more of them. They’ve done John Williams and Star Wars on separate occasions, and coming up in December, they’ll be playing Howard Shor’s score to the Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Unfortunately, that one is sold out, but keep an eye for more presentations of film scores, and take all your AV club friends.

For the full line-up of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Movies with Live Orchestra, click here.

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