Preview: PSO spotlights Danny Elfman's musical contributions to Tim Burton films


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To rework the opening lines of one of Danny Elfman's most beloved compositions, "Jack's Lament," "There are few who'd deny that what he does, he is the best ... for his talents are renowned far and wide."

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra presents “Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton”
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $25-$105; www.pittsburghsymphony.org; 412-392-4900.

Backed by lush orchestrations and stunning visuals, Mr. Elfman's songs bring a rainbow of darks and lights to movie screens and stage. So there will be keen expectation Saturday at Heinz Hall when the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra presents "Danny Elfman's Music From the Films of Tim Burton."

Also performing: Teddy Sweeny, soloist, and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.

"It's really fun. You think: 'Well, this is the guy who wrote the theme for 'The Simpsons,' so there's a lot of humor in it," said conductor Ted Sperling. "There's a lot of color and a lot of notes. If you just think about his signature sound, sometimes it's a lot of that really crazy, explosive writing. Just strings zipping away, the woodwinds ... it's like a circus."

Since 1985's "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," Mr. Elfman has scored 15 films for the director, known for dark whimsy ("The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Corpse Bride," "Edward Scissorhands," "Beetlejuice," "Big Fish") and darker fantasy ("Batman," "Planet of the Apes," "Sleepy Hollow").

The former frontman and composer for the New Wave rock band Oingo Boingo was looking to get out of performing when he got the chance to score "Pee-wee."

"I think it's sort of one of those little miracles, that somebody just asks and somebody says yes, and that they are also surprisingly good," Mr. Sperling said.

"Obviously, this was always in him, and Pee-wee was a good way for a composer to find his footing. Still, it's remarkable to me that somebody who was essentially self-trained and in a rock band could write this kind of symphonic music."

All of Mr. Elfman's work with Mr. Burton will be represented, accompanied by film clips and sketches by Mr. Burton. Mr. Sperling said that Pittsburgh will be showing several elements new to the tour, which began last month at London's Royal Albert Hall.

"Each [of the movie scores] is a self-contained concert suite, so you hear the main themes, but they are really woven into something that feels like a movement of a symphony," Mr. Sperling said.

Among his personal favorites: "Big Fish," which tells the bittersweet story of a father and son trying to connect through the father's fantastic stories of his life.

"It's sort of a different color from him: very pastoral, very American-sounding. It's very fiddle-oriented, and in fact at one point there are four different solo violins going on at once.

"It's very sweeping and lyrical, very 'sunny' sounding. A lot of times, Burton movies are so dark. It's a great moment in the concert when things just lighten up. But it also has a circus element to it as well, the real American-type vaudeville circus."

Mr. Elfman, who had not performed on a stage in 18 years before singing at the London premiere, won't be in Pittsburgh. But Mr. Sperling said he wouldn't be surprised to see a few Jack Skellingtons in the audience.

"We've had some hardcore fans come dressed as Beetlejuice or from 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.' The whole concert should be a fun surprise, for people to see how these ideas were hatched."


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