26 Jun 2019

Elfman, Turned Up To “Eleven Eleven”

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The Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra will perform Danny Elfman’s first freestanding orchestral work with Sandy Cameron September 21 and 22.

Danny Elfman and Sandy Cameron. Photo courtesy of Margaret Malandruccolo

By Nick Dobreff (Colorado Symphony) 

“I’m not out to prove anything to anybody. I’m just out to challenge myself.”

Such was Danny Elfman’s mentality when the composer was approached about writing a violin concerto in 2014. The resulting work — Elfman’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, (Eleven Eleven) — makes its Hawaii debut with your HSO September 20-21, 2019 at Blaisdell Concert Hall.

At the time, Elfman’s music had already been firmly embedded in the public consciousness through numerous iconic film scores across four decades including Tim Burton’s BatmanEdward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas as well as the Academy Award nominated score to Good Will Hunting —  even the enduring opening theme from The Simpsons.

But how these past experiences would translate to classical composition was anybody’s guess. However, distinguished and decorated conductor John Mauceri — who would eventually lead the world premiere performance of Elfman’s creation — saw greatness early in the compositional process.

“When I first saw the material that he was developing, I thought this is amazing that Danny has this instinct of changing the kind of melodic material that he was using that could be developed over a long period of an organic movement, not just a cue in a movie,” said Mauceri.

Integral to the inspiration for Eleven Eleven was Sandy Cameron, the dynamic violinist described as “brilliant” by the Washington Post and a “showstopper” by Broadway World. Elfman first encountered her while she was performing solos in his score for the Cirque du Soleil show “Iris” in 2012. Cameron’s electric stage presence and imaginative attire were a perfect match with Elfman’s extroverted music and their collaborative relationship quickly blossomed into a fruitful partnership.

“Danny Elfman is a genius. His mind just works in these fascinating ways,” said Cameron.

The two collaborated throughout the writing process with Cameron making suggestions and improvisations based on Elfman’s initial note patterns.

“She really educated me about the violin and what the violin was capable of doing,” said Elfman.

“I grew up on stories about violinist and composer relationships,” Cameron told the Los Angeles Times in March 2019. “The two biggest ones being Johannes Brahms with Joseph Joachim and Dmitri Shostakovich with David Oistrakh. You’re taught that almost all violin concertos are written for a specific person, and usually, the best ones are based on some kind of fabulous working relationship. As a kid, I dreamed of that.”

“Sometimes Brahms would veto ideas that Joachim had, which happened to me too! I’d suggest something and he’d say, no we’re not going to do that,” she laughed.

This being his first foray into classical composition, Elfman made a list of roughly 30 classic concerti, narrowed that down to 20 and listened obsessively.

“I already knew that it was going to be in four movements, as is Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, which is what I looked at as my Bible, almost, my sacred texts that I would turn to,” said Elfman. “I had to realize at a certain point that I would simply never be Shostakovich. But there began the formation of my concerto. The four movements formed a pattern of playing against each other and balancing each other out in a certain way.”

The result is his first freestanding orchestral work, teeming with lyrical beauty, percussive power, and playful energy while still featuring Elfman’s signature dramatic flair. Sony Classical declaired it, “Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev running into the groove of Beetlejuice.”

“I knew that the first and the fourth movement would be the most classical. But the second movement I would veer to the left, take it somewhere crazier where my own personality may want to go,” said Elfman. “And then for the third movement, I knew, alright, now I’m really going to bring it in and do something that’s absolutely contrasting. What can I do with four notes? And that kind of became a personal challenge. I’m just going to take four notes. And that really became almost the most fun that I had in the entire concerto is writing this very quiet third movement.”

The work stands alone as a considerable artistic achievement, blending seamlessly into the classical cannon while maintaining a sound that is unmistakably Elfman’s.

“I need to push myself into new territory with fresh challenges as much as I can and whenever I can,” Elfman told Broadway World in March 2019. “I am told I have a recognizable style but my greatest pleasure is when I can surprise the audience with my music.”

Eleven Eleven for Violin and Orchestra was co-commissioned by Prague Proms, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and Stanford Live; composed for violinist Sandy Cameron, who gave the premiere in Prague in June 2017.

Movements I. Grave. Animato | II. Spietato | III. Fantasma | IV. Giocoso. Lacrimae

This story is reprinted with permission: Nick Dobreff, Manager of Publicity & Community Relations, Colorado Symphony Association


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