leapin louie

King of the undead

Fall concerts with Oregon Symphony and Saloon Ensemble keep Danny Elfman's music alive

Those of you who just can’t get enough Brahms and Beethoven are lucky: you get to hear those guys all the time on myriad concerts and fresh boxed sets and so on ad apparently infinitum. But if your favorite composer happens to be alive, or works in video games or film, or both–well, that leaves you with fewer options. The situation could be a lot worse, of course; we do still get ample performances of Andy Akiho, Gabriela Lena Frank, Gabriel Kahane, Caroline Shaw, et alia, and most orchestras (our beloved Oregon Symphony included) make a point of playing a few concerts of film and game music every year.

There’s a barter involved here, though: the cultural institutions that paid for the music in the first place (Hollywood, Nintendo) still exert a powerful influence over the continued performance of the music they commissioned, which is to say soundtracks rarely take center stage and their composers almost never write directly for the concert hall.

It’s no secret to anyone that the present author’s favorite composer is Danny Elfman (except in academic circles, where I claim it’s Stravinsky), and it made a wonderful birthday gift this year to hear his music performed twice in my adopted hometown. The two concerts could hardly have been more different–symphonic Batman screening at The Schnitz, homey Nightmare hootenanny at Alberta Rose–and both shows were firmly indebted to the visual and narrative elements that birthed the music. Satisfying though both experiences were, the frame felt somewhat intrusive, and left me wishing I had more opportunities to just listen to this guy’s music the same way the rest of you get to listen to The Decomposing Austrians.

Screen and frame

In the case of Oregon Symphony’s Batman, the entire concert had a strong element of frustration: what the hell is that screen doing there? Why are they showing a goddamn movie during the symphony? And it’s a goofy movie too, friends. It was fun watching it again, especially for the sake of appreciating the scoring craft and considering how extensively the bad old grimey ‘80s have returned to our world, but what would have been really nice is to listen to this music the same way we listen to a Shostakovich symphony.

Continues…