Hartford Symphony Orchestra and CONCORA Perform Wonderland of Danny Elfman’s Tim Burton Film Scores


Credit: Hartford Symphony Orchestra

There was magic in the air last Saturday night at The Bushnell.

This is Halloween! So, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, teaming up with the singers of CONCORA, took us on a big adventure through dark, spooky and whimsical worlds like Sleepy Hollow, Gotham, Wonderland, the planet overtaken by apes and nightmares before Christmas in a performance marrying Danny Elfman scores from Tim Burton films with projected movie clips and story sketches.

Some audience members went a step further and got festive with various Halloween costumes from Tim Burton characters like Sally in “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Beetlejuice and the Mad Hatter to one little girl dressed as Cinderella. They were entered for a chance to win HSO tickets.

Tim Burton headshot

Filmmaker Tim Burton. Courtesy of HSO

What’s this? Did you know Danny Elfman scored all but a few of his good friend Tim Burton’s movies?


While Elfman wasn’t there – wow, what a joy that would have been – HSO and Concora brought his songs to life, connecting to Tim Burton movie fans through music. The program featured segments of the scores of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Beetlejuice,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Mars Attacks,” “Big Fish,” “Batman” and “Batman Returns” in the first act and “Planet of the Apes,” “Corpse Bride,” “Dark Shadows,” “Frankenweenie,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Edward Scissorhands” in the second, closing with an encore of “Alice and Wonderland.”

Live before our eyes, we got a taste of what performing a movie score is like. Except, unlike in a film, we could actually see the orchestra and chorus. Although we were watching movie clips throughout most of the show, the music was more front and center as we watched the instrumentalists and singers produce sounds with vigor and enthusiasm. It really showed how important music is in films and in setting the mood.

Guest conductor Sarah Hicks thanked the audience for supporting live music and the program really made you appreciate it more.

“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” was the main movie to really kick off the show. There were some issues with tempo consistency and the percussion sounded slightly out of sync from the orchestra. However it was enjoyable to see the quirky Pee-Wee and scary Large Marge live in the music and to hear the instruments portray a scene showing an obstacle course of inventions.


Danny Elfman has scored all but a few Tim Burton movies. Courtesy of HSO

A lot of Danny Elfman’s scores include very ethereal, angelic and lyric-less vocals in films like “Sleepy Hollow”, so adding Concora to the musical blend boosted the already dynamic instrumentals. Hicks comically described “Beetlejuice” as the only sheet music asking the choir of children and adults to make “ghostly spectral sounds.”

The choir only sang words in “Alice and Wonderland” and I would have liked to see more of that in Elfman’s songs that have lyrics in the films like “Nightmare Before Christmas.” It would also have been interesting to hear the techno pop lyrics from “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” from the songs about the characters and Oompa Loompas. Although the choir was slightly off in timing from the young soloist brought downstage next to Hicks to sing the notable “Alice” lyrics, I really enjoyed hearing those words song as a key element to punctuate the song and accentuate the rhythm. And the boy featured as a soloist was so brave to sing it miked front and center!

As Hicks conducted, she listened for tempo through an earpiece metronome and watched a monitor playing the images on the screen and flashing light cues for pacing.

“Please watch me at the end. I have to coordinate the downbeat with a martian’s head exploding,” she quipped she told the musicians during the score from motion stop animated “Mars Attack.”

“Nightmare Before Christmas” was an audience and reviewer favorite segment of the program. Any Tim Burton movie you loved or identified most with made the music highlighted more nostalgic. The visuals of the sketches for characters and scenes gave you a glimpse into Burton’s creative mind.

There were times in some of the songs where the violins sounded slightly grating on the lower notes as opposed to a clearer sound on the sweet higher notes. Occasionally it sounded like some of the violins weren’t completely in sync with the tempo of the rest of the orchestra, but that wasn’t the case for the majority of the show. The strings were impressive, particularly the cellos, and the flavor of reed and flute ornamented the score. The French horn section produced robust and triumphant sound at the parts they had the melody. The choir sung beautifully and was mostly layered yet uniform.

The more contemporary films scores brought increased interest in orchestral and choral music, attracting a broader audience instead of relying on classical music lovers to fill the theater. More programs like this from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra would be interesting to see, particularly other film scores.

I enjoyed traveling through Alice’s rabbit hole into Burton’s and Elfman’s various Wonderlands fusing film and music.

For more information about the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s and CONCORA’s seasons, visit hartfordsymphony.org and www.concora.org, respectively.




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