American Youth Symphony to explore film music of Danny Elfman

There are many reasons why Los Angeles is great, and one of them is its proximity to Hollywood. From previews to private screenings, there is no better place for the movie buff or film connoisseur. USC is conveniently located less than 10 miles from Hollywood. Thus, it only makes sense the school has strong ties to the movie and music industries, and even students who are not enrolled in the world-renowned School of Cinematic Arts can take advantage of this culture.

Big_Orchestra_with_Alex_by Philip Holahan

Alex Treger rehearses with the American Youth Symphony for the Danny Elfman Project II at UCLA Royce Hall.

This Saturday the American Youth Symphony will provide the opportunity to do just that. Their free concert of film music at UCLA’s Royce Hall includes a pre-concert symposium lead by USC Professor Jon Burlingame, and a performance of the “Overeager Overture.” The concert will open with AYS Director, Alex Treger, conducting Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kijé Suite.” Next, the program will shift to Danny Elfman’s film music, conducted by David Newman. The concert will feature music from the Tim Burton films Big Fish and Alice in Wonderland, as well as a suite from Spiderman 2. The American Youth Symphony will also premiere Danny Elfman’s Milk Suite and music from Oz The Great and Powerful with accompanying film clips.

The “Danny Elfman Project II” marks the American Youth Symphony’s fifth year of movie music and second concert emphasizing Elfman’s work. Previously, the orchestra performed a three-concert exploration of Jerry Goldsmith’s music. As Newman, the guest conductor, described, the AYS does in-depth studies of film composers and presents their music with energy and thought. The “Danny Elfman Project II” explores Elfman’s recent film music and highlights the role music plays in the movie experience. In the pre-concert symposium, “The Nuts and Bolts of Music’s Role in Film,” Burlingame will address the way music contributes to films and help viewers appreciate the effort that goes into producing film music. According to Burlingame, music in film should do more than just complete the visuals.

“The best film music works on its own, as a listening experience,” he said.

Burlingame also moderated last year’s Danny Elfman concert.

“As time goes on, [Elfman’s music] has grown in emotional and musical depth,” Burlingame said.

The concert will encourage audience members to think about the way music shapes a film’s narrative and the way music interacts with visuals. Both the Milk suite and the music from Oz The Great and Powerful will be played live to film clips. While this combination of movie media and traditional symphonic instruments may seem revolutionary, Newman reminds viewers that “even the most abstract music tells a story.” He feels that film music concerts are increasingly popular because they combine visual and aural experiences.

Aside from showcasing the performative aspects of the music, watching the film clips with a live orchestra is a novel experience that few movie aficionados have the opportunity to experience. Burlingame feels that fans of the movies will “like the music as much, if not more, when [it is] played live by a symphony orchestra.”

The unique experience of listening to live film music combined with the AYS’ skillful performance attracts a diverse mix of audience members. Aside from the “regular” fans of classical music, the film music concerts consist of students and “a real contingency of Elfman fans,” Burlingame said.

Although hard-pressed to pick a favorite, Newman is especially looking forward to conducting the premiere of the Milk suite. This movie details the life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, and is one of Elfman’s lesser-known scores. Newman feels that the unique structure of the American Youth Symphony is what allowed them to tackle this piece. Unlike in professional orchestras, conductors work more closely with AYS musicians and have more time to fine-tune and match the music to the film clips. Newman explained that although film music should be performed in its original state, there are minor adaptations that must take place in order to ease the transition from the screen to the concert hall. The orchestra will premiere more than 10 minutes of music adapted from the film score. Newman describes the combination of the music and the film clips as “almost transcendent.”

Both Burlingame and Newman lauded the players in the American Youth Symphony, 29 of whom are current students and alumni of USC. Although the Danny Elfman Project II is being presented at UCLA’s Royce Hall, the concert is for everyone — both Newman and Burlingame encourage Trojans to attend.

“Come for the simple reason [to] gain a whole new appreciation for music added to the films [you already] love,” Burlingame said.

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