Danny Elfman talks about Halloween concerts of Tim Burton movie music

Composer Danny Elfman, shown at his studio in Los Angeles in 2013, is bringing back his Halloween orchestral concerts of music from the movies of Tim Burton.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Danny Elfman will be back this Halloween season for concerts of his music from the movies of Tim Burton. The performances, which will feature a live orchestra and choir, are scheduled for Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, and Nov. 2 at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Elfman will perform vocals from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as he did at last year’s Halloween concerts. Conductor John Mauceri will lead the orchestra in musical selections from Burton movies including “Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

Speaking recently by phone, the Oscar-nominated composer spoke about working in a live orchestral environment and his favorite Burton scores. He also answered questions about his music for Fox’s “The Simpsons.”


So is this going to become an annual Halloween event?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve kind of agreed in my mind to see it through 2015.

What qualities does a movie score need to also work as live-concert material?

I actually would have no idea what makes any score good for a live concert. What makes it is a desire in the audience to hear it live. I put many months of work to adapt it for the live stage. Hearing it in different environments over the years made me realize how different it is being on a concert stage than being in a recording studio. There’s been lots of re-orchestration -- how do we express this better, etc.

How has it been working with conductor John Mauceri on this project?

He’s really suited for this material. He’s one of the few conductors out there who really appreciates film music as a legitimate form. For most conductors, it’s the equivalent of doing a pops concert. It’s kind of like slumming. But John treats film music as a completely legitimate form.

How will this year’s Halloween concert differ from last year’s?


It’ll be mostly the same, but I’m bringing out a new “Nightmare” song -- “This Is Halloween.”

You’ve probably been asked this a million times, but what are your favorite Tim Burton scores that you’ve written?

It’s hard to say. I have favorite moments -- sections of “Big Fish,” “Edward Scissorhands.” The theme to “Alice in Wonderland” is still one of my favorite pieces. It’s like picking children, so it’s hard to really say.

Are there any that you would go back and revise?

All of them. That’s the reason I don’t go back and listen. I was forced to go back to all the scores for that 25th anniversary box set. I don’t think I’ve nailed anything, ever. I find it healthier to never listen, otherwise I’d drive myself crazy.

You wrote the theme song to “The Simpsons.” Any thoughts on its big anniversary year?


Just how amazed I am at how long it’s lasted. The show seemed so off-center. I thought, “This is fun but no one will really see it.” It didn’t look or feel like anything at the moment. In my mind, anything unique was doomed to fail on TV at that point. I just can’t say how happy I am to be proved wrong.

How long did it take you to write “The Simpsons” theme song?

A couple of hours. There are very few things I write that were that direct. I came home from the meeting -- well, actually by the time I got home, I had it my head. It was probably 90% of what ended up there. The irony isn’t lost on me. I’ve slaved away for three months on a score that disappears in a few days. So “The Simpsons” was one of my great lucky breaks.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT