Pop stars’ quasi-reunion: new directions at Carnegie Hall

by Mac Randall
Excerpt of article from the New York Observer, 2005.03.09
Source: http://www.observer.com/pages/music.asp
Thanks to 9fingeredElf
On Feb. 23 at Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Orchestra gave three pieces of music their world premiere and, in so doing, provided a reunion of sorts for two well-traveled musicians. Film composer Danny Elfman’s first orchestral work for the concert stage, Serenada Schizophrana, was the evening’s biggest event.
For Serenada Schizophrana, a 40-minute work in six unrelated movements, Mr. Elfman packed the stage with bodies and instruments. Two grand pianos lurked in the background, flanked by synthesizers, harps, an imposing stockpile of tubular bells and, for the final three movements, an eight-woman chorus. In keeping with the piece’s title, the music veered madly from Ellingtonian whimsy to Bernard Herrmannesque agitation.
As cascading dual piano lines melded with ominous pizzicato strings, it was almost impossible to keep from asking, "Which movie did this come from again?" No surprise, given Mr. Elfman’s pedigree. But several moments transcended the soundtrack pigeonhole. The tortured swing of the third movement conjured up the image of a jazz band on a storm-tossed raft, with trash-can cymbals acting as the crashing waves. And the furious horn-stoked climax and surprising last-second resolution of the closing movement made for a rousing finish.
Back at the Mercer Hotel in the aftermath of his Carnegie Hall debut, Mr. Elfman, who self-deprecatingly calls himself a "throwback" to the styles of early 20th-century Russian composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich, revealed that Serenada Schizophrana had first been conceived as a chamber piece, to be performed in Carnegie’s more intimate Zankel Hall. Moving its premiere to a later date in the main Isaac Stern Auditorium meshed well with Mr. Elfman’s personal life (the original Zankel date had been set for the same week in January that his wife was due to deliver their new baby)—and the switch also gave him the opportunity to write something more ambitious. But when he flew into town a few months ago to visit the hall, he started wondering what he’d gotten himself into.
"I’d never been there," he said, "and it was incredibly intimidating. I felt like a little kid in the playground of the big boys. I just thought, ‘I’m ...ed. These walls are used to some serious [shockingwordshamefullypublishedbutnothere], and they’re going to hear my notes bouncing around and simply reject them.’"
Mr. Elfman acknowledged that in the end everything had turned out just fine, and that he might even chance writing more concert pieces in the future. "But now," he added enthusiastically, "I have something I can needle my son about for the rest of his life. I can say, ‘It’s your fault, Oliver! Because of you, they had to move me up to the big hall, and it was scary. The hall scared me, Oliver, and it was all your fault!’"
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