Why John Mauceri Loves Danny Elfman's Music
June 30, 2015
For John Mauceri, who will conduct Lincoln Center Festival's opening program Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton, it's all about the music. Yes, the show features projections of the gorgeous artwork of the prodigiously talented director Tim Burton. And there will be film excerpts. And it reflects three decades of an amazing partnership between a composer and director who have been showered with Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA Awards, and the undying allegiance of millions of fans around the world. But for Mauceri, a passionate advocate for film music over the five decades of his career and who is a Tony, Grammy, Olivier, and three-time Emmy Award winner, it all comes down to the music.
"I have always championed the music of living composers from Messiaen to Stravinsky and Bernstein," Mauceri says. "To open this most prestigious and eclectic festival with Danny Elfman's music is, for me, a tremendous victory for valuing music that frequently is not valued. I look at these concerts as concerts by a contemporary composer. It just happens that this composer, who's written something like 90 orchestral scores, is somebody who writes for the movies."
This multimedia extravaganza, which has now been presented in nine countries for more than 100,000 people, comprises specially created suites from 15 film collaborations by the legendary composer and director. It will have eight performances from July 6–12.
The impetus for the show was the success of Tim Burton's artwork, which has been exhibited in many of the world's leading art museums, including MoMA, according to Mauceri. "So, the idea was floated: what would happen if we showed the artwork while playing Danny's music?" Although Elfman was at first reluctant to have his music played live, once he embraced the idea, he was unstoppable, recalls Mauceri. "He went one step further, which was to actually volunteer to sing. It was something we never expected, because he had retired from public performance." Elfman, who founded the band Oingo Boingo in the 1970s, will indeed sing in these performances. "Then he surprised us once again," Mauceri continues, "because originally the thought was to find published suites, but instead, Danny being Danny, actually volunteered to create all of these suites himself. Which means that the imprimatur of the composer is evident in every note."
Does Maestro Mauceri have a favorite moment in the show? "That's always a tough question, but I would say the Batman Suite is the most gratifying because it is 16 minutes long. It's the length of a Strauss tone poem, and you really get a sense of Danny's virtuosic writing. At the same time the score to Big Fish is maybe the most beautiful because of Danny's ability to capture Americana."
And how does Mauceri feel about being back on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall, where he made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1995 with—what else—a program of film music? "Whenever I conduct in New York, on one hand it's a privilege, and on the other hand, it feels as normal as riding the subway," he says. "I'm a New Yorker; my whole being is New York. You know, we're all 85 percent water, and in me, that is New York water."