When Tim Burton and Paul Reubens asked Danny Elfman to compose the score to 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, the Oingo Boingo frontman was a relative neophyte with only one previous film score to his credit: the early-’80s cult film Forbidden Zone, which he scored with his band. Big Adventure required a full orchestra, which gave Elfman pause: “I was absolutely terrified at first,” he wrote in the liner notes to his 1990 compilation Music for a Darkened Theatre. “But by the end of the project I knew I was addicted to film music for life.”
That collaboration began an unprecedented run of iconic Elfman/Burton scores—a streak that the Las Vegas Philharmonic and its musical director Donato Cabrera will celebrate with a special November 2 concert at the Smith Center. The Phil will perform cues from Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), filling out the program with music from CBS’ The Flash (1990), Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), The Simpsons (1989) and selections from Elfman’s 2018 Piano Quartet, co-commissioned by the Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln’s Lied Center of Performing Arts.
If that sounds like fun to you, imagine how it feels for the man who’ll conduct it. “I can’t wait,” Cabrera says. “This is our third concert where we focus on a film composer; our first two were very fun and successful John Williams concerts. … I realized that we should do Danny Elfman next, because like John Williams, when you sit down and look at all the movie and TV scores he’s been responsible for, it’s such a long and wonderful list.”
And this concert will draw from the best-known scores of that list, Cabrera says. “One tune after the next, people will know every note,” he says. “And we’ll screen the images associated with that music.”
The visual accompaniment is nice but perhaps unnecessary; Elfman’s music is so entwined with Burton’s images that it’s near impossible to hear, say, The Nightmare Before Christmas’ “This Is Halloween” without clearly visualizing the director’s weird and wonderful characters.
“Tim Burton has a quirky sensibility that is so perfectly married to the sound world of Danny Elfman,” Cabrera says. “These collaborations are very special when they happen. It’s kismet.”
That makes it all the more remarkable that the Phil considered an Elfman concert even before Burton announced his art show at the Neon Museum. Once he did, Cabrera jumped to action—just as you should this weekend, by following this Elfman concert with a visit to Burton’s Lost Vegas.
“[The Phil has] been wanting to find ways to collaborate with other Las Vegas cultural institutions,” Cabrera says. “This fell right into our laps.”
LAS VEGAS PHILHARMONIC: THE MUSIC OF DANNY ELFMAN November 2, 7:30 p.m., $30-$110. Smith Center's Reynolds Hall, 702-749-2000.