22 Feb 2024

DANNY ELFMAN: Percussion Concerto

by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – DANNY ELFMAN (b. 1953) – Danny Elfman’s reputation precedes him everywhere he goes, and it has for a while. For decades he has scored iconic films with music that was as much a character as any of the people on screen. Elfman’s Oscar nominations are few, only four to date, but his impact on the art form is undeniable and should be measured in public opinion. By that metric of devoted adoration, it is impossible to argue that there are very few like him. Elfman has also composed for live performance with orchestral works for the American Composer’s Orchestra, the American Ballet Theatre, the Library of Congress and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.  

THE HISTORY – Eleven Eleven (2017) was Elman’s first concerto of any kind. “My violin concerto,” he wrote about the experience, “was my first time really digging into the concerto form…It was one of the hardest things I’d ever attempted”. Having now fully embraced the genre and the joys of working closely with violinist Sandy Cameron to bring the piece to life, Elfman has since written concertos for cello (in 2022, for Gauthier Capuçon) and the present piece for solo percussion (2021). About the Percussion Concerto, Elman says, “Percussion has always been an important part of my life. Beginning in my travels through West Africa when I was only 18 years old, when I began collecting and learning to play ‘balafons’ (kind of like the African version of a marimba), through my years playing in metal-based Indonesian Gamelan ensembles in my twenties, as well as building my own strange metal and wood percussion ensembles in my early theatrical performance years, it has always been a lifelong obsession.” Not surprisingly, Elfman has often reiterated that percussion is his “first love in the musical world” and, after composing a Percussion Quartet for Third Coast Percussion in 2019, he was eager to build on what he learned with the violin concerto. “I had a chance meeting with percussionist Colin Currie during a film scoring session in London,” he continues, “We decided it could be fun to create a piece together. I was excited to take another plunge into the challenge of another large symphonic composition and at the same time to really go back to my roots with wood and metal, mallets and sticks and hands, and to really let loose and have some fun with it. I also knew Colin was an extraordinary musician who would be great to collaborate” Being in London at that moment was fortuitous, as Elfman was able to secure the London Philharmonic for the 2022 premiere.        

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 2022, Spain’s Third Carlist War ended, Queen Victoria took the title “Empress of India” and, back in the United States, the country celebrated its centennial and founded baseball’s National League.   

THE CONNECTION – These performances represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Danny Elfman’s Percussion Concerto.