Last week of September, 25-29 of September precisely, Hollywood in Vienna festival was held in the capital of Austria, Vienna. Gorka Oteiza from SoundTrackFest attended it and had the chance to interview Danny Elfman and festival director Sandra Tomek, leaving us in the following article his summary of the festival and both interviews.
Hollywood in Vienna has celebrated its 10th birthday this year, and has done so with a week full of events that started with a special opening concert on Monday 25th of September, and ended with the traditional gala-concert on Friday 29th where Danny Elfman, main figure of the festival, was presented the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award.
But let’s go step by step and let’s review day by day this year’s edition.
The Wiener Konzerthaus, the regular venue for the concerts of Hollywood in Vienna festival, was the place selected for this special opening concert “Janoskas Go Hollywood”, where on Monday 25th of September at 8:00 p.m., the Janoska Ensemble would be responsible for an evening that would deliver a different approach to film music.
Formed by virtuoso pianist Frantisek Janoska (who also participates in the concerts of Hollywood in Vienna) along with his brothers Ondrej Janoska and Roman Janoska to the violin, and double bass player Julius Darvas, the Janoska Ensemble played the following pieces:
In the same way as the haute cuisine chefs build new recipes with regular ingredients but pushing their properties to the limit to deliver new flavors and sensations to the public, the Janoska Ensamble de-constructed film music, and re-built it in a surprising fusion with classical music, jazz or rumba, spiced up with frantic rhythms and powerful melodies, to get to the public and prevail in the collective memory. A wonderful concert, which lasted two hours, offering a different point of view of film music: fresh, dynamic and highly enjoyable. Couldn’t think of a better beginning for the festival!
The Hotel Imperial Vienna, the official hotel that would lodge the guests of the festival, would be the place for the press conference that was going to be held today at 12 pm. There composer Danny Elfman, orchestra director John Mauceri, festival director Sandra Tomek and several Viennese personalities, hosted a one-hour press meeting after which the official guest book of the hotel was signed, and then Danny Elfman attended press in a short but very gentle way.
I had the chance to interview him briefly, as time was very limited, and you can read the interview at the end of this article, together with a second brief interview to Danny Elfman held on the red carpet of the gala-concert 3 days later. Director Sandra Tomek was also interviewed at the Hotel Imperial, talking about the festival trajectory, future plans, dates for next year’s edition, and Hollywood in Hamburg concert series, in an interview that can also be found at the end of this article.
Regarding FIMU Vienna – International Film Music Symposium, that was celebrated all day round form 9 a.m. till 6 p.m., I have to say that SoundTrackFest was not granted press access to the event, so it was not possible to report about the Symposium.
Public information about the schedule and planning can be found in the following news:
At night, a welcome reception was held at the Synchron Stage Vienna, a great and impressive state of the art recording facility outside the city. The evening had Thomas Mikusz from White Bear PR as host, who introduced the 10th anniversary of the festival followed by a video of 10 years of history, and a wish for another 10 years to come.
After some appreciation speeches from Sandra Tomek and other personalities involved in the festival, including Danny Elfman, it was the moment of the music, played first by a trombone octet named The Great 8, opening with Batman’s theme and then going to Saving Private Ryan with composer and conductor Johannes Vogel joining playing the drums.
To end the night, and after two young talented kids that played four-hands at the piano, the Janoska Ensemble went on stage to perform their magic with The Simpsons main theme among other pieces. Good organization of the evening and good moments to share and celebrate this 10th edition with new and old friends.
A new day started, and a 3-hour masterclass was going to be held today at the University of Music and Performing Arts of Vienna, where Danny Elfman was going to explain his creative process and tutor young musicians and composers about composing for film music. Unfortunately, the masterclass was a closed event, just for composers who paid the 200€ inscription fee, and no press was allowed, so SoundTrackFest couldn’t be there to report about it.
Last year in Hollywood in Vienna with Alexandre Desplat, the masterclass allowed passive observers and press, so people that were not professional composers could have a peek about the masterclass, but without any interaction. It’s a pity that things have changed this year, and I hope next year a different solution can be found, where regular audience and press can be allowed again as in previous occasions.
On Thursday 28th at 7:30 p.m. the “Fairytales” concert was held, the same concert that would be repeated again next day, Friday 29th at 7:30 p.m., but in this second occasion with all the formalities of the red carpet and ceremony for the Max Steiner Award.
The concert’s structure and music was the same in both days and followed the same scheme as in previous years: a first part dedicated to the main theme “Fairytales”, having music from different movies and composers, and a second part of the concert dedicated to the music of Danny Elfman, main guest of the festival.
This year was the first time I could attend both concerts, and comparing side by side, I can assure you that they’re musically the same, so If you have a chance to attend just one concert I would suggest going to the second one, the gala & concert event, so you can have the full experience.
On the second concert I had the chance to briefly interview again Danny Elfman at the red carpet, but just two fast questions that were left out of my interview during the press conference, as time was even more limited that night due to the schedule of the whole evening. The interview can be found at the end of this article, so now, let’s go into detail of the concert itself.
The whole concert was performed by the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien / ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Shearman in the first half, and by John Mauceri in the second half (being him the regular conductor of the official concerts with Danny Elfman’s music). They were accompanied on stage by the Philharmonia Chor Wien conducted by Walter Zeh and several artists that appeared for the different pieces played, giving the evening a very dynamic and differentiating touch.
Steven Gatjen was once more the host of the night, doing the introductions of the pieces and artists we were about to enjoy, in a very elegant and professional way. This year I noticed a better balance between the English / German introductions he made, giving more information to the non-German speaking public, something that didn’t happen sometimes last year. Also, I noticed that due to many changes that were necessary on stage (for example for the Lion King’s suite, where big special African xylophones had to be set on stage), his introductions sometimes were a bit long, but totally necessary. A very good improvement from previous years.
But let’s go with the concert review. As usual, the night started with the Hollywood in Vienna – Max Steiner Fanfare, a grand opening to a grand night, giving way to La La Land – The Fools Who Dream – Justin Hurwitz with Louise Dearman singing and Frantisek Jansoka at the piano, beautifully performing the hit song of La La Land. Unfortunately, the arrangement made the song to end quite abruptly and the public was doubtful to applaud or not at the end, as they were not sure if the song had really ended (it happened on both nights).
Next was the turn of Beauty And The Beast – Medley – Alan Menken, excellently performed by the orchestra with the support of the choir, in a suite that was fully orchestral, and where I missed maybe some singers performing some of the well-known themes of the movie, due to its musical nature.
Following The Chronicles Of Narnia – Suite – Harry Gregson-Williams came with the participation of the choir, which was simply correct, giving way next to a beautiful suite with fantastic arrangements of Mulan – Suite – Jerry Goldsmith, which captured the whole spirit of the movie in a 6 minute piece, having beautiful visual images and videos projected accompanying the music.
And later, something special arrived; it was the first time a video-game piece was going to be performed in Hollywood in Vienna, Final Fantasy VIII – Liberi Fatali – Nobuo Uematsu, a strong and dynamic theme that had a precise and sharp conducting by James Shearman, in a theme that delivered the full intensity of the Philharmonia Chor Wien with an energetic and accurate performance.
After a big applause from the audience, a funny moment arrived. A kid appeared on stage, and mimicking asked the pianist first and James Shearman later, for a chance to play the piano. Both laughed, but finally let the kid, Emil Weller, sit at the piano and play Finding Neverland – Piano Variation in Blue – Jan A.P. Kaczmarek in a soft, subtle and sensitive way, driving the emotions of the piece across the hall. Fantastic performance!
Next theme was Life of Pi – Pi’s Lullaby – Mychael Danna where for the surprise of the audience, singer Sohini Alam come on stage accompanied by an Indian Ensemble, who sang the lullaby in a soft but profound way, giving the piece another dimension with beautiful images running on the screens. Incredible and lovely performance!
A big applause from a standing audience gave way next to a very powerful moment, maybe one of the most powerful moments of the night when Lebo M appeared on stage to sing The Lion King – Suite (originally composed by Hans Zimmer, Lebo M & Elton John). He was accompanied by his daughter Refi Sings and the African choir Insingizi & Friends. The voice of Lebo M could be heard loud and clear, but the balance of the voice of Refi Sings was not appropriate and she could not be properly listened at the beginning (both nights happened the same), although it was corrected later.
The suite generally felt like it had a strange and saturated balance of voices and sounds, especially when the choir came in and there were so many performers together, with African instruments plus singers plus orchestra plus choir at the same time. Nevertheless, this little flaw didn’t make the suite less attractive, and its musical power combined with the original voice of Lebo M, made it the highlight of the first half of the concert.
And to end this part, 10 Years of Adventure with Film Music – Medley La La Land – Justin Hurwitz was performed, with Frantisek Jansoka playing the piano with the voice of singers Louise Dearman and Nathan Trent carrying the weight of the piece. A good end to a big a powerful first part!
When it was past 8:30 p.m. time for the intermission arrived, and nearly half an hour later, at 9:00 p.m., the second part of the concert began; A Tribute to Danny Elfman, with conductor John Mauceri in charge of the orchestra.
The beginning of the second part was strong with Spider-Man – Theme, where a rhythmic piece welcomed Danny Elfman’s presence and music in the hall, as he was the superhero of this second half of the concert. Following, a medley from Black Beauty, Milk, Men In Black and Avengers: Age Of Ultron was performed with the choir boosting the performance of the orchestra, where the rhythm and pace were perfectly marked by the expert hands of conductor John Mauceri, in a very good and elaborated suite.
Next Sommersby – Suite was played with the participation of the Appalachian Sunrise ensemble, giving an extra mountain-countryside feel and sound to the piece, adding instruments like banjo or acoustic guitar, and a powerful violin performance by Martin Tichy.
The hall darkened its lights and Lena Fankhauser came on stage to play a viola solo for The Wolfman – Suite, a piece that was perfectly performed and that had the intense presence of the choir on some sections, but that couldn’t shake the feeling of Dracula from Wojciech Kilar from its sound.
A couple of boy sopranos, Manuel Haumer & Fabian Winkelmaier, appeared on stage and stood close to conductor John Mauceri for the next piece, Alice in Wonderland – Theme. They sang beautifully with the background support of the choir, and also had “help” from John Mauceri who not only conducted the orchestra and gave precise instructions to the kids, but also decided to join them on more than one occasion, singing the lyrics both in English and German. Very beautiful and powerful moment!
Just when the applause was over, Beetlejuice – Theme was performed, a brief piece of two minutes, that had a mocking tone and funny choir accompaniments, while visually exalted videos from the movie were projected on the screens. And following, nearly with no pause, five singers came on stage: Ethan Freeman, Nathan Trent, Dennis Kozeluh, Louise Dearman and Caroline Frank, to perform the choral opening of The Nightmare Before Christmas – This is Halloween, that was correct but didn’t have the power that was expected.
Then it was moment for another of the highlights of the concert, Edward Scissorhands – Suite; a 10 minute suite that had a wonderful light design, making us feel in the middle of a dream with rotating bubbles being projected on the roof, while the orchestra fantastically addressed the delicacy and sense of the piece in the hands of John Mauceri.
And while the suite was developing, we had two surprises: The first one was virtuoso Sandy Cameron appearing on stage dressed as Edward Scissorhands frantically playing the violin, emulating the music of the barber scene (Edwardo the Barber) but in a longer and stronger version, with the accomplice and attentive looks of John Mauceri. The second surprise was a couple of ballet dancers; Hannah Kickert & Jakob Feyferlik (from the Wiener Staatsballett), that were dressed as Edward and Kim, and danced softly and sensually the last part of the suite in the central corridor of the hall. A beautiful ending for a beautiful suite, with an incredible performance of all the parts involved! A huge applause from the audience and a standing ovation!
Then the first notes of the next piece started playing, and you could instantly feel all the strength of Batman – Suite, with a soft and straight beginning, leading to a musical explosion with all the power of Batman’s theme. That’s a real superhero theme! The suite combined music from Batman and Batman Returns, as well as videos of both movies, and had the voices of the choir joined on several passages in a fantastic performance.
Following a brief piece came, The Simpsons – Theme, where the famous TV series opening theme was played with a fast a vivacious orchestra boosted by the choir, in a theme that has stood the passage of time, and that continues to be as valid as it was the first day…. “just” after 29 seasons running!
And then the music had a brief pause, as it was the moment to present the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award to Danny Elfman (only on Friday’s concert). A brief congratulation message from Tim Burton was read by festival director Sandra Tomek, followed by a live video appearance by Sam Raimi praising Danny Elfman’s work and wishing to collaborate again in the future.
Danny Elfman, on stage, gave a short but funny acceptance speech:
After the speech and a gigantic applause, Danny Elfman stated he would have to stay on stage for a little bit more, saying… “I’m going to do something that most film composers don’t normally do… I’m going to sing something to you”…
The audience cheered, and the orchestra started playing The Nightmare Before Christmas – What’s This with Danny Elfman bringing back to life the voice to Jack Skellington, as he did in the original 1993 movie. On Thursday’s performance he sang the whole song perfectly, and if you closed your eyes you could imagine the whole movie going on in your head synced to his voice, but on Friday, there were a couple of passages where he mumbled the lyrics and were not understandable, and seemed that he had forgotten them! Anyway, in overall the piece and the performance was amazing, with Danny’s funny and defiant looks to the audience, with movements and gestures across the stage; because he was not only singing, but also performing as an actor would do. Fantastic ending for a fantastic night!
A thunderous applause from the audience, with a big standing ovation to Danny Elfman, to the orchestra and choir, to John Mauceri, to James Shearman, and to all the musicians that came to join on stage for a final salute, while a big “The End” sign appeared on the screens in a magnificent and emotive closure.
And to finish this wonderful night, as if the concert was a big classic Hollywood movie, the piece Gone With The Wind – Theme – Max Steiner was performed with orchestra and choir, while the credits of all the people involved in such a wonderful evening appeared scrolling on the central screen. It was 10:30 pm. Nearly three hours of concert (including half an hour of intermission), that were totally enjoyable and created a night to remember!
A wonderful and unrepeatable night, which marked another milestone in Hollywood in Vienna’s history!
PD: At the end of the concert, people could approach Danny Elfman at the stage door, where he signed autographs to all his fans that queued patiently (something that didn’t happen on Thursday, where he left the Konzerthaus in a hurry and totally undercover).
NOTE: Some days ago a radio version of the concert was broadcast on ORF-OE1 (Österreichischer Rundfunk – Radio Österreich 1) being the order of the pieces in the radio program and in the live concert slightly different (read news).
It’s not something new what I’m going to say, but there’s not a better film music concert in Europe (and I’d say in the world) at the moment, than the gala-concert organized by Hollywood in Vienna. It’s the whole year dedicated to producing a single concert (even if there’re several other activities), with dedicated light effects, special visual animations and imagery synchronized to the music, a major Hollywood composer totally committed to the program, and many special guests that perform during the night. You can’t beat that!
As director Sandra Tomek confirmed during the interview, next year’s guest seems to be already set, so let’s hope we have news soon, and can start planning for Hollywood in Vienna 2018!
And before ending this article and jumping to the interviews, here is a brief video that summarizes some of the many good moments that took place throughout the week.
First of all, thank you very much for taking some time for SoundTrackFest.
I hope you don’t mind me asking… but you’ve been nominated many times for the Oscars, and finally, it didn’t happen, and now you’re here in Vienna receiving the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award. How do you feel about it?
I don’t believe in awards. Is like giving numbers to music and saying which one is better and which one is worst. It is like having a beauty pageant of soundtracks. For me, it makes no sense. So I don’t pay much attention to it. But, that being said, I’m very glad to be here in Vienna to receive the Max Steiner Award, as this award it’s not a competition, it’s a recognition.
A recognition of a career, from a name in film music that meant so much for me and everyone, Max Steiner. His music for King Kong was probably the first underscored movie that showed how film music should be made. If you see the movie these days, its ideas, concepts, and development are still valid! So for me, it’s a real honor!
You’ve been doing many concerts with ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ in the last years. The movie is dated back to 1993 and in 2013 you did the first concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, for the 20th anniversary, if I’m not mistaken. How do you feel about it?
That concert was very difficult putting all the pieces together, because often when you put together a concert, you prepare a few suites, but putting together 15 suites was quite challenging. Also, it had to be within a two-hour context, so it was even more difficult. Luckily I had some guests singing to help me, like Helena Bonham Carter, because in Nightmare Before Christmas, there’s one song that I cannot do (*laughs*)
Yes, that right (*laughs again*). I was very honored that for the first show ever Helena stepped in. And she gave me great encouragement, because my turn to go out on stage and sing arrived and… well, I have great stage fright… for many years I hadn’t sung (17-18 years ) and Helena was the one who helped to give me the kick out the door and get me going.
Did going back to a stage bring you memories from your years in Oingo Boingo?
Well, it was a whole different universe, a whole different world. Oingo Boingo was far away from me at that point. I’d never sung Jack Skellington live and that was my first time. I’d never even sung the songs from the beginning to end, because when we sing for recording, it’s one verse, one chorus, one verse, one chorus… you know, you just do bits and pieces, so I’d never actually even sang a whole song ever. That was the first time!
Well, if I closed my eyes when I was at the concert, I can tell you that you were perfectly synchronized. You did very well!!
Now that you’re touring with Nightmare Before Christmas all over the world, do you feel like Jack Skellington traveling all over the world but instead of delivering Christmas presents to kids, you are delivering your music to adults?
Well, it is an interesting way to see it! (*Laughs*). I do feel that it’s Jack Skellington on tour and not me (*laughs*). But if you look at me you would say… “Jack has gained a little weight…he’s not quite as thin as he used to be”. (*laughs*) But it is quite fun doing it.
Film music is primarily meant to be used with the film, with the images, it is there to support the images and help the narrative of the story. But when you take out the picture and move the music to a concert hall… how do you approach that transition?
With Nightmare Before Christmas in concert, I took each of the suites that I was preparing and I just tried to find a way to create a context for those suites, with larger and smaller portions that encapsulated that piece of music. It was very challenging, because I didn’t want to just play the main themes: one title piece, and one title piece and then another one. I tried to make each one feel like it has all these different sections, like a big story, a narration. I had no idea if it was going to work, but I think that it came out ok!
You composed the music for Batman from Tim Burton in 1989 and now nearly 30 years later, you’re composing the music for Justice League of America with Batman, again…
Yes! It’s like meeting an old friend!
How are you approaching the process of composing his music for the movie?
The music for Batman has a lot to do with the previous music I composed for him. I’m using Batman’s theme all over the place! (*laughs*) But in a way it never really went away, because it seems like in between films, that my theme still kept going. Intentionally or not, I don’t know. And I’m continuing it. I’m not doing anything different that I wouldn’t be doing with the original one. The music and my orchestration is a little different, it’s 30 years later, and how I approach things are a little different, and also the tone of the film is different, but the melody is very much there!
Thank you very much and enjoy your time in Vienna!
I’m doing it. This place is great!
Good morning Sandra. Let’s go straight with the first question. We’re having a 10th anniversary of Hollywood in Vienna, and every year the festival is getting bigger and bigger, how does it feel to have a “child” and see it growing?
Well, it feels tiring! (*laughs*) Of course every event, every reception we have, means more work but on the other hand it’s very rewarding and beautiful and it’s a joy to do it, so it feels great.
There’s been a change of dates this year in the festival from the regular month of October to the month of September. Is this supposed to be a change that will stay next year, or it was just one occasion?
It all depends on the availability of the orchestra and the Wiener Konzerthaus. They have to see that they can get together somehow, and in this case, October was heavily booked and was quite hard. Usually, it’s October but can happen that we have to move it like this year. Anyway, next year it will be October again.
Well, that’s good news! So, big figures like John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, James Horner, James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat and now Danny Elfman have been in Hollywood in Vienna. Where is the festival heading? What can we expect to see in the future in Hollywood in Vienna?
I take it year by year. I’m not making plans for five or ten years. I know quite well what’s happening next year but I can’t tell you (*laughs*).
It’s ok! Year by year then! (*laughs*) And talking about future, you recently launched Hollywood in Hamburg concert series, where Danny Elfman is going to be performing this weekend, and then David Arnold and John Powell next year. Are we witnessing there the birth of a new Hollywood in Vienna? Another 10 years of festivals in a different location?
The concept is very different from Vienna. Vienna is a show, a gala show, and Hamburg is just a concert, no lights, no video projections, no awards ceremony. Also in Hamburg I don’t want to interfere with the program that the composer has in mind. In Vienna it’s a very strict concept that the composers have to fit in, and then in Hamburg we have all the freedom, so they can put together the program by themselves. It’s really their concert.
So the concert we’re witnessing this Friday in Vienna and the one on Saturday in Hamburg will be two different concerts?
Yes, they will be very different. Some pieces will be repeated, but the concerts will be very different.
Thank you very much, Sandra, for your time!
My pleasure. Hope you enjoy the concert this Friday!
Gorka Oteiza (SoundTrackFest)