'Propulsive and exhilarating' - widespread praise for Danny Elfman's Violin Concerto

71TUrE0y6IL._SS500_.jpg
There's been widespread praise for the premiere recordings of Danny Elfman's Violin Concerto and Piano Quartet, now out on Sony Classical.  The Violin Concerto 'Eleven Eleven' is performed by Sandy Cameron with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by John Mauceri. The 21-minute Piano Quartet is recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic Piano Quartet who premiered the work during their US tour in 2018.
'… like Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev have run into the groove of Beetlejuice… a remarkably complex sound… Elfman's music takes listeners by the hand and draws them deeper and deeper into a fairytale world… this music has an exceptionally invigorating effect… brimming over with joy and playful energy… complex and smart…'
Broadway World, 6 March 2019
'Elfman gives his soloist Sandy Cameron plenty to exercise her (they first collaborated on the Cirque du Soleil show Iris) and the solo writing – not least in the cadenzas (gatecrashed in the motor second movement by the percussion section) – is propulsive and exhilarating. On the flipside of the coin is the darkly lyric minimalism of Shostakovich and I like the composerly way in which Elfman has the soloist emerge from the string oration at the start of the third movement ‘Fantasma’ (there’s a movie-derived title if ever there was one), the four-note idea hooking us like the best film cues do.
… the ‘trip’ is full of incident and the exhilarating climax of the finale shows his prowess and relish for the big gesture but also a deeper instinct by resisting the big finish and returning to the lachrymose beginnings of the piece.
In some ways the Piano Quartet (written at the request of players from the Berlin Philharmonic – now there’s a compliment) feels more like a concert piece in a movie-free zone. Elfman’s restless nature is still pervasive – indeed, it sometimes feels like a latter-day kind of Kinderszenen, with the sinister games of the second movement (‘Kinderspott’) typifying the child in Elfman.'
Gramophone (Edward Seckerson), June 2019
The RSNO included the 40--minute Concerto in their 2019 US tour in March, with their Music Director, Thomas Søndergård, joining Cameron for performances in Tucson and Northridge.
'Behold, a sensation. Her name is Sandy Cameron, she’s an American violinist in her 30s and a performer of intoxicating originality. Danny Elfman, the film composer and creator of The Simpsons’ theme tune, spotted her playing with contemporary circus group Cirque du Soleil, liked what he saw and heard, and wrote her a violin concerto last year. It was the centrepiece in Sunday’s concert in Tucson, Arizona, which opened this week’s West Coast US tour by the RSNO.
Elfman’s concerto, “Eleven Eleven” (Elf being “eleven” in German), is a substantial four-movement work, a full-on fusion of lush late-Romanticism and feverish 20th century rhythmic fire, with acknowledged gratitude to some of the great violin concertos of the last century - the acerbic bite of Shostakovich, the sultry harmonic hues of Berg, and a conscious nod, it seems, to Prokofiev in the triadic motif introduced in the first movement cadenza. Luxuriously scored, it also possesses the gold label charisma of film music, tracts of irrepressible lustre and a whopping great cinematic climax. Playing it calls for more than straightforward musicianship; it calls for performance art, which is what Cameron delivered with pinpoint finesse and agility.
It was a whole body experience for her. For this was not just a showcase of astonishing violin virtuosity. Every note, every expressive musical nuance, was matched by choreographed body and footwork that was nimble and beguiling, gorgeously balletic one moment, wantonly shimmying the next. RSNO music director Thomas Søndergård crafted the orchestral performance with a galvanising combination of discipline and elan…'
The Scotsman (Ken Walton), 1 April 2019
'… the concerto is a very fine piece of work, full of 20th century influences - Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Berg and John Adams, to name but four - but still with a clear narrative of its own.'
The Herald (Keith Bruce), 1 April 2019
'In Elfman’s brief but detailed essay about the work, he writes about wanting to compose music that might prove challenging to the ear of a cinephile while satisfying the classical music lover’s need for complexity and variety. To my ear, he succeeds in every way. The almost pastoral fullness that opens the concerto, the continual virtuosic displays and the detailed intricacy in orchestration were only some of the hallmarks. The third movement of the concerto, in a steady triple meter, seemed at times to be a kind of frozen music where deathly marches melt into lush, dream-like passages. The last movement enters with a brief and ingenious recapitulation of what had passed earlier in the concerto. It’s a beautifully balanced composition, continuously inventive while tethered to a significant structure.
And how funny so much of this music is! The rhythms that bounce along, crescendos that crest like ocean waves in volume and density only to disappear into droplets, machine-like moments of forward motion offset by aural pratfalls – yes, you can have ‘aural pratfalls’ – only to morph into heartbreaking sorrow.
Of course, much of the score is not comedic. I was reminded of a lecture I heard decades ago by a renowned classics professor who spoke at length on the loss of Aristotle’s treatise on comedy (we are in possession of his work on tragedy), but Elfman seemed able to express the whole of Aristotle’s Poetics (including that lost portion) in his wondrous musical creation. Such playful, humorous music; such doleful, tragic music.
Violinist Sandy Cameron really deserves an essay in her own right. She dances literally and sonically while she plays, expressing pulse and movement with ease, grace and muscularity. Her visual performance is not an exaggerated version of the movements we find with many performers but rather an integral part of this musical composition. Cameron is a dance/movement artist-cum-virtuoso violinist, and her onstage presence begs the question of the relative importance of ‘seen’ versus ‘heard’.
Elfman writes of Ms. Cameron: ‘I knew I had encountered a rare and very odd creature: a concert violinist who had literally run away with the circus . . . I recognized right away that her abilities far exceeded the music I had written for her’. He also graciously acknowledged that she was part of a collaboration that resulted in this concerto: a composition like no other, performed by a soloist like no other.'
Seen and Heard International (Douglas Dutton), 12 April 2019
'The concerto is both profound and playful, marked by a tight embrace of human emotion, and thoroughly compelling. Out of its 1111 measures there seemed not be a superfluous note. In short, it’s a major contribution to the violin and orchestra literature, among the finest concertos around, and a highly appreciated break from the overfamiliar 19th-century warhorses that orchestras usually program, brilliant as they are for their time.
The orchestra and Ms. Cameron, as well as Mr. Elfman, received a thunderous ovation.'
Peoples World (Erica A. Gordon), 8 April 2019
Cameron gave multiple performances of the concerto with the Colorado Symphony in May with JoAnn Falletta and the Virginia Symphony in September last year. She joins Falletta for performances with the Buffalo Philharmonic in October this year.
'Dramatic, lyrical, highly rhythmic, percussive, thoughtful and playful. The score is high adrenaline business, taking us on a musical roller coaster ride from the heights to the sudden-drop depth of emotions… Cameron delivered an amazing performance. The physical and emotional energy she put  into the work was downright compelling, exciting and extraordinary. The reception given her was wild and crazy and prolonged, of the sort found at sports events. No question about electricity in the air.'
The Virginia Gazette (John Shulson), 26 September 2018
The Violin Concerto and the Piano Quartet will be centre-stage in Paris on 14 and 15 September, part of a Danny Elfman Weekend at the Philharmonie.  Cameron and Mauceri will be joined by the Brussels Philharmonic, whilst the Berlin quartet give the European premiere of their commission.
And the Violin Concerto comes to the UK later this year with Cameron and Mauceri rejoining the RSNO for performances in Edinburgh and Glasgow on 29 and 30 November 2019.  And then Cameron gives the London premiere with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Bramwell Tovey on 21 April 2020 in the Royal Festival Hall.