A NOTE FROM THE COMPOSER
Writing this violin concerto was a big turning point for me. Over the last decade I have done a few live concert commissions, first a symphonic piece for the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and then a ballet for American Ballet Theater and Twyla Tharp. Each time I found it not only gratifying and liberating, but finally necessary for me to keep my balance with film music and probably most importantly to push myself outside of my "film music" comfort zone. A chance for me to run amuck, so to speak, and to let my instincts off the leash.
Finally, I came to the decision that I would take time out from my film work to write something for the concert hall every year, for as long as I’m alive and able.
This concerto was my first time focusing on music specifically for symphony orchestras as they exist without external additions such as electronics and custom or rare ethnic instruments. I wanted to start creating pieces that were not for a specific performance in one place and one time, but that could be performed by any orchestra who wished to.
Also, after 5 years of touring with concerts of my film music, I wanted to try out a theory that I had been brewing on for some time. I began to feel that there was, at least to some extent, a disconnect between live concert classical and film music audiences.
I set out to write a piece that might prove challenging to a film music fan’s ear, but with enough energy and melody to keep them engaged, while also being complex and varied enough for a classical listener’s ear. It’s not that I was trying to write something to please everyone, that’s impossible; but rather to combine these two worlds, the coalescence of which is essentially who I am.
It was after a film music concert in Prague that I was offered the opportunity to write a violin concerto. This caught me off guard. The violin is, to me, a very intimidating solo instrument, and violin concertos were not a really a part of my repertoire of classical music listening. So, of course, I agreed to write one. The challenge was too great to pass up. As I began the process of studying and absorbing many concertos by many of my favorite composers, one thing became abundantly clear: writing a violin concerto would require far more discipline than anything I had done previously and would be even more difficult to execute than I’d imagined.
I love difficult.
For an overall concept, I had for some years been interested in finding a fusion of early 20th-century “post- Romanticism” – using melody in a lyrical way, as the Russian composers were so adept at doing – with the
modern rhythms and harmonies of late 20th-century music, which I was raised on as a young man.
As I began to sketch, a form started slowly to emerge. I knew the concerto would consist of four movements and there should be a symmetry in the overall composition. The first and fourth movements would share thematic material and be the most Romantically influenced. The second and third movements would move in two distinctly different directions stylistically, to create some strong contrast. Every movement would hand off at least one melodic part to the next, which is something I enjoy. And with all these rather arbitrary “game rules” in place, off I went.
I had known Sandy Cameron for several years. When I created the violin cadenza for the Elfman-Burton concert, she was the only violinist I considered. I met her when she was the violinist for a Cirque du Soleil show I wrote called IRIS, when I recognized right away that her abilities far exceeded the music I had written for her in that show. I knew I had encountered a rare and very odd creature: a concert violinist who had literally run away with the circus. I liked that. (And it makes a good story.)
Writing the violin concerto was a very collaborative process, and Ms. Cameron proved to be a great instructor and guide as to the possibilities of writing for the violin. She wanted something both emotionally and physically demanding, and I was committed to delivering both. I found that there was almost nothing she couldn’t tackle.
The reason for title, “Eleven Eleven”, is simple. As I was in the final stages of going over notes with Sandy, she was curious to know how big the piece had become. It had slowly grown to be quite large, but I hadn’t done a bar count. She guessed it was over 1000 measures and thought it would be amusing if it were close to 1100, as I’ve always been preoccupied with the number eleven. My name, ELFman, has no meaning I could ever find, other than that "elf " means “eleven” in German. I always assumed an ancestor of mine was the eleventh person to show up for a ceremony or service that required a minimum of ten (a minion), meaning my ancestor was always late and more or less unessential. That suited me fine. And it answered a few questions about my own character.
So, we counted, and to our amazement it was exactly 1111 measures long. An accident? Coincidence? Something mystical? Preordained... who knows? End of that story.
I hope you enjoy what I've done.
© Danny Elfman
With this concerto, Danny Elfman created a piece that exhibits both the virtuosity of a soloist and the prowess of a symphony orchestra. Though a version of this concerto with more traditional orchestration exists, the composer was eager to retain the robust qualities of both the soloist and the orchestra, whose parts are equally engaging and demanding of the listeners and performers. To best experience the composer’s intention, this version of the concerto requires the use of a microphone by the soloist. Please keep in mind, however, that the amplified sound is NOT in the interest of simply making the violinist loud. The level of amplification should be handled sensitively: the balance emulating what would otherwise be considered normal, and not be such that an audience would know the violinist is using a microphone. The level should be subtle enough for the soloist to comfortably play quiet sections of the piece without feeling overexposed; at the same time, the soloist’s sound should always be present (but not overpowering) even when the orchestra plays out. Once the sound engineer has discovered the proper level for the soloist in the concert hall, it should remain stable for the duration of the performance.
Sandy Cameron, 2018