Hollywood in Vienna – Fairytales & A Tribute to Danny Elfman

Hollywood in Vienna certainly has become one of the most popular and best events when it comes to staging a fantastic film music concert. It all started in 2007 and ever since, the event has set an unbelievably high standard not only as far as the musical selection is concerned but also in terms of execution and musical performance. Some of Hollywood’s finest composers ever have already been presented with the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award and one can only hope that many more will join this club.

The following composers have been honored so far – John Barry, Howard Shore, Alan Silvestri, Lalo Schifrin, James Horner, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat & Danny Elfman. This is indeed some list.

This year’s event was special, since it marked the tenth anniversary of Hollywood in Vienna. If you look at the names I mentioned above, you will certainly realize that only nine names are listed in total. The very first Hollywood in Vienna actually took place in 2007. The event was staged on the occasion of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 50th death anniversary.

This year I once again had the chance to visit Vienna. When it had been announced that Danny Elfman would be awarded, I was immediately very excited. I have been a fan of Mr. Elfman’s music for such a long time and he certainly is one of the greats in this business.

As always, the event was comprised of two parts and this year’s concert was named Fairytales & A Tribute to Danny Elfman. Before we reached the part of the concert which focused entirely on the career of Danny Elfman, the audience at the Wiener Konzerthaus had the chance to witness fantasy magic.

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Host Steven Gätjen, conductor James Shearman & the ORF Radio & Symphony Orchestra

The first part of the concert was conducted by Mr. James Shearman. James is regarded as one of the industry’s leading orchestrators and conductors who has worked with some of the best composers including Patrick Doyle. In between the musical pieces, host Steven Gätjen, who once again did a great job, provided information about the music we were about to hear.

The concert started off with a very nicely performed suite of Justin Hurwitz’s Academy Award winning score for La La Land. Mr. Hurwitz’s score was actually one of the finest and most interesting ones of 2016 and it certainly was a nice way to start off this year’s Hollywood in Vienna. When it comes to magic in terms of film and of course the musical score, there is simply no way around a Walt Disney movie. For decades, those films have presented great opportunities for any composer to come up with a fine score. Alan Menken has been one of the lucky ones who has had the chance to contribute wonderful music to several Disney films. One of his most well-known and beloved scores – Beauty And The Beast – had been selected for the programme and the ORF Radio and Symphony Orchestra delivered a marvelous performance of this beauty.

Conductor James Shearman

The two suites which we were about the experience, represented some of the very best musical moments of the first part of the night – The Chronicles Of Narnia by Harry Gregson-Williams and Mulan by Jerry Goldsmith.

James Shearman conducted a powerhouse orchestral and choral performance of The Chronicles Of Narnia, which I was more than happy about, since Mr. Gregson-Williams is one of my favorite composers working in the industry. When it comes to my own personal heroes, the name Jerry Goldsmith is always present and Mulan represents another masterpiece of the legendary composer. This fabulous suite was wonderfully performed that night.

Now Steven Gätjen announced a Hollywood in Vienna world premiere – it was the very first time that a video game score was to be performed. Final Fantasy VIII by Nobuo Uematsu had been picked and what a killer performance this was. The orchestra nailed this piece and the audience clearly loved it.

Back in 2005, composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek had won the Oscar for his lovely score of Finding Neverland. The competition that year was tough, since John Debey (Passion Of The Christ), Thomas Newman (Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events), John Williams (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) and James Newton Howard (The Village) were also nominated. Mr. Kaczmarek was the lucky one to win and a “Piano Variation In Blue” was stunningly and beautifully performed by the ten-year-old piano virtuoso Emil Weller. Another Oscar-winning score was next – Life Of Pi by the very talented Mychael Danna. “Pi’s Lullaby” was given a gorgeous arrangement backed by a superb vocal performance by Sohini Alam and the Indian Ensemble.

What followed next was a memorable performance of one of my favorite scores of all time – a sensational suite of The Lion King written by Hans Zimmer & Lebo M. To be exact, it was a suite of “King Of Pride Rock” and “He Lives In You” which was featured on the album Rhythm Of The Pride Lands. Lebo M’s presence on stage and the vocal performance by Lebo and The African Singers resulted in a knock-out performance which closed the first part of the show. What made this medley so special is the fact that a very different version of “He Lives In You” was performed. For The Lion King 2, a different version had been recorded with phenomenal African vocals which had been incorporated into this great suite.

Lebo M & Refi

The second part of the night was about to begin and I was especially excited, since this part was dedicated to the music of one of my favorite film composers of all time – Mr. Danny Elfman. It was showtime in Vienna. The orchestra and Mr. John Mauceri, who conducted the Danny Elfman part, geared up and gave us a fantastic “Main Title” version of Mr. Elfman’s Spider Man.

Every year, a medley is prepared that is comprised of some of the career highlights of every composer who is honored at Hollywood in Vienna. Four scores had been selected for Mr. Elfman. Black Beauty is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of Danny Elfman’s most beautiful compositions. The musical beauty was captured very well by the orchestra and this score should be included in any Danny Elfman top 10 list. Milk is one of the composer’s Oscar nominated scores which is not necessarily well-known. Don’t let this fact fool you. It is a beautiful score to a very good film.

Now the orchestra performed one of Danny Efman’s most iconic “Main Titles” ever – the very creative and fun Men In Black – which was an absolute joy to listen to that night. The medley was concluded with The Avengers – Age Of Ultron. Back then Danny Elfman joined Mr. Brian Tyler to write the score for this particular film. The show was on a roll.

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Conductor John Mauceri

Previously I praised Danny Elman’s Black Beauty. Let’s go from one musical beauty to another – Sommersby was on next. In my book, Danny Elfman wrote one of his most hauntingly beautiful themes for this movie. It is an absolute tear-jerker and I was incredibly moved during this exceptional performance. If there is any film music fan out there, who is not familiar with this score, then I strongly suggest you listen to it as soon as possible. 

The “Wolfman Suite” featured a very good viola performance by the great Lena Frankhauser. I must admit that The Wolfman is not one of those score that I listen to regularly. Yet, hearing this fabulous suite certainly brought the album back to my attention.

The collaboration between Tim Burton and Danny Elfman will certainly go down in film history as one of the most successful ones of all time. Danny Elfman has written some of his very best and most exciting scores for Mr. Burton’s films.

When I was listening to Alice In Wonderland for the very first time, I felt right away that this has to be one of his best themes ever. The Alice In Wonderland part was indeed special and magical. This is due in no small part to the two boy sopranos Manuel Haumer and Fabian Winkelmeier.

The collaboration between Danny Elfman and Tim Burton was a big part of this concert as it should be, since those films put Danny Elfman on the map and they represent some of his best work as a composer.

Beetlejuice is regarded as the big breakthrough of actor Michael Keaton and it certainly also helped to launch the career of Mr. Elfman. The theme was really nicely arranged and performed and it certainly was a necessary addition to the programme.

The Elfman / Burton show continued with a fantastic and intriguing performance of “This Is Halloween” from Nightmare Before Christmas. This piece of music was executed wonderfully and the entire vocal arrangement was extraordinary.

The suite of Edward Scissorhands represented some of the night’s biggest highlights. The piece which ended with “The Great Finale” was magical and powerful to say the least. It is so easy to tell why this score is beloved by so many people. It contains musical moments which we don’t get to hear too often these days. This is film music at its very best.


Speaking of film music at its best – the time had come for one of Danny Elfman’s most well-known and certainly one of his very best scores of all time. As a matter of fact, this score stands as one of the best in the entire film history – a suite of Batman was up next.

Every time when I watch the film or when I listen to the album, the opening bars always knock my socks right off. I could listen to the first 40 seconds over and over again. The suite was basically comprised of the fantastic “Main Title”, “A Descent Into Mystery”, the great waltz heard in the piece “Kitchen, Surgery, Face-Off”, a short version of the “Opening Titles” of Batman Returns, the theme for the penguin and the fantastic “Finale” of the first score. Given the fact that those two scores are so detailed and simply brilliant, I actually felt that the entire suite was too short. Well, you simply can’t have everything.

Besides his many accomplishment in the world of cinema, Danny Elfman is also known for one particular piece of music – “The Simpsons Theme”. It was a nice way to “close” the official part of the show before the actual award ceremony started. It was a touching moment to see one of Hollywood’s finest composers receiving this achievement award. In addition to Mr. Elfman’s acceptance speech, Sandra Tomek read a letter to the audience. This message was written by Elfman’s long time collaborator Tim Burton. In addition to this letter, Mr. Sam Raimi spoke a few lovely words about Danny Elfman as well. Sam Raimi could not attend in person so his message was recorded and shown on the screen.

Composer Danny Elfman

However, we were not quite done yet – Danny Elfman himself then performed “What’s This” of Nightmare Before Christmas live. It was a great way to close the Danny Elfman part of the show and I am pretty sure that the audience left that night knowing they had witnessed a wonderful and really well orchestrated anniversary of Hollywood in Vienna. I had the chance to attend both concerts. As great as the performance on the first night was, I felt that the orchestra and everybody involved kicked it up a notch for the gala concert. Events of this kind are indeed magical and every fan of film music should strongly consider visiting Hollywood in Vienna. It is a musical experience that you will never ever forget. 

photo credit:

(c) Hollywood in Vienna Franziska Liehl & Rene Wallentin