Out of the comfort zone: Danny Elfman has world premiere at Philip Glass Festival

October 9, 2019
by John Malkin

We were thrilled to premiere Danny Elfman’s Percussion Quartet at Philip Glass’s Days and Nights Festival this fall! We have really enjoyed bringing this fantastic new work to life. Read more of Elfman’s thoughts about composing, and his new and “uncomfortable” foray into classical composing, below.


Danny Elfman says his success as a musician and composer is due to continually stepping out of his comfort zone. After success with the ’80s new-wave band Oingo Boingo, Elfman broke into composing film soundtracks with “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985. His credits now include more than 100 Hollywood movie scores including “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Circle.” He also wrote the theme music for TV’s “The Simpsons.”

Now Elfman is taking another musical leap into composing symphonic concert music.

The Elfman Percussion Quartet will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, as part of the Days and Nights Festival. Philip Glass founded the festival in 2011 and his own composition Perpetulum will also be performed by Grammy-award winning Third Coast Percussion Ensemble. The evening will begin with a Q&A session with Elfman and Glass.

The Days and Nights Festival runs through Sunday, including a performance by the Suso/Glass Quartet and Aaron Diehl Trio at Carmel’s Golden Bough Playhouse on Saturday. Tickets and information are available at daysandnightsfestival.com.

When Elfman was invited to compose a percussion piece for the Days and Nights Festival he immediately agreed. “It was one of those instantaneous, ‘Oh my god, yes! I love Philip Glass’ work so much and have such an awesome respect for him,’ ” Elfman told the Sentinel. “Just to be sharing the bill is a huge honor for me.”

When he was only a lad, Elfman was inspired by the inventive rhythms of composers like Harry Partch, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass, “Percussion is where I started,” Elfman recalls. “To this day, the only musical training I’ve ever had in my life was sneaking into CalArts and playing in the gamelan for two or three years!” Elfman’s East Los Angeles studio is now filled with percussion instruments including balafons he brought back from a year in West Africa.

In recent years Elfman has been composing symphonic pieces. “It started two years ago with the violin concerto and this feeling of, “I’m bursting through the door into symphonic classical music.” Last month, a concert in Paris featured music by Elfman including Serenada Schizophrana.

“Now I’m really committed to this music,” he said. “I have three more commissions coming up. It’s very exciting because every one of them is pushing me in this terrifying place of, ‘I don’t know how to do this!’ In a weird way, that’s a place I like being. It’s all about pushing out of the comfort zone.”


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