ALBUM REVIEW: Danny Elfman’s Rabbit & Rogue

by Lauren Freman

If, like me, you thought that Danny Elfman’s Rabbit & Rogue looked like a fashionable reboot of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, you might be tempted to write off this score as self-indulgent and twee. But hear me out—

Rabbit & Rogue was the source material for a collection of short films that premiered at the LA Film Festival just last month. Produced by, the Danny Elfman Project: Rabbit and Rogue was a contest inviting filmmakers to create a short film to set to the score, in the same vein as Disney’s Fantasia. Or Baby Driver. Submissions were judged by a star-studded panel, and the winning pieces screened for LAFF’s 36,000-some-odd festival attendees. The Limited Deluxe Edition was just released as an album this past June, brought to life by the Berlin Session Orchestra with conductor Joris Bartsch Buhle.

Rabbit & Rogue actually first premiered in 2008, as the six-movement score to a ballet, commissioned for the American Ballet Theater and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. The production was met with a few curmudgeonly responses (one New York Times critic named it “irksome” and “relentless”) which, okay, slow your roll. It’s a Danny Elfman score. Y’know, Danny Elfman? The guy who wrote the score for The Simpsons, and Batman Returns, and basically every Tim Burton movie ever? If you’re not here for whimsy, then get up out my face. But to be honest, I had a hard time imagining this as a ballet too. It’s just too cinematic (you can take the Danny Elfman outta the film score…), which is likely the motivation behind repurposing this piece for short films.

The “Intro” begins quietly with the percussion bubbling with a nervous heartbeat, which sets into motion the fidgety, pent-up kinesthetic energy that permeates the entire work. It opens gradually into a spacious—though no less fidgety—storybook landscape, letting the saxophone serve some serious Creation du Monde vibes before tumbling abruptly into the second movement, “Frolic.”

At points, the second movement could be mistaken for a Looney Tunes score (that xylophone tho). It evokes the sense that Rabbit is scampering through other symphonic works: there’s a reference to a theme from Rite of Spring’s third movement, a “Flight of the Bumblebee” nod in one piano solo section, and this perfectly cheeky moment about nine minutes in, where we are in full John Williamsy triumphant brass glory, then a pause—just long enough to raise an eyebrow—then BAM we’re doing a wild Charleston. It’s worth a listen just for the sonic scavenger hunt alone.

You know what they say: The way to a new music snob’s heart is through their gamelan. Admittedly, Rabbit & Rogue’s third movement, “Gamelan,” bears dubious resemblance to any traditional gamelan, but still it’s pretty magical. The beginning of this movement reprises the fluttery rabbit-heartbeat from the “Intro” (Are you trying to pass off the Berlin Session Orchestra’s xylophones as gamelan, Danny? Tell the truth…). The movement later leans hard into standard box office film score territory: sweeping, no-surprises-here anthems that remind you of the VHS tapes you watched and re-watched as a kid. If any one movement is dangling precariously close to preciousness, it’s this one. One might rebut, though, that, in a ballet about the adventures of a bunny, a little preciousness might be forgiven.

I won’t spoil the rest, but suffice it to say that Elfman continues this Macaulay Culkin-meets-Milhaud-meets-Mel-Blanc remix all the way through the Finale. Does this mean that Rabbit & Rogue essentially is, in fact, a fashionable reboot of a Bugs Bunny cartoon? Okay, yes. But who cares? The value in this piece is in its marriage of smartypants in-jokes and blockbuster soundtrack accessibility.

If, like me, you spend a fair amount of time wrestling for common ground with friends and family who “just don’t GET classical music,” this is precisely the kind of music that serves our cause. This kind of you-got-new-music-in-my-film-score/you-got-film-score-in-my-new-music mashup allows us to offer “If you liked that, you might enjoy this John Adams; this Charles Ives; this Conlon Nancarrow,” and before you know it, you and Uncle Craig are blasting Pierrot Lunaire from his truck like it’s no big deal.

As classical music people, our biggest image problem is in being perceived as too serious. Rabbit & Rogue helpfully reminds us to lighten up, lol at Elfman’s musical jokes, and for goodness’ sake, watch some cartoons.

Lauren Freman is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer, hell-bent on blurring the boundaries between high and low art. Follow her at, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival

by Maggie Molloy

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and you know what that means: parades, picnics, and barbeques abound! And while hot dogs, fireworks, and flag-covered clothing are a (somewhat) relevant expression of American independence, our county has a whole lot more than just cured meats and corny t-shirts to be proud of.

Tuning Up!Which is why this summer, the Seattle Symphony is turning off the barbeque and turning up the music with Tuning Up!: a two-week festival celebrating American musical creativity in the 20th and 21st century. This star-spangled celebration features nine concerts which traverse America’s vast musical landscape, from jazz to Broadway, avant-garde to minimalism, classics to Hollywood, and much more.

So whether you crave the jazzy grooves of George Gershwin or the swinging blues of Duke Ellington, you can hear it all during the Tuning Up! Festival. Maybe you prefer the massive soundscapes of John Luther Adams, the hypnotic minimalism of Philip Glass, or the movie magic of John Williams—the festival has all that too!

Suffice it to say, Second Inversion is all over this festival. Come visit us at the KING FM table in the lobby at the following events for music, magnets, and other free swag!

Stage & Screen: From Appalachian Spring to the Red Violin
Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.

From stage to screen to concert hall, these giants of American music transcended borders and paved the way for generations to come. Among them is Florence Beatrice Price: the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The Seattle Symphony pays tribute with a rousing orchestral rendition of her ragtime classic, Dances in the Canebrakes. Plus, dancers take to the stage alongside the Symphony for a performance of Aaron Copland’s famous folk-inspired and Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring.

The program also features Leonard Bernstein’s elegant Divertimento for Orchestra, poignant movie music from Schindler’s List and The Red Violin, and a heartwarming tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch who, among his many accomplishments in music, served as the Principal Pops Conductor at the Seattle Symphony from 2008 until his death in 2012.

The Light that Fills the World: A Meditation in Sound & Light
Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In the face of trauma and political turmoil around the world, Seattle Symphony offers an intimate meditation in sound and silence, light and dark. Julia Wolfe’s My Beautiful Scream, written after the events of 9/11, opens the program with a slow-building and softly illuminating agony. What follows is utter silence: John Cage’s famous 4’33”.

The program also features Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams’ immersive, Arctic-inspired soundscape The Light That Fills the World, the delicate breath of Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, and Philip Glass’ scientific salute, The Light.

Plus, the Symphony invites you to submit your own Glass-inspired photographs to be featured during the performance. Deadline for submissions is this Friday, June 24.

In the White Silence: John Luther Adams’ Alaskan Landscapes
Friday, July 1 at 10 p.m.

To say that composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams is inspired by nature would be a bit of an understatement. He spent much of his life composing from a 16×20 ft. one-room cabin in the Alaskan woods, creating large-scale soundscapes which blur the line between nature and man-made instruments.

In 2013, the Seattle Symphony commissioned and premiered John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean, a 42-minute meditation for large orchestra which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award.John Luther Adams

And now, during this special late-night concert, the Symphony revisits one of Adams’ earlier explorations into sonic geography: the 75-minute soundscape In the White Silence. The piece unfolds slowly and patiently, translating the vast horizons of the frozen far north into a musical landscape of clean, radiant harmony and subtle transformation.

Looking for more in American music? Check out the Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival Map below:

Tuning Up! Visual Guide

ALBUM REVIEW: “MONTAGE: Great Film Composers and the Piano”

by Maggie Molloy

montageAs award season comes to a close, film composers tend to fall out of the limelight—they collect their sparkling Oscars and, presumably, they return to their studios to begin work on their next major motion picture film scores. But what do these famous composers do on their days off from the movie set? What music do they write after the credits stop rolling?

Renowned concert pianist Gloria Cheng asked just that.

Cheng invited six of today’s most prominent film composers to create new music for a relatively unfamiliar medium—solo piano. In doing so, she stripped away the glamorous movie stars, the booming studio orchestra, and all the Hollywood movie magic to reveal who these composers are deep down as their most honest and intimate selves.

(purchase the album here!)

Her new album, titled “Montage: Great Film Composers and the Piano” is a collection of solo piano works by esteemed film composers John Williams, Randy Newman, Bruce Broughton, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Giacchino, and Don Davis. Collectively, the composers have amassed 72 Oscar nominations and nine wins (so far).

“All of these composers are so well-known for writing film music, but I knew there was an inner composer inside of all of them that just was dying to write music for the sake of writing music,” said Cheng. “That’s what I was curious about—what’s inside of them?”

The result is an album of piano music with subtle cinematic hints and a whole lot of heart.

The album begins with Bruce Broughton’s “Five Pieces for Piano,” a set of short character pieces each with its own distinct personality. At the center of the composition is a set of charming (and sometimes jazzy) variations on a catchy pentatonic theme. The surrounding pieces experiment with dense musical textures, punchy rhythms, energetic runs, and at times, tender lyrical melodies. Needless to say, it shows quite a different musical side of Broughton than you may have heard in his adventurous, wild Western-tinged “Silverado” score.

The second piece is Michael Giacchino’s “Composition 430.” Perhaps best known for his work in movies like “Star Trek” (the 2009 version), “Up,” “Ratatouille,” and a slew of other Pixar films, Giacchino’s solo piano piece captures a similar element of enchanting adventure and whimsical childhood nostalgia.

As one might expect, “The Matrix” film composer Don Davis’s contribution to the album is somewhat more mathematical (and perhaps even metaphysical) in nature. His piece, titled “Surface Tension,” uses a carefully calculated formula as a starting point from which he explores a narrative arc of increasing and decreasing tempo, dynamic, and pitch range.

French composer Alexandre Desplat’s “L’Étreinte” (from his “Trois Études”) shows unmistakable Impressionist influences, with its artfully blended harmonies immersing the listener in a beautiful, dreamlike wash of sound that flows sweetly from beginning to end. It should come as no surprise that Desplat is the composer behind charming, whimsical films like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “Moonrise Kingdom.”

What is perhaps more unexpected is John Williams’s contribution to the album, “Conversations.” With a dizzying number of Oscar nominations (and wins) for movies like “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” and the first three “Harry Potter” films, most listeners would probably expect Williams to spin out some type of catchy, theatrical theme. Instead, the four-movement piano work is something of a concept piece exploring a series of imagined conversations between various historical figures from different eras. The result is every bit as dramatic and idiosyncratic as the film music Williams is known for—but just a little bit jazzier.

The album comes to a close with Randy Newman’s soulful and sincere “Family Album: Homage to Alfred, Emil and Lionel Newman,” a five-movement work written in memory of his famous film composer uncles. Each movement is a short anecdote, a small glimpse into the sparkling glamour and sweet nostalgia of old Hollywood. The pieces match Newman’s trademark style: simple, sweet, and charmingly poignant (and certainly reminiscent of his work in “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.,” and other Pixar films).

And of course, Cheng performs each piece with exceptional imagination and artistry, bringing each character to life with sincerity and technical prowess—and proving that the music of these famous film composers is not just for the movie theatre.