There are so many wonderful soloists with whom, if you simply close your eyes and listen, the performance experience is complete. Not so with American fireball Sandy Cameron, a virtuoso violinist whose visual artistry is fundamental to her musical delivery.
Still in her 30s she has a dazzling violin technique, honed through studies from the age of 10 at New York’s Julliard School, then at Harvard and the New England Conservatoire. But she’s also a stage sensation, whose wild costumes, striking hairstyles, provocative choreography and openness to musical experiences add a visceral physicality to her magnetic persona.
She has collaborated regularly in tours with jazz fusionist Chris Botti, features as soloist in Austin Wintory’s score to the video game Assassin’s Creed, and is developing an extended Bach-based project with US film composer Marco Beltrami.
“I suppose I always come back to classical music because I feel that’s what I was born for,” she says. “But I don’t want to be limited in a box.” If anything confirms that, it is her creative relationship with film composer Danny Elfman, her involvement in his showcase concert programmes, the concerto Eleven, Eleven which he wrote for her, and ultimately the theatrical performance style that goes with the Hollywood associations.
I first saw her last April with the RSNO in Southern California, as soloist in Elfman’s concerto – a supercharged eclectic cocktail with unmistakable connections to the the composer’s soundtracks for such Tim Burton classics as Edward Scissorhands and Batman.
Cameron’s performance, besides its manic technical virtuosity, was a mesmerising floor show, danced with catlike frenzy and sensuality, something Scottish audiences can experience later this month in a Danny Elfman Gala concert to be attended by The Simpsons theme tune creator himself, and conducted by former Scottish Opera music director John Mauceri.
Elfman discovered Cameron in circus group Cirque du Soleil’s Los Angeles-based show Iris, for which Elfman composed the music. “All I knew about Danny when I moved out to LA was that he was a famous film composer,” Cameron recalls. “But I hadn’t seen any Tim Burton films because I’m not into scary movies.”
Her role in the show was bizarre, demanding zany costumes and two-hours of make-up preparation each night. “I got to play in my own little booth on the side of the stage. Basically they gave us free rein on being just how we wanted to be. I took that to heart and just played and danced in my little booth every night.”
Cameron’s improvisational skills play a key role in her varied musical incarnations. The movement thing, she says, is just a natural part of her make-up. “I feel music very physically. People ask if I choreograph anything, but it’s the opposite really. Something will happen spontaneously on stage inspired by the sounds I’m trying to create. So yes, I’ll go back to the practice room and learn to recreate it next time. Some moves are planned, some aren’t. Basically it’s just how I feel about the music.”
Elfman turned out to be “a very, very nice person”, and before she knew it Cameron found herself part of Elfman’s plans for a live concert project based on Burton’s films.
“In Edward Scissorhands there’s a little theme where he’s cutting everyone’s hair and there’s violence going on around. Danny took that and expanded it for me into a larger piece of music that became part of the show we began touring in 2014.”
“We took it to Prague and played it with the Czech Philharmonic, who enjoyed it so much they suggested that Danny write a concerto for me,” says Cameron. “It was such a thrill to spend hours in the studio listening to parts of it become an actual thing, to go through themes, discard some, then replace them with others. I feel every single moment as if it came from myself.”
The UK premiere of Eleven, Eleven will be the centrepiece of the forthcoming RSNO gala concert, which also features Elfman’s suite arrangements from the movies Edward Scissorhands, Batman and Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, and marks Cameron’s first public appearances in Scotland. She’s been twice before, but that was to record the concerto (on Sony Classical), and then rehearse for last April’s US tour.
Surely, with a name like Sandy Cameron, she has roots here? “My great grandfather was Scottish – he married a German. But I’ve no idea which part of Scotland he came from. Maybe I should find out,” she says. Who knows, she might pick up a few Scots dance routines along the way.
Sandy Cameron performs in RSNO’s Danny Elfman Gala at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 29 November and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 30 November, www.rsno.org.uk