Thousands of New England children, along with parents and other essential people, braved the frozen streets of Boston this weekend to visit Symphony Hall to see one of their favorite stars perform.
Maestro George Daugherty conducted three performances with the Boston Pops of a program of a baker’s dozen of Looney Tunes cartoons featuring Bugs, Road Runner, Pepe LePew, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and friends.
The cartoons played on the giant screen for the sold-out audiences and the kids and their elders laughed along with the adventures, as kids (and their elders) have for 70 years.
Daugherty has performed this feat of conducting magic in front of more than 2.5 million people around the globe in thousands of concerts at venues from the Hollywood Bowl (where several of the cartoons are set) to New York’s Philharmonic Hall, from Sydney’s Opera House to a concert hall near the Kremlin.
The Bostonians were just as entranced, and why not?
Carl Stalling, who composed much of the music for the Looney Tunes cartoons, was a true musical genius. His works for full orchestra are every bit as much of the story and the fun in each cartoon as Bugs Bunny himself.
You don’t really appreciate the compositions or the performances until you see an orchestra – in this case, the country’s best, the Boston Pops, comprised primarily of members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – playing along.
The Pops orchestra had just completed their Holiday Pops run – 41 concerts of Christmas music in three weeks – and many of the members had only opened their scores for Bugs Bunny a week before the performances began.
You would have never have known it. The Pops played authoritatively and with gusto under Daugherty’s direction, as if they had been through Stallings’ orchestrations hundreds of times.
It’s no small challenge for orchestral musicians to play large amounts of unfamiliar music not just to the beat of the maestro’s baton but also to the “click track” that connects the music to the action on the screen.
The Bostonians have an advantage – they’re familiar with the Rossini, Liszt, and Wagner music (“Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!”) at the heart of Stallings’ scores.
But much of the music was as new to them as it was to the generations of Looney Tunes fans packing the house.
At the Saturday evening performance, the audience was in hysterics as Bugs did battle with a mouse, with Elmer, with Daffy, and with an overstuffed tenor, all of whom had the temerity and poor judgment to take on the rabbit when he was trying to just sing, play, or conduct.
Daugherty deserves enormous credit for recognizing the greatness of Stallings’ work and bringing it to audiences young and old around the globe.
Bugs and Company shared the bill with Tom and Jerry fighting over who got to conduct at the Hollywood Bowl (spoiler alert: bet on the mouse); Daffy Duck as Robin Hood; Pepe LePew as, well, himself; and the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote duking it out (spoiler alert: well, you know how that one ends up).
The performance also features two new Road Runner cartoons in 3D with orchestral scores as complex as anything Stravinsky or Bernstein might have dreamt up.
“The click tracks today can handle any complex rhythm you can create,” Daugherty said after the show. “So the compositions have extremely difficult time signatures. It’s a real challenge for any orchestra, but the Pops took it in stride.”
If you like the cartoons, be sure to thank David Ka Lik Wong, Daugherty’s co-creator and producer, who remastered all the cartoons, arranged the lighting on the orchestra, and supervises the entire production.
“Bugs Bunny At The Symphony II”, as the show is formally titled, travels next to Erie, Pennsylvania to perform with the Erie Philharmonic in the last theatre actually built by the actual Warner Brothers (Jack and Harry).
Then come performances with the Chattanooga Symphony and the Detroit Symphony.
Daugherty announced just now a return engagement of three performances with the New York Philharmonic in May, 2019 at David Geffen Hall.
Get your tickets now; your kids will thank you for it, and so will the kid inside you.