Wichita Symphony conductor: Nothing ‘Looney’ about these tunes

09/22/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

Bugs Bunny is coming to Wichita. He’ll be joined by Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.

This weekend, some of Wichita’s most accomplished musicians will don headphones and play classic tunes as Looney Tune characters entertain onlookers from a screen above the stage. Each blow of the horn, stroke of the key and ding of the triangle must be precise. Bugs Bunny will not wait; Elmer Fudd is on his tail.

Since 1990, George Daugherty has conducted renowned symphonies worldwide as Bugs and Daffy carry on their timeless exploits above the stage.

Along with two new Looney Tune cartoons in 3-D, Wichita audiences will be the first to see the premier indoor concert of “Warner Brothers Presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II,” Daugherty’s newest show. The world premiere of this symphony was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on July 5th at the Hollywood Bowl.

“This show is magnificent,” said Donald Reinhold, executive director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Reinhold brought an earlier rendition of this symphony to the orchestra he oversaw in California. Because of the show’s success, he wanted to bring a Bugs Bunny concert to the stage in Wichita.

“There’s nothing like it,” Reinhold said. “For so many of us it is really our return to our first classical music pieces.”

Just like when they were originally aired, these cartoons feature the works of Wagner, Strauss and Mendelssohn. As audience members watch Bugs Bunny in “Rhapsody Rabbit” they might recognize Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” And while they laugh at Tom and Jerry’s antics, the overture to “Die Fledermaus” will help this cat and mouse move along.

“What makes it possible is that the music is so good,” Daugherty said. “The music is brilliant.”

Missourian Carl W. Stalling arranged and orchestrated many of these Looney Tune classics. Daugherty calls Stalling a genius. And although his brilliant works are accompanied by cartoons, the music is both complicated and vibrant.

“There is nothing cartoony about the music,” Daugherty said.

These cartoons were originally designed to play in a movie theatre. The Warner Brothers Symphony Orchestra’s soundtrack accompanied the films. Each cartoon was broken into 10 or more sections. The symphony would play each section, make it perfect and then record the next track. Like in the movies, the music must be spot on. When Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner accelerate, so must the music.

“Virtuoso brilliance is required of the orchestra,” Daugherty said. Each musician must be mindful of both the conductor’s and the “actor’s” movements. Dialogue is present, but most of the score comes from the symphony. In “What’s Opera Doc,” the orchestra must match their intonation to Bugs Bunny.

“My goal in creating this concert was to bring people into the concert hall that wouldn’t normally go to the concert hall,” Daugherty said. Since the Bugs Bunny concert series began, more than 2.5 million people have seen the show.

At his childhood home in Indiana, young Daugherty trained in cello and piano. Sometimes when Bugs Bunny came on he would run over to his family’s piano and try to emulate the cartoon’s classical compositions.

“I was drawn to Bugs and to Daffy,” Daugherty said. “I really loved both of them.”

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra is hoping that many Wichitans are as impassioned with these cartoon legends, and that this pops concert draws new listeners.

“There is probably not another show in the world of this kind that has such a track record and success at bringing people into the audience,” Reinhold said. Three Phantoms in Concert and a symphonic tribute to the music of Paul McCartney are planned for later in the season.

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