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Bugs Bunny will soon have the Hollywood Bowl in his hands

Conductor George Daugherty brings his 'Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II' concert, with two new cartoons on tap.

June 29, 2013|By Dana Ferguson
  • Tweety and Sylvester star in the Looney Tunes theatrical short "I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat."
Tweety and Sylvester star in the Looney Tunes theatrical short "I… (WBei / Looney Tunes )

Warner Bros., where Bugs Bunny was born in 1940, understood the power of music.

The studio's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon series avidly used music from Wagner, Rossini and Brahms, showed Bugs Bunny as an orchestra conductor, ballet dancer and an opera singer, and sometimes offered parodies of noted operas.

A few years after Looney Tunes' inception in 1930 and Merrie Melodies' a year later, Warner Bros. brought on composer Carl Stalling as a staff member to set the animation to music. Stalling brought to the table experience as an organist as well as a music aficionado. He incorporated Warner Bros. songs from feature films into his scores, as the studio required, but he also drew extensively from contemporary music and classical repertoire.

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More than 70 years later audiences still enjoy those cartoons and Stalling's compositions that accompany them. Conductor George Daugherty enjoyed them so much that he decided to bring the characters and melodies back to life.

Daugherty, who will direct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the "Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II" concert July 5 and 6 at the Hollywood Bowl, has been touring the world performing pieces from the cartoon series and screening the cartoon clips for more than 24 years.

The conductor, like many other musicians, pursued music as a youngster because he was drawn to the classical pieces in the cartoons.

"It's a really unique American cultural phenomenon because anyone in their 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s grew up on these cartoons, they received exposure to classical music whether or not they knew it," Daugherty said. "I definitely felt like I could do it because I saw Bugs at the podium, conducting."

Daugherty, based in San Francisco, has conducted for orchestras, ballet companies and opera houses around the world. He has received five Emmy nominations for collaborating on PBS and ABC television programming projects.

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To transport viewers to memories of Saturday mornings, the program features the cartoons displayed on large screens with accompanying orchestration performed by the philharmonic. For this concert, audiences will also see two new cartoon shorts, "Coyote Falls" and "I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat," which feature Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner, Sylvester and Tweety Bird in 3-D animation.

"Coyote Falls" was released in 2010 and was shown before screenings of "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore." "I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat," featuring the vocal stylings of Mel Blanc and the voice of June Foray, was shown before "Happy Feet Two" in 2011.

Daugherty said for the generations who grew up with the Looney Tunes cartoons, the pieces featured in the program will trigger instant memories and smiles.

He recalled a memory of his own seeing "Rabbit of Seville," in which Elmer Fudd chases Bugs Bunny onto the stage at the Hollywood Bowl during a performance of "The Barber of Seville." Bugs raises the curtain on Elmer, trapping him onstage, and takes on the roll of the barber, eager to give Elmer a grooming he'll never forget. At one point Elmer and Bugs take their barber chairs to great heights as they chase each other.

"I tried to crank my barber chair through the ceiling and naturally I was disappointed when it didn't work," Daugherty said.

Christopher Lennertz, the composer for Warner Bros.' recent 3-D animated short "I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat," said the music in Looney Tunes inspired his as well.

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"A big reason that I score movies is because movie music is something I remember really fondly from being a kid," Lennertz said. "I would submerge myself in the characters I loved and play the music along with them. Looney Tunes was definitely a part of that."

Lennertz said Stalling sampled small sections of different songs, both classical and contemporary, to accompany the images on-screen. Using phrases from different scores Stalling could create a tone or insinuate guilt or danger — or just about anything — with a few notes.

"People have pre-conceived notions of what these pieces mean," Lennertz said. "Snippets of songs can convey an emotion or tone really effectively really quickly."

Lennertz used an example of music from Bizet's "Carmen." He said that often the music from the opera is used to convey a "sneaky" tone, Stalling helped build that deeper meaning for the music in the cartoons.

These phrases reappear in different works, making them instantly recognizable. The generations who grew up watching the cartoons can identify the characters as well, but for younger viewers this isn't always the case.

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