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By Emily R. Bass / December 9, 12:00 AM
Hare-Raising Tunes

Conductor George Daugherty expounds on the appeal of the Boston Pops’ Bugs Bunny at the Symphony

Photo: Chris Lee Photography

 

Bugs Bunny at the Symphony is an energized concert blending classical music and pop-culture, “old and new, high-brow and not-so-highbrow.” At the show, fan-favorite Looney Tunes cartoons are projected on the big screen while the Boston Pops performs scores by Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn. When the concert was created by George Daugherty and David Lik Wong in 1989, neither could predict they would tour almost continuously for 30 years. 


Today, there are countless multi-media film and orchestra concerts out there, but Bugs Bunny at the Symphony (then-titled Bugs Bunny on Broadway) was the first of its kind. Daugherty, who started his musical career at a young age—founding his own summer orchestra, studying at three conservatories and conducting for world-renowned opera houses and ballets in his early 20s—noticed something significant: “Audiences were getting older, and [he] was not seeing young people coming into symphony orchestra concerts.”


So, Daugherty created a hybrid program combining classical music and symphony orchestras with projected film and video. “And the result was immediate and very visible,” he says. “Our concerts were filled with young adults, most of whom had never stepped foot into a concert hall in their life. Statistics showed that up to 70% of our audiences were new to classical music.”


Daugherty explains that Looney Tunes was the perfect candidate for this type of concert. “We had all grown up, sitting on the living room floor as children, watching Bugs and his gang cavort on our little television screens on Saturday morning, while consuming vast amounts of sugary cereal. What we didn’t realize at that moment—but we certainly felt it—was that we were also hearing incredible classical music.” 


Looney Tunes fans should expect to experience all of the classics: “What’s Opera, Doc?,” “The Rabbit of Seville” and “Zoom and Bored,” as well as three songs receiving their Boston premieres: “Corny Concerto,” “What’s Up, Doc” and “Long-Haired Hare.”


Upon reflecting on why the concert still resonates with audiences today, Daugherty says, “These cartoons endure, and Bugs endures because they are brilliantly created, and they are timeless.…You look at these cartoons, and they play as relevantly and as hilariously today as they did in 1945.…It is the brilliance of these cartoons and these characters, and their creators, that has allowed us to keep this going for three decades—and will keep us going for many more years!”

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