Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pesky wabbit is music to conductor's ears

Conductor George Daugherty and his right-hand rabbit, Bugs Bunny, are back in Charlotte this week with “Warner Bros. Presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony,” a concert with the Charlotte Symphony Pops that combines classic cartoons with classical music. It’s a sequel to his popular “Bugs Bunny on Broadway,” which was performed in Charlotte in 2009.

We caught up with him by phone Wednesday to discuss the sequel.

Q. So, what’s up with this show, Doc?

The sequel is about 50 or 60 percent new. It still has some of the old classics from the original, like “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “The Rabbit of Seville” and “Long Haired Hare,” but (now) Tweety’s in the concert (and we’ve added) “Tom & Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl,” which is great classic cartoon set to “Die Fledermaus” – along with the Flintstones and Scooby-Doo.

Q. Nice to change things up, huh?

Yeah, well, after 20 years of doing the same exact concert, it’s fun for me to have some new material.

Q. Any other animated characters you’d like to work with in the future?

I’ve always wanted to do Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” as a film and orchestra concert. … I am very happy with the Looney Tunes gang and Warner Bros., so I’m kind of sticking where I am. But that’s always been one of my favorites. It was based on Tchaikovsky’s ballet score, and I was a ballet conductor for a million years before I was a cartoon conductor.

Q. Did you ever imagine when you started out that cartoons would be your livelihood?

I do do other things, and I still conduct, quote, regular concerts, unquote. But thanks to (Bugs Bunny), I’ve conducted at the Hollywood Bowl, the Sydney Opera House, on Broadway, at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and for the Royal Family. I’ve conducted with arguably the greatest orchestras in the world. I’m not sure that would’ve happened in my career without this. …

It’s a project that is very, very near and dear to my heart in that we bring a lot of people into the symphony orchestra that don’t otherwise come. So I have no regrets. I’m very happy with what I’m doing. And Bugs is a very good colleague. He never changes tempos on me night after night like human soloists do.

Q. After Bugs, who’s your second-favorite character to work with?

You gotta love Elmer and you have to love Daffy. Both of them are such classic characters. And the Coyote. (Looney Tunes director) Chuck Jones always used to say to me, “We all go to bed looking in the mirror and thinking we’re Bugs Bunny, but we all wake up and look in the mirror and discover we’re either Daffy Duck or the Coyote.” The Coyote especially. How many of us keep doing the same thing over and over again? We get an anvil dropped on our head, but we do it again.

Q. Do you ever get tired of being associated with cartoons?

I really don’t. I don’t mean to be sounding all sugarcoated, but it really is so brilliantly done. I never would have been able to stick with this for all these years if this stuff was schlock. … I’ve done plenty of other things in my life where I just think I can’t stand it for another minute, and – I won’t say what those are but – but not this. “What’s up, Doc?” is music to my ears. Still.

Daugherty conducts the Charlotte Symphony Pops in “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” at 7 tonight and 8 p.m. Friday at Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. $26.50-$69.50. 704-372-1000.

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