Concert Review: Hollywood Bowl 08/15/2015

Hello, music lovers!

I’m still hard at work on my two Sullivanesque projects. When I’m not performing live, joyful music listening and informative Internet surfing both occupy my time. As I mentioned before, a few posts back, the Glenn Miller album has been postponed indefinitely due to frequent live work and my brain’s exhaustion over the monotony of studio work. It’ll eventually get finished, once my brain recovers. To top it off, I dearly miss listening to classical music. I’ve been away from it for too long. It puts me at peace and gives me a feeling of immense pleasure,, a British sense of nobility, and Is the best example of the good in humanity (chaotic sounding pieces accepted). The part of me that wanted to be a concert pianist as a child has now blossomed into a writer, thanks to Anne Hohman, one of my English teachers at Palomar College who has since retired. This segues nicely into another concert review. Here goes…

Ah, yes. The Hollywood Bowl. I was here two summers ago for the incredible Tony Bennett concert, which Is still playing in my head. Of course, the Hollywood Bowl is one of the great summer homes for music lovers of all kinds. Just as in my world, all types of music co-exist equally at this legendary establishment. With all due respect, the Bowl will always belong to fans of classical music, whether they’re serious connoisseurs or casual listeners. Many of us received our first exposure to this music through the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1940s and ‘50s. Think of all those wonderful moments that used classical music as the basis for an entire story. Sometimes, the music itself actually was the subject of the story. I’ve always admired the way the writers and animators treated the music with such reverence, and yet inserted their own comic additions in the form of visual gags. These visual gags would also be punctuated musically, by way of either Carl Stalling or Milt Franklyn (great composers, arrangers and conductors) and also the expertly timed sound effects.

It’s been 25 years since conductor George Daugherty helped create “Bugs Bunny on Broadway”, a symphonic concert featuring those beloved cartoon scores played live as the cartoons themselves were shown on a large screen. In 2010, Daugherty revised “Bugs Bunny on Broadway” into “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony”. He added moments that weren’t featured in “Bugs Bunny on Broadway”, including additional cartoons, and notably, two famous light orchestral pieces were used to open each act. The first act opener was Bedrich Smetana’s Dance of the Comedians, a famous selection from his opera, The Bartered Bride. This piece was used frequently in Road Runner cartoons. The Act Two Entr’acte in 1990 was originally a shortened version of Franz von Suppe’s famous overture to his first successful operetta, The Beautiful Galatea. In 2010’s “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony”, the entire overture opened the second act. This was used in the cartoon “Long-Haired Hare” as Bugs Bunny made his entrance into the Hollywood Bowl dressed up as famous classical music conductor Leopold Stokowski. Listeners now heard a classic lighthearted piece in its complete form, as with the Smetana. Having purchased the original Bugs Bunny on Broadway recording about 13 years ago, I was excited to get the 2010 live CD recording of Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra playing beautifully under Daugherty’s direction. Daugherty conducted both recordings, but his Sydmey Symphony renditions are so much livelier than the Warner Bros. Symphony renditions from 1990. The new renditions are played much more energetically, perhaps because they were recorded live. The chance finally came for me on Saturday, August 15, 2015, to hear Daugherty conduct this material, live, at the Hollywood Bowl!

What I experienced last night was not only the 25th anniversary of this whole concept, but it was “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II”, revised even further from the 2010 version. Luckily all the mandatory classics were kept intact – “The Rabbit of Seville” (Stalling’s tribute to Rossini), “Zoom and Bored” (with its zippy music and crazy sound effects), and, of course, “What’s Opera, Doc?” Milt Franklyn and Michael Maltese took the entire Wagner Ring Cycle, which usually lasts a day, and turned it into 7 minutes of brilliance! I enjoyed what was here immensely. It brought me joy that can’t really be put into words effectively. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra never sounded better. They played this music with respect and obvious admiration for the genius of Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, and of course the classical masters as well. Having watched many of these cartoons as a kid, with my mother describing every gag to me, I knew what was coming. This enabled me to focus on the evening from a musical standpoint. I had never heard the orchestration in the end of “Long-Haired Hare” in great detail because the large crash sound covered it up. Last night, the entire cartoon score was performed live for the first time. Wow!

That’s not all, folks. Among other surprises were two new cartoon short subjects, “Rabid Rider” and “Coyote Falls”, a tribute to Mel Blanc by WB’s current voiceover artist Bob Bergen, and a balletic tribute set to the music of Camile Saint-Saens and performed by a member of the all-male troupe, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Additionally, I’d like to add my reverent tribute to the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. As Daugherty informed us, the Bowl is featured in five of the program’s cartoons, and the history of the orchestra’s musicians goes right back to the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the major Hollywood studios had their own, large orchestras that played for all the big films as well as countless animated cartoons. The LA Phil relived, and breathed new life into, all that history last night! What a thrill it was to hear them play the score to “Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl”, with Scott Bradley’s heartfelt tribute to Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture. Next time I listen to the operetta itself, the overture will immediately bring to mind another unforgettable night at the Hollywood Bowl, not to mention Bradley’s comic musical additions which punctuate the visual gags.

My final word: I give the performance 5 stars for the orchestra and conductor, and 5 stars for content. Before the concert started, I took three stars back. The program looked good, but there was no Dance of the Comedians to open the first act, no Beautiful Galatea Overture to open the second act, and “A Corny Concerto” was a no-show as well. I knew it would be an enjoyable evening anyway, despite these omissions. However, I’ll now add four stars back onto my rating. These substitutions completely made up for the loss of my initial favorite pieces. Wagner’s Lohengrin Act Three Prelude turned out to be a joyful evening opener that even managed to calm down the children in the crowd! Saint-Saens’ Swan from Carnival of the Animals opened the second act, accompanied by the funny ballet visuals. The second act’s new cartoons, Rabid Rider and Coyote Falls, were both hysterical world premieres, with new scores composed in the Stalling style. My mother’s description of the visuals enhanced my enjoyment of these selections. An 11 out of 10 rating might be a bit much, but there you go. The Bartered Bride and Galatea references in “Zoom and Bored” and “Long-Haired Hare” made up for not hearing the entire pieces played independently of the cartoons. I’ll now add one more star: there were my favorite scenes from “Robin Hood Daffy”, which is one of my favorite non-music-related cartoons in the series. I love it when Mel Blanc sings as Daffy Duck in that glorious spoof of Medieval songs that opens the cartoon. This particular Looney Tunes moment brings me continued pleasure! From an orchestral standpoint, hearing the LA Phil play this jaunty score, live, touched my heart in the best way – it’s my favorite piece of WB cartoon music not based on an existing classical piece! My new rating is 12 out of 10 stars! That’s two thumbs up and two gigantic carrots! Bravo!

Oh, and did I mention those zany sound effects? Mostly they’re the work of the equally zany Treg Brown. His work for many of the classic cartoons was heard digitally, which was really something! Meep meep!

Alright, LA Phil! Cue the Merrie Melodies Theme! That’s all, folks!