For starters, it was that day that occurs every spring. That perfect day, the day that seems so perfect that it could never come again, until it comes again the following spring. In Manhattan it was May 18.
We had taken the 79th street crosstown bus over to Broadway and were walking down to Lincoln Center to rendezvous with our three grandkids and their parents for a visit with the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall. The program was “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II,” a playful mixture of Warner Bros. cartoons and classical music.
As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I certainly logged my time in front of the television on Saturday mornings watching the classic Looney Tunes with Bugs, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and the rest. I was vaguely aware of the sound track but not until many years later did I come to understand the music was based on the works of Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and other classical giants.
A conductor named George Daugherty, along with collaborator David Ka Lik Wong, came up with the idea 15 years ago to meld the cartoons with powerhouse symphony orchestras. The Philharmonic signed on in 2015.
The set comprises the Philharmonic on its usual stage with a large monitor showing a selection of the most memorable Looney Tunes, with Bugs being the leading man. It’s tricky synchronizing the orchestra’s playing with the cartoon action on the screen, but Daugherty, who conducts, has mastered the challenge and leads the musicians with great verve.
The old cartoons seemed, to me, to be quaint and only mildly amusing, and the unrelenting brutality administered to Wile E. Coyote was, upon reflection, over the top.
But the Philharmonic was taking it seriously and not mailing it in. After intermission, Daugherty and his players launched into Wagner’s introduction to Act III of Lohengrin and nearly blew the house down. (I’m no Wagner aficionado, but, trust me, you would surely recognize this piece of music.)
Daugherty, whose stage patter was quite engaging, confessed that the Wagner selection was an excuse to let the Philharmonic roar “like having the keys to a Lamborghini for a test drive.” It makes you wonder why the heck we don’t come to hear the orchestra more often.
My newspaper editing gene is constantly kicking in at such programs, which are always at least a half-hour too long. Ditto for movies. (Not sets of jazz, however.) Remarkably, the two girls stayed awake, but seemed not terribly moved by the performance.
Once outside, on Damrosch Park, they uncorked their pent-up energy, running around a very handsome set of New Yorkers and visitors drinking in the perfect day.
We then moseyed to a nice nearby seafood place for a meal and got home just in time to turn on the Red Sox game. They won.
The perfect ending to the perfect day.