When Bugs Bunny awoke in the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, he often stretched his arms and yawned emphatically to an excerpt from the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, more commonly known as “Morning Mood.” That was masterful gimmickry by Looney Tunes’ composer and arranger Carl Stalling, who had no qualms about repurposing classics—and who probably did more than anyone to introduce pieces like Peer Gynt into the mainstream.
Like Stalling, jazz legend Duke Ellington borrowed themes from other composers, and, in doing so, helped bring classical music to a wider audience. Ellington’s arrangement of Peer Gynt blew out the original composer’s wind orchestration and rebuilt it with sax and horn improvisations. “Both Grieg and Ellington are very strong melodic writers,” says Paul Freeman, the music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta, a group known for taking classics in unexpected directions. “Ellington didn’t feel that Grieg’s music was overwhelming to him.” To open its 21st season, Freeman’s Sinfonietta and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble will tackle Peer Gynt side by side, giving audiences a greater appreciation of Grieg, Ellington, Stalling, and even, in a moment of childhood reminiscence, Bugs.
The first-ever Chicago Sinfonietta–Chicago Jazz Ensemble collaboration runs Sunday, Sept. 16th, at Dominican University in River Forest and Monday, Sept. 17th, at Symphony Center. For tickets, call 312-236-3681 (ext. 2) or visit chicagosinfonietta.org.
Photograph: © Pictorial press ltd/alamy