And then there's me!
Would you expect to hear music performed by artists who describe their style as, “Somewhere between a 1930’s Cuban dance orchestra, a classical chamber music ensemble, a Brazilian marching street band and accompaniment for Japanese film noir at the symphony? No? I bet a large majority of season ticket holders for the North Carolina Symphony weren’t expecting that either! There are many ways to measure the success of a performance. Watching “Raleigh’s finest” conga down the isles of the symphony to the eclectic musical mix assured me the performance was not just successful, but astounding.
What group managed to levitate the patrons out of their seats? Why Pink Martini, of course! Who are they? “They” are a little orchestra from Portland Oregon led by a punk Liberace with happy feet. The punk Liberace is Thomas M. Lauderdale, a classically trained pianist and Harvard graduate. Behind him is an ensemble who’s concerts are a world tour of languages and rhythms.
The performance began with the symphony and Assistant conductor Joan Landry setting the tone of the evening with Manuel de Fall’s, Ritual Fire from “El Amor Brujo” (which by the way doesn’t translate to the “Love Witch” but more closely to “Love, the Magician.”). This Spanish piece called to mind scenes of the Moors and their epic travels. Leaving Spain we traveled to a Italy and enjoyed the “Roman Carnival Overture” via Hector Berlioz. Then it was onto Brazil with a Carlos Jobim arrangement of TheGirl from Ipanema, and finally back to France via Cole Porter selections from Can-Can.
We’d already been around the world by the intermission, but when Pink Martini took the stage, we headed for the universe. Backed by the North Carolina Symphony they started off their musical escape with Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. This piece of music always manages to stir my blood as I imagine wind swept sand dunes and endless desert vistas to appear before me. Plus, I think it’s sexy music. What a waste of instrumentation on a night I knew I’d be coming home to myself.
Next Pink Martini hopped over to a Carmen Miranda piece from the 50’s before opening with their first original number Anna (el negro zumbon) – a Brazilian laced samba who’s rhythm made it difficult to stay seated. It wasn’t just difficult for me. Watching pianist Thomas Lauderdale’s happy left foot dance as he played the Steinway grand let me know this wasn’t going to be any staid symphony experience.
Of course, you do know I always have to sit next to a weirdo, right? This performance was no different. Throughout the performance, this dandruff-flaking gentleman fidgeted. First with his NOT quiet nylon parka, then extracting his opera glasses. He was quiet for a few minutes until he leaned over to his partner to inform her the quality on the QVC spectacles was superb – especially when you consider their $3.49 price. Fortunately the dark-chocolate rich vocals of China Forbes were able to muffle the most annoying of patrons.
Music has a story to tell. Sometimes you know the it by the content of the lyrics and sometimes there’s a back story. A photo of a garden, led to the song “Gardens of Sampson and Beasley”. China explained the photo belonged to Lauderdale and was of an extensive garden maintained by his friends Sampson and Beasley. If her molten voice and statuesque physique weren’t enough to earn my admiration, China Forbes’ skill of singing and song writing in multiple languages certainly was. Throughout the performance she and the other vocalists moved flawlessly from French, to Portuguese, to Italian without misstep. The most impressive was when Lauderdale mentioned China had been working with a professor from the University of Portland to learn the proper pronunciation for the Arabian love song, entitled “Tomorrow and the day after” (except in Arabic).
After presenting 15 songs, the band wrapped up its performance with a rousing number – in which they encourage the audience to get out of their seats and begin a conga line in the hall. Who would have believed Raleigh season ticket holder *sniff* would indeed conga up and down the isles?