Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pink Martini: The "little orchestra" that's bringing joy to the world in these troubled times

Pink Martini / The "little orchestra" that's inclusive, full of warmth and
represents many human experiences.

Pink Martini is an internationally acclaimed "little orchestra" from Portland, Oregon, founded by a couple of Harvard classmates, pianist Thomas Lauderdale and vocalist China Forbes, that mixes glamour and sophisticated easy-listening music. Since 1994, the band that the Washington Post once called "utterly cosmopolitan yet utterly unpretentious," have amassed an impressive repertoire of festive songs drawn from around the globe, including many timeless classics and a few rarely heard chestnuts.

A typical Pink Martini show -- and I speak from experience have seen the band perform nine times over the past decade in a variety of California settings -- is both multilingual and multicultural, and at holiday time it's also multi-denominational. Above all, it's inclusive -- full of warmth -- and represents many human experiences.

Through the energy and creativity of their music, Pink Martini brings joy to the world in these troubled times -- something which should make all of us feel grateful and appreciative.

"We're very much an American band," said Lauderdale, "but we spend a lot of time abroad and therefore, have the incredible diplomatic opportunity to represent a broader, more inclusive America... the America which remains the most heterogeneously populated country in the world... composed of people of every country, every language, every religion."

Pink Martini has performed on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe and Asia, as well as in Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America and North America. I have seen them perform both as a "little orchestra" as well as in concert with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. When his schedule allows, NPR "All Things Considered" host Ari Shapiro, also a Portland native, joins Pink Martini as a guest vocalist.

Pink Martini's 'Joy to the World'
Last Monday in Livermore, about 30 miles inland from Oakland, my wife and I saw our most recent Pink Martini show. It was part of a two-week "Joy to the World" bus tour through northern and coastal California towns, including Arcata, Davis, Monterey, Redding, and Santa Barbara.

On this night, the 12-member band delighted their audience at the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center's 507-seat Bankhead Theater by performing from their expansive catalog of pop, jazz, classical and holiday songs that were beautifully sung in Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, German, Turkish, Armenian, Spanish, Italian, French, Romanian, Croatian, Chinese, Japanese and, oh yes, English, too. There was a nice mixture of charm, elegance and humor throughout the band's two-hour performance.

In a recent interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, co-lead vocalist Storm Large said: "Every language expresses love, pain, joy or grief, in whatever song I'm singing, in whatever language, it's just a matter of being honest in the feeling I'm expressing." This was plainly evident when Large sang the very serious Romanian folk tune "Pâna când nu te iubeam" ("Until I Loved You") as well as a long-time favorite of mine, the spine-tingling Croatian song "Eu plavu zoru" ("At Blue Dawn"), accompanied by violinist Nicholas Crosa.

Pink Martini performs their "Joy to the World" holiday
show in Livermore, California on Dec. 7.
Among the sacred and secular holiday songs which Pink Martini performed in Livermore were: "Little Drummer Boy," "We Three Kings," "A Snowglobe Christmas," "Talj, Talj," "La Vergine Degli Angeli," "O Holy Night," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

"Christmas music is so inherently joyful for me, as well as for the audience," said Large. "People just have so many good feelings around the holidays. It's a marvelous reason to sing."

Pink Martini's unique vision can be attributed to its inclusiveness of language, culture, and religion, musically. The band wants anyone and everyone to feel welcome at its shows and, if they are so encouraged, to jump up and dance. And many did dance in Livermore. The evening was complete  with an encore performance of the band's signature tune "Brazil" in which many in the audience at Large's urging formed a conga line while others danced at their seats and in the aisles.

If you think about it, said Large, "It's really the perfect recipe for 'Peace on Earth and Good Will' we hear about so often during the holidays, but sadly have witnessed quite the opposite in the world of late."

Note ~ Hear Pink Martini's "Joy to the World: A Holiday Spectacular" that's airing this month via NPR:


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