Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Pink Martini and Oregon Symphony wow audience at live-recording concert
From the moment that members of the Pink Martini ensemble stepped out onto the stage on Monday evening (June 1), the standing-room only audience of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert gave them and the members of the Oregon Symphony a city-wide group hug. This was the second in three nights of sold-out performances, and the festive atmosphere bathed the concert in a glow that made the added mood lighting unnecessary.
I came to this concert with some skepticism, because I had heard a Pink Martini concert with another orchestra (on or near Valentine’s Day) a few years ago and came away unimpressed. This time, however, Thomas Lauderdale and his sophisticated lounge ensemble were on top of their game. Another problematic element are orchestral arrangements, because they can make the whole thing sluggish, but to my delight, from the get-go at the top of the program with the first notes of “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” (“Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”) by Cuban composer Osvaldo Farrés, Pink Martini and the Oregon Symphony knocked the music out of the ballpark. And they continued to do so with each number on the program, highlighting the singing of China Forbes, the playing of instrumentalists in the 12-member ensemble, and the playing of the orchestra, including some featured spots for several principal orchestra members.
Thomas Lauderdale, showed his leadership with impeccable playing on the piano and in mc’ing the concert, teasing the audience with off-the-cuff remarks and with his slightly impish mannerisms. Forbes sang with full-flavored passion that worked like magic, and she received thunderous applause after each number she performed. The Lauderdale/Alex Marashian arrangement of “Splendor in the Grass” took on a surprisingly new dimension with a snippet of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto rolled into it.
The raspy duet between trombonist Robert Taylor and trumpeter Gavin Bondy in “The Flying Squirrel” (written by Lauderdale and Stephen Taylor) put everyone in a speakeasy from the 1920s. Violinist Nicholas Crosa performed Fritz Kreisler “Praeludium & Allegro” superbly. Cellist Pansy Chang shined in her playing of Ravel’s “Piece en forme d'habanera” (arranged by Norman Leyden).
The selection of tunes from Latin America played nicely into the hands of Oregon Symphony’s conductor Carlos Kalmar, because he is a native of Uruguay. I enjoyed Kalmar’s conducting, because he didn’t use the baton (except for two pieces) which helped to soften the style of the orchestra. The orchestra’s strings were as smooth as glass whenever needed, yet the ensemble provided plenty of dramatic crescendos and cut offs. When the orchestra got louder it seemed to drown out Lauderdale at the piano, but microphones and technology will probably make up for that in the final recording. Individual highlights in the orchestra, included solos by principal trumpet Jeffrey Work, principal flutist David Buck, principal oboist Martin Hebert, and concertmaster Jun Iwasaki.
Forbes and Kalmar traded places during Franz Lehar’s “Il fox trot delle gigolettes.” That is, Forbes conducted and Kalmar sang it in German. That was really fun to see and hear, and Kalmar endeared himself to the audience with his rendition.
Norman Leyden, the orchestra’s pops director for many years, came on stage with his clarinet to play a duet with Forbes in Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” and then topped it off with a “pizzicato clarinet” sound in an arrangement of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
According to the Lauderdale, recordings taken from this series of concerts will be released in March. It should be a big hit. In the meantime, Pink Martini will release its next album in October.