Pink Martini's spirited concert full of highlights

  • Jul 4, 2012
By Mark Samples From The Register-Guard July 3, 2012
“That was not a piece by Bach.” Those were the first words out of Thomas Lauderdale’s mouth after the opening number of Sunday night’s Oregon Bach Festival concert at the Cuthbert Amphitheater. Lauderdale’s band, Pink Martini, delivered an eclectic and exhilarating evening, and its jubilant playing had the audience dancing in the aisles. No one, of course, had to be told that the opening music wasn’t by Bach. It was a fiery flamenco rendition of “Malagueña,” by Ernesto Lecuona. But Lauderdale’s comment and the opening tune signaled the white hot energy and cultural variety that was to come in the band’s two sets. It was a concert with so much going on that a review like this can only hope to give the highlights. Pink Martini is a sophisticated pop orchestra based in Portland that draws from a whole world of musical resources. At the core of the band’s sound is its Latin-heavy percussion section, Lauderdale’s piano and lead singer Storm Large. Joining them onstage were a bass, horns, harp, a small string orchestra and the excellent singer Timothy Nishimoto. Throughout the night we heard songs in styles from Italy, France, Japan and Romania, along with strains of popular classical pieces and pop music from swing to Pink Martini originals. Large blew me away with her smoldering voice and evocative delivery. No stranger to the Broadway stage, she knows how to tell a story through music, and the audience seemed enraptured by her tales. She shuttled easily between the heartbroken lover and the heartbreaker, the multicultural musical ambassador and the good old-fashioned party raiser. And though she shared the stage with 16 other musicians, when she was singing, all ears were on her. Beyond the core band, Pink Martini had two other featured guests, Norman Leyden on clarinet and the Pacific Youth Choir. The 94-year-old Leyden, who led the Oregon Symphony Pops Orchestra, has been a collaborator and personal friend of the band for years. He was featured on six tunes at the end of the first set, which included Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and a blistering swing tune with a Gene Krupa-style tom-tom beat. From the first note to the last, he had the audience wrapped around his clarinet. Another highlight came in the second set when the Pacific Youth Choir sang “Sanctus,” from Charles Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass. William Goforth, an alumnus of the choir, sang the tenor solo, and I was stunned by his pure tone and unaffected delivery. Through the evening’s many stylistic and personnel changes, Lauderdale held everything together like a red thread. The concert was not only a success for Pink Martini, but for the Oregon Bach Festival. In its first event at the Cuthbert, the OBF expanded its visibility beyond the festival’s normal reach. The OBF has embraced variety in recent years, but this concert stretched those limits even farther. In fact, I believe Sunday night’s event will go down in history as the first-ever Oregon Bach Festival concert to end in an audiencewide conga line. May it not be the last. Mark Samples is a musicologist and adjunct professor at the University of Oregon.