Pink Martini: Joy to the World
Over the weekend, the New York Pops continued its concert season at Carnegie Hall with a holiday show entitled "Pink Martini: Joy to the World."
In addition to Portland-Oregon-based, thirteen-member "little orchestra" Pink Martini, the guest performers who appeared on stage with the Pops formed a catalog of shocks and surprises for the audience that added up to an evening of truly special moments.
To begin, emcee and Pink Martini pianist Thomas Lauderdale led the audience in a moment of silence for the Connecticut school shooting that had tragically marred the day’s headlines. The moment of silence ended as the band softly eased into "La Vergine Degli Angeli," a solemn Verdi aria featuring gorgeous harp-string arpeggios and the at-once heady and throaty vocals of singer China Forbes.
A bright hum of violin then gave way to a deeply resonant Spanish guitar in this song of fragile hope and fleeting beauty. As with most Pink Martini numbers, at some point the song became a feature for percussion, and castanet and tambourine carried us into the song’s finish.
The thing about Pink Martini is their indelible groove. Their performances and recordings tend to sound like the most fine-tuned jam sessions among the most telepathically connected musicians. Also, they incorporate elements of music from all over the globe and all through history, so that when you listen, it sounds new and classic, strange and familiar.
This was certainly the case with their second tune, "Amado Mio," a cover of Rita Hayworth’s big number from "Gilda" and one of their best-known songs. One could not help but bounce one’s shoulders to the song’s Latin rhythms and bob one’s head to Lauderdale’s aggressive, percussive piano tinkling (not to mention Forbes’ perfect voice and "Evita" arms).
Later in the show, Pink Martini played their song "Hang on Little Tomato," a sweet tune of encouragement and hope sung to an impatient tomato ripening on a vine. The bands welcomed 95-year old clarinetist Norman Leyden to play the song’s extended opening solo. This was the soloist’s Carnegie Hall debut.
The significance of a song about waiting patiently for one’s perfect moment played by a man who’d waited ninety-five years to play Carnegie Hall was immense. After the solo, Leyden received a warm standing ovation from a crowd of unanimously adoring new fans.
He hung around and played another solo in the next song, Irving Berlin’s classic "What’ll I Do?" Through Forbes’s dulcet crooning and Leyden’s phrasing aged-in-wood, I sat there and mourned that these moments were not being recorded for a forthcoming album of Carnegie Hall’s most spectacular moments.
The spectacle was far from over. Lauderdale spoke of a 1963 Life Magazine cover featuring the widow of Medgar Evers consoling her sobbing son at the civil rights leader’s funeral.
Upon further research he found that one of the widow’s dreams, before becoming irrevocably embroiled in the American Civil Rights Movement, had been to "wear a red dress and in the crook of a piano sing a torch song at Carnegie Hall." Somehow, Lauderdale made that happen.
Wearing the shimmeriest, most sequined and gloriously audacious red dress, Myrlie Evers-Williams joined the Pops and Pink Martini on stage to close the first half of the show with a reading of Martha Faultry’s poem "Ready to Unfold" and a delightfully imperfect rendition of "The Man I Love."
Cue thunderous applause. A word of advice to would-be producers trying to win over New York audiences: trot out the old folks at the holidays and the masses will eat it up!
The show’s second half welcomed frequent Pink Martini collaborators Ari Shapiro (NPR’s White House correspondent) and cantor Ida Rae Cahana singing harmonies with Forbes on a handful of tunes from Pink Martini’s catalog, most notably "Ocho Kandelikas," a cha-cha/tango/mambo amalgam that displays Pinmk Martini’s signature percussive sound.
One final surprise of the evening was the real-live Von Trapp Family Singers in their latest incarnation: four teenagers all directly descended from the original singer portrayed as "Kurt" in "The Sound of Music." Singing in perfect harmonies, they delighted the audience with a couple of old Von Trapp hits and then the Rodgers and Hammerstein standard "The Lonely Goatherd."
Once again New York Pops artistic director and conductor Steven Reineke has proven unmatched in his ability to curate the most eclectic and entertaining guest artists to complement his orchestra. Two shows remain in this performance season, which will close in the spring. Stay tuned to see what he has up his sleeve.