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Nashville Symphony starts happy hour early with Pink Martini

pinkmartiniHow do you mix the perfect pink martini? Take a dash of classical music, a heaping helping of Latin jazz and a whole lot of carefree campy fun and shake vigorously.

Pink Martini followed that recipe with great success on Thursday night at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, where it’s headlining this weekend’s pops program with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

Led by founder and pianist Thomas Lauderdale, the popular Portland, Ore. ensemble functions essentially like the house orchestra of the United Nations. Its set list is a polyglot collection of songs sung in more than a half dozen languages, from French and Italian to English and Portuguese. Pink Martini is about as chic and sophisticated as they come. Fortunately, the band doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its main objective is always to entertain, and the musicians are clearly eager to please.

The group’s loopy sense of humor came to the fore in such songs as “And then you’re gone” from their 2009 album “Splendor in the Grass.” Pink Martini mixed Franz Schubert’s F-minor Fantasy with Afro-Cuban rhythms and the disco anthem “I will survive” to create a light-hearted bossa nova parody about a woman jilted by her boyfriend in 1950s Havana. To give both sexes fair play, the group followed with a farcical companion song called “But now I’m back,” told from the perspective of the jilted woman’s cad of a boyfriend.

stormIt’s been about five years since Pink Martini last appeared in Nashville, and in that time the group has made some big changes. The biggest has no doubt been the addition of a second lead singer, Storm Large, who’s been substituting for founding singer China Forbes. A rocker who came to attention in the CBS reality TV show Rock Star: Supernova, Large’s main attribute would seem to be her volume. She can belt out a tune.

True, Large lacks the nuance and subtlety of Forbes, who is a true chanteuse. All the same, Large does possess the most important attribute of a Pink Martini musician – versatility. On Thursday evening, she sang in English, Spanish, Romanian and even Japanese. She sang both the Cuban number “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” (best known in Doris Day’s English translation “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”) and the Japanese song “Midnight bossa nova” with a silky smooth voice. She performed the Spanish tune “Donde Estas, Yolanda” with joyous energy.

ari.jptPink Martini is touring with some unexpected guest vocalists. One is Ari Shapiro, whose day job is White House correspondent for National Public Radio. Looking like a regular from the show Mad Men, he sang “But now I’m back” as if it was a variation of “Mack the Knife.”

Another unexpected appearance was from The Von Trapps, the four great-grandchildren of the Von Trapps of Sound of Music fame. These young vocalists – sisters Sofia, Melody and Amanda and brother Justin – can naturally yodel with the best of them. But they were at their best on Thursday in Brahms’ “In Stille Nacht,” an a cappella song sung in German with dulcet expression.

No matter what language was being sung, Pink Martini always seemed to make a personal and immediate connection with the audience. The world is one big happy musical family as far as Pink Martini is concerned. They seem to understand that we’re all in this bistro together.

IF YOU GO

Pink Martini performs a pops concert with the Nashville Symphony. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday April 5 and Saturday April 6 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Tickets are $49 to $134. Call 687-6400 or go to www.nashvillesymphony.org.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.