Lawrence Toppman

Pops, Pink Martini: A tonic for tired ears

Pink Martini combines elegance and earthiness in the final show of the Charlotte Symphony’s pops season.
Pink Martini combines elegance and earthiness in the final show of the Charlotte Symphony’s pops season. Courtesy of Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

When I hear the words “pink martini,” adjectives come to mind: tart, cool, refreshing, nontraditional. Well, I’ve just walked back from the Pink Martini concert at Belk Theater, which closes the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s pops season, and those fit. But I missed one: cosmopolitan.

This musical concoction travels well: through time via old Egyptian or American movie music, across borders with songs from Turkey and Cuba and Italy. Nothing about this show seemed overfamiliar, from a Latin-orchestrated “Bolero” that would have made Ravel smile to the funhouse weirdness of “Que Será, Será.” The only old-fashioned number, a boisterous “Brazil,” went wonky when two conga lines in the audience ran into each other. (That’s Charlotte for you: enthusiastic but rhythm-impaired.)

These 11 musicians have the knack of roaming from genre to genre – sometimes crossing them – and making results accessible. They’ll launch into the pseudo-country song “Splendor in the Grass,” then interpolate the opening theme of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto at the bridge.

Most of the time, China Forbes sings in her clear, unaffected voice, venturing into French and German with excellent diction. (I can’t vouch for the Czech. She gave herself a birthday present by returning to her opera roots with Dvorak’s most yearning melody, “Song to the Moon” from “Rusalka.” That was the only time she seemed to be out of her comfort zone.)

Sometimes Timothy Nishimoto abandons his percussion instruments to sing in Spanish or Japanese, including the irresistibly corny but propulsive “Zundoko-Bushi.” Sometimes the band plays instrumentals, with Thomas Lauderdale leading from the piano. He takes brief spirited solos but mostly adopts a Duke Ellington approach, gluing the band together with well-chosen chords or fills.

No doubt they’re always more fun to see than hear on recordings; on disc, Forbes wouldn’t have forgotten lyrics, made them up, laughingly admitted her mistake and started the song over, reading from an album cover. (Pink Martini still releases LPs as well as CDs. And 45 rpm records!)

But the big difference this weekend must be the Charlotte Symphony, reduced in size but still potent. Albert-George Schram led them unobtrusively (that’s a compliment in this case), treating them mostly as a huge rhythm section to support Pink Martini’s fine violin, brass and percussion.

You were never aware of the symphony taking over, yet it contributed to almost every number. The little orchestra from Portland, Ore., and the big one from Tryon Street blended as easily as – well, gin and vermouth.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Charlotte Symphony Pops

The band Pink Martini joins Albert-George Schram and the Charlotte Symphony in an evening of world music, jazz, folk and pop.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $25-$79.

DETAILS: 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.

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