For Pink Martini, there’s always a little bit of nostalgia involved in coming back to the Lilac City to perform with the Spokane Symphony.
It’s been 21 years since Portland’s “little orchestra” first trekked to Eastern Washington to play what was then only their second engagement with a symphony.
Pink Martini mastermind and pianist Thomas Lauderdale said Spokane was one of the first places the group toured outside of Oregon, “so we have a long history with that town.”
It’s been a few years since Pink Martini played Spokane – they were at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox in 2015 and the Festival at Sandpoint in 2017. But Lauderdale said the city is absolutely a sentimental favorite.
“I love the architecture downtown. I love the Expo architecture from 1974. It’s really amazing,” he said. “Having the falls right in the middle of the city is so amazing.”
The Spokane connection happened because of Norman Leyden, composer, clarinetist and conductor of the Oregon Symphony Pops. When the Spokane Symphony brought in Leyden to guest conduct a pops concert in 1998, Leyden asked Pink Martini to join him.
The success of those early symphony collaborations really fueled the group’s desire to continue doing them.
“The band is really inspired by old-fashioned Hollywood, and so with an orchestra you get that big glorious sound that one can’t necessarily get on one’s own,” he said by phone from a tour stop in Galveston, Texas. “You get harp and strings and all of that. It’s great.”
Now Pink Martini frequently performs with symphonies. That blend of Pink Martini’s old-school cool sound and a big orchestra makes for some entertaining evenings.
“The goal,” Lauderdale said, “is to get everyone in a conga line by the end of the night.”
On Friday and Saturday night at the Fox, the symphony will be conducted by assistant conductor Jorge Luis Uzcátegui. Pink Martini will feature vocalist China Forbes as well guest vocalist Edna Vazquez.
The setlist, Lauderdale said, will feature songs from Pink Martini’s most recent album, “Je Dis Oui,” as well as a “cavalcade of hits and not-so-hits and a few new things, so everything from ‘Amado Mio’ to ‘Brasil’ to ‘Sympathique.’ ”
For the most part, the group’s membership has been unchanged for the past 20 years. Lauderdale said it’s like having a posse.
“It’s certainly much less lonely than if I was on the road as a pianist.”
He’s also finding that even when Pink Martini plays in communities for the first time, they have an audience. Take Galveston, where the band performed earlier this month.
“Tonight’s show in Galveston is sold out, and we’ve never played here before. I don’t know how to explain that. But it’s exciting to be in a new city,” he said.
Of course, Pink Martini has built a reputation far and wide for energetic performances and lively recordings, and a fan base built more by word-of-mouth than by Top 40 radio hits. The group formed in 1994; their first album, “Sympathique” in 1997, has sold more than 1 million copies around the world.
“The band really appeals to all kinds of people. People of different ages, people of different political perspectives,” Lauderdale said, “and I think it’s old-fashioned in a sense that the melodies are beautiful, the songs are in 20 different languages, so it’s like being on a little global adventure in the course of one night.”
The appeal lies in the universality of the music. Like rock? Classical? Jazz? Country? You’ll find an entry point to the music of Pink Martini
“I think we try to create the kind of shows that I would want to go see myself, so therefore every song should be different,” Lauderdale said. “It’s almost like a variety show. If you don’t like something in one moment, stick around because in five minutes it will change.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Pink Martini will perform two nights, Friday and Saturday.
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