It's a adult pop extravaganza at Roy Thomson Hall this weekend.
It'll be interesting to see how the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Finnish vocal group Rajaton compare, in their ABBA-themed program tonight and tomorrow, with Portland, Ore. lounge-pop masters Pink Martini, who captivated a near-capacity hall last night.
The TSO has a long history of pops concerts, but the few I've ventured to over the last few years have given off the unmistakable whiff of being duty calls for these musicians. I hope tonight will prove different.
Pink Martini, on the other hand, is a study in enthusiasm.
Although the 12-member band has been around for 15 years, their Toronto popularity is recent, the rise, practically meteoric.
Three years ago, they made their fist visit here, performing to a couple of hundred people at the Phoenix on Sherbourne St. At the time, their publicist was desperate to try and sell some tickets. She sent me their second disc, Hang on, Little Tomato, and I was hooked by the end of the first track.
I interviewed both bandleader-pianist-arranger Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes -- friends since their student days at Harvard -- and discovered two fun, quirky, earnest performers who wanted little more than to share their good time with whoever was willing to listen.
On a cold winter's night, the audience at the Phoenix burst into spontaneous dancing as Pink Martini performed its mix of originals and arrangements of popular songs from old movies -- all flavoured with dance rhythms.
In 2008, following a successful third album, Hey, Eugene!, Pink Martini filled Massey Hall. By last night, they had graduated to the biggest pace that this town can reasonably offer a small ensemble.
Three discs in a 15-year career is not much, so some of the band's repertoire is getting old, by live-performance standards. But there were no wrinkles, as Forbes, Lauderdale and the other band members performed them with energy and zest.
We were also given a couple of tastes of a new album. Lauderdale announced that the band had finished recording it three weeks ago, and that it would be out in 2010.
One of these samples, typical of Pink Martini's old-is-new plundering of various musical worlds, was a fresh arrangement of "Uska Dara," a Turkish song originally recorded by Eartha Kitt on a 78-rpm disc in 1953. (Forbes, in fine, strong voice, skipped Kitt's English-narrative interludes, which include her sighing "Oh, those Turks").
Looking around at the audience at Roy Thomson Hall last night, I was struck by the demographics-defying mix: There were hip 20-somethings as well as smartly dressed seniors, downtowners and suburbanites.
How many other performers can cut across all our boundaries?
ABBA could, in its day. So let's see if the TSO can capture some of the same magic.
For those of you not familiar with the pleasures of Pink Martini, here are two sips. The first is a (very old) video of the title track from their first album, Sympathique, written by Forbes and Lauderdale:
Here is one of my Pink Martini favourites, "Kikuchiyo to mohshimasu," an arrangement of a 1960s Japanese pop song about a one-night stand with a woman named Kikuchiyo ("She vanished/ Leaving only her sweet scent lingering softly/ In the fog..."), from the second album:
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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