Holiday performances by Pink Martini have become a winter tradition in the Triangle, with the “little orchestra” playing shows filled with Christmas classics in the globally influenced style for which they are known.
The fact that the band is known at all on the East Coast is a Christmas miracle of sorts. Portland, Ore.- based bandleader Thomas Lauderdale had the idea one night in 1994, while attending a political fundraiser, to form a band that could take the place of those he encountered at local parties. Instead of blaring, lackluster tunes, he imagined pleasant musical soundtracks that would enhance the evenings.
The vision blossomed into the touring phenomenon that is Pink Martini. It’s something Lauderdale says he could never have envisioned for the band, set to perform three shows Friday and Saturday with the N.C. Symphony in Raleigh.
“The concept of the band seems unlikely – and a little preposterous – to travel around the world playing this type of music with twelve band members, he says. “It just seems like something that wouldn’t really work, but we’ve been very lucky. Part of it in this country has been the opportunity to play with so many great symphonies.”
While it isn’t a surprise to see popular acts performing with symphonies in concert these days, Pink Martini was one of the first major musical acts to embrace a partnership that comes with such a massive artistic undertaking. Since their orchestral debut with the Oregon Symphony in 1998, the band has collaborated with more than fifty orchestras around the world.
Working with symphonies has brought Lauderdale and his bandmates onto the home stages of many great conductors, and the bandleader says that their visits have never been less than welcoming.
“We’ve worked with some conductors that were better than others, but they’ve all been great experiences,” he explains. “Orchestras generally hate playing pop music shows, because they feel that they don’t really have the opportunity to play anything interesting, but the music that we bring offers the chance to integrate orchestra members into it in a meaningful way.”
Playing music in a meaningful way is especially trying during the holiday season. During December, audiences may show up unaware of a musician’s prior work, only expecting – or caring – to hear the same Christmas classics they’ve been humming all of their lives. While it’s safe to say you’ll hear plenty of songs along the lines of “White Christmas” and “Santa Baby,” Lauderdale notes that there will be plenty of the group’s holiday originals – found on their 2010 perennial bestseller “Joy to the World” – performed as well.
“There isn’t a lot of difference between our regular shows and the holiday shows,” the Lauderdale says. “When people come out to see us perform, there is a certain expectation when it comes to the songs that we will be performing, and I don’t know that people come to our shows with a certain set of unreasonable expectations. The band is great, and most of the time I believe we deliver performances beyond audiences’ expectations. I’ve always approached the holiday shows as being just as important as any show that we perform in the summer.”
What: A Pink Martini Christmas with the N.C. Symphony
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Meymandi Concert Hall, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Info: 919-996-8700 or dukeenergycenterraleigh.com