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June 18, 2019

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Pink Martini: No boundaries of sound

Eccentric and eclectic, orchestra blends genres — and languages

Pink Martinis

publicity photo by sherri diteman

Pink Martini, an orchestra with a wide range of sounds, was conceived as an opening act for the Del Rubio Triplets, an all-women band, in 1994.

If You Go

Beyond the Sun

If film director Federico Fellini had created a band, it would be Pink Martini, a genre-busting orchestra from Portland, Ore.

The group was founded by classical pianist Thomas Lauderdale, who grew up loving everything from Chopin and Hungarian folk songs to Scott Joplin and the soundtrack of “Midnight Cowboy.”

Perhaps his wide-ranging interests best explain Pink Martini’s blend of Latin, lounge, classical, jazz and multilingual lyrics.

Pink Martini brings its eccentric, eclectic show to the Henderson Pavilion on Sunday.

“We don’t put on a fancy light show,” Lauderdale says. “But it’s lively. Everybody is constantly shifting from one song to the next. If you don’t like one, wait a minute; you’ll like the next.”

This won’t be the orchestra’s first trip to the valley. The group performed at a private party for the grand opening of the Bellagio in 1998 and returns to play in Henderson.

“So I guess we’ve still never really played Vegas,” says Lauderdale, who likes the area’s offerings, especially the Liberace Museum. “It’s such a bizarre setup in the strip mall. Maybe we should perform there instead of the amphitheater.”

The interview takes leaps and bounds as Lauderdale talks by cell phone from Portland.

“I’m in a van hurtling toward my loft downtown,” he says. “I just bought a ’70s stereo receiver. They made them better then. I feel like modern equipment is just too much. It’s expensive and the quality isn’t as good.”

He was raised in rural Indiana and began his formal music education at age 6. At 12, his family moved to Oregon, where he performed with the Oregon Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, Chamber Music Northwest and the Oregon Ballet before graduating cum laude from Harvard with a degree in literature and history.

“I thought I was going to go into politics,” he says. “Actually, I may still. I guess that’s always a good second career, right?”

Pink Martini’s history reads like something out of Theatre of the Absurd.

“We were formed to open for the Del Rubio Triplets in 1994,” Lauderdale says. “Three gals with three guitars in their 70s or 80s wearing miniskirts and bootees, and they looked exactly alike. It was an unbelievable spectacle.”

He named the group Pink Martini because “it seemed like a festive and fabulous and absurd name.”

The band took off slowly, performing weekend parties, weddings and holiday events.

“Soon after that first performance with the Del Rubio Triplets, we found ourselves playing at various political fundraisers, affordable housing events or for public broadcasting or the library or the environment,” Lauderdale says. “Gradually it started making sense to us. It sort of unfolded over a couple of years — that we should do songs in different languages.”

That epiphany, he says, came because he and lead singer China Forbes (they met at Harvard) come from multicultural backgrounds and grew up studying languages.

“It just made sense to treat the repertoire of the band like a mix tape, so we do like a samba in Portuguese next to a French music hall sound from the ’30s kind of thing next to a ‘Peter and the Wolf’ in an Afro-Cuban sound,” he says.

Pink Martini became hot in Europe before it did in the United States. Today the group spends about half its time here and half there.

Band members record on their own label — Heinz. “That was the name of my dog,” Lauderdale says. “He’s dead now.” They’ve released three albums — “Sympathique” (1997), “Hang On Little Tomato” (2004) and “Hey Eugene!” (2007). A fourth album — “Splendor in the Grass,” a collection of nine original and four cover tunes — is due out next month.

This year the group is busy helping Oregon celebrate its 150th birthday. As part of the sesquicentennial celebration, the group updated comic writer Stan Freberg’s “Oregon! Oregon! A Centennial Fable in Three Acts,” a 21-minute musical comedy about the state, written in 1959.

“Fifty years later we decided to write a new act for the sesquicentennial and now we’re touring the state with the 234th Army band and former Gov. Barbara Roberts,” Lauderdale says.

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