They did not sing anything in Russian.
But Pink Martini, the difficult-to-describe Portland, Ore., combo, seemed to cover about every other known language in its performance Friday in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, which opened the 25th anniversary season of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s popular Concerts in the Garden series.
The 11-member ensemble, led from the piano by founding member Thomas Lauderdale, covered a lot of geography. In the first seven numbers, vocalist China Forbes crooned in Spanish, French, German, Farsi, Croatian and Turkish. Want some titles? Omide Zendegani, U Plavu Zora and Flying Squirrel (an instrumental) were among the easy to remember tunes.
But there was also some familiar ground. The concert opened with the Pinks’ take on Ravel’s Bolero. Lauderdale’s keyboard work was especially impressive on the cleverly scaled-down and structured version of that classical chestnut.
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Nearly all of the numbers featured the Fort Worth Symphony under the baton of Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, making his only appearance in this summer’s series. The conductor and his players seemed to slide easily into the groove provided by the guest artists, with whom the orchestra has performed frequently. They provided a general heft to support Pink Martini’s basic sound that often gave the music a surprising big band feel.
Among the winners in the concert’s first half was Sympathique, an original that was a hit in France until the band got sued over it, Forbes explained in an amusing anecdote about art and the legal system. The closing number, the oddly named Flying Squirrel, was also fun because it played “pass the solo” with most of the band. Among the standout moments in the shifting spotlight were those provided by Anthony Jones (drums), Robert Taylor (trombone) and Dan Faehnle (guitar).
On the whole, Pink Martini has a retro sound with an obvious international bent. Everything they do is intricately arranged and exceeding well played. But it is both a strength and a weakness that there is a surprising sameness to all these tunes in wildly different languages. They certainly start from different places. But they all ultimately sound like something you might hear on the soundtrack of foreign-set films airing on Turner Classic Movies.
A deadline forced us to leave early. But a robust performance by the guest artists and the symphony before a large, opening-night crowd of about 1,800 certainly got this 25th anniversary season off to a fine start in a still slightly soggy Fort Worth Botanic Garden.