There was a “Pops Party” scheduled for Saturday night in Kleinhans Music Hall. If you arrived early and had a special ticket, you could celebrate Happy Hour with Colleen Williams and Bobby Jones at 6 p.m., followed by a dinner at 6:30 and a concert featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Pink Martini.
The initial festivities were essentially a fundraiser with the concert by the BPO and Pink Martini serving as a digestif. If you arrived later, Pink Martini (and the BPO) would have made the perfect aperitif. They were marvelous and entertaining in either role.
Thomas Lauderdale was the leader, pianist, and master of ceremonies for Pink Martini, introducing tunes and players. He revealed the surprising core behind much of the material being played, giving clues as to why Franz Schubert and Gloria Gaynor could have so much in common, how Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms could limn the string writing of Peter Tchaikovsky, and the link of a Francis Poulenc art song to a specific French lawsuit.
While there was no mistaking Lauderdale’s status as the driving force behind the ensemble, the major focal point for most of the concert, despite the group’s impressive batch of soloists, and the playing of the BPO (under the direction of Stefan Sanders) was Storm Large, a singer whose truly impressive vocal range almost made amplification unnecessary.
When Large was in front of the microphone, her stage presence, the manner in which she moved, sold every song she sang. There were moments when Large’s voice threatened to overpower the venue but there were also times, like in “Splendor in the Grass,” when she held back that power, controlling it to deliver a softly whispered subtlety.
“Amado Mio” was the opening salvo, quickly followed by “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” “Ich Dich Liebbe” and “Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler” in an international cross-cultural flurry. Large was joined by percussionist Timothy Nishimoto in the later song and the two of them served up two sides of the same situation.
Large emoted through, “And Then You’re Gone” as the kind-of jilted woman and Nishimoto countered with a cad-like, “But Now I’m Back.” Nishimoto had his own spotlight moment with “Donde estas, Yolanda?”
From an instrumental standpoint, the Pink Martini players showed their chops throughout the sets with trumpeter Gavin Bondy and violinist Nicholas Crosa delivering standout moments. Everyone else got a shot at showcasing their chops too, especially during a spirited take on “The Flying Squirrel” when the BPO sat out as bassist Phil Baker, guitarist Dan Faehnle and trombonist Antonis Andreou rocked out with the three percussionists.
Yes, there was dancing in the aisles at various points throughout the show and for those who heard the music, there was no need to explain why.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks in the hall end up thinking this was the best “pops” concert of the season.
BPO Pops with Pink Martini
Saturday night in Kleinhans Music Hall