Pink Martini is hard to pin down – the ensemble is part orchestra, part swing band or, perhaps, part pop-culture icon. In the 25 years since its creation by founders Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes, the group has produced an intense discography that spans at least ten languages and many more cultures. Pink Martini is no stranger to the symphonic stage in general, and its musical arrangements fit perfectly with the lushness a full orchestra provides. They are no stranger to the NC stage, either, with recurring appearances in Charlotte and with our North Carolina Symphony. This time, they are filling Meymand Concert Halli with boisterous percussion and soaring melodies three times in one weekend!

Wesley Schultz was up to the feat of keeping two orchestras together – one in front and one behind. Members of the NCS were pushed quite far back in order to have enough space for Pink Martini, resulting in sometimes not being heard completely. However, the big orchestra shone through in the most important moments, like when the strings boosted lyrical melodies in Pink Martini’s brass instruments or with Forbes’ soaring vocals.

Old and new treasures from Pink Martini’s discography were performed, such as the song that launched Pink Martini’s European career (and international career in general), “Sympathique (Je ne veux pas travailler).” (If you like the tune of this song so much that you want it in music box form, that is for sale.) Or even older favorites, like the steamy “Amado Mio” or swinging “Get Happy/Happy Days.” Over the years, Pink Martini has shown its ability to craft or arrange unique melodies that still somehow feel familiar. Along with the melody in nearly all of the songs, contagious, danceable rhythms from around the world are the driving force, with booming bass or popping conga drums, to name a few forms.

Throughout the show, Pink Martini welcomed several special guests; first, vocalist Jimmie Herrod sang with spectacular power and nuance in a solo, and when he stayed to provide backing vocals, his expression and enthusiasm were a light onstage. Also welcomed onstage was Raleigh student Lanif Azcona, who provided fabulous publicity for the Community Music School of Raleigh with her amazing guitar playing and vocals. Azcona, who will be attending Berklee College of Music in the fall, explained how this long-running studio in Raleigh provides music lessons of all kinds to students for the cost of $1 per lesson. Several years ago, the School was in danger of having to shut its doors in need of donations – thank goodness that did not happen!

It is impossible to attend a Pink Martini concert without dancing at least a little bit – in fact, it’s encouraged. True to form, the performance ended with members of the NC Symphony shaking maracas and leading multiple conga lines circling around Meymandi. It’s refreshing to hear and see an ensemble that never takes itself too seriously as it plays plays with a touch of humor and a lot of heart.

This program will be repeated on Saturday, May 11, at Meymandi Concert Hall. See our sidebar for details.