My favourite band is Pink Martini - a group from Portland, Oregon that plays “music of the world.” They’re a classy group of phenomenal musicians who cross classical, jazz and pop genres. The leader, Thomas Lauderdale, is a fine pianist who does justice to the classical pieces that he sometimes incorporates into their music. One such piece is the Andante Spianato, opus 22 by Chopin.
The first half of the Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E flat is beautiful, serene, and rippling – a perfect Chopin melody that meanders over steady broken chords in the Left Hand. It has the usual difficulties of trying to fit in an odd number of fast melody notes in the Right Hand with the rhythmically stable Left Hand – a written-in rubato, really. Initially I work these out mathematically until they are under my fingers, then I free up the rhythm in the melody, while trying to maintain a steady left hand. After a beautiful chordal section, the piece makes a transition to a grand polonaise, which was originally written for piano and orchestra. Not being a fan or mazurkas or polonaises in general, I prefer the Andante Spianato by itself. I think it could stand alone.
Pink Martini’s version segues into a Latin ballad – Le Soledad, recorded on their first album Sympathique. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good video to post here of this piece, but here’s their version of Ravel’s Bolero. It’s a fan video – really just audio with some still shots of old movie stars – but it shows well what they do with classical tunes. As a family we’ve seen them live a couple of times, and I’ll continue to see them as often as they come to town.