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Classical 101

Open Season on Ravel's Bolero

Pink Martini in front of their headquarters, a 140-year-old building in Portland

A number of years ago, I had a conversation with China Forbes, who sings with Pink Martini. We sat in their Portland headquarters, a 140-year-old building which serves as home base, distribution center, and rehearsal space, not to mention home to the group's founder Thomas Lauderdale, who lives upstairs.

As we sat in the cozy space, we talked about the usual thing...songwriting, how the group began, etc. Their music harkens back to an age of smoky night clubs and Sinatra headlining in Vegas.

What they performed in concert each evening was amazing and unique...but it was what they COULDN'T perform that intrigued me.

In 1997, Pink Martini released their first full-length recording, Sympathique, which shared with the rest of the music world what music lovers in Portland OR had long known...Pink Martini is one of a kind. Songs like Que Sera, Sera, Brazil, and Never on Sunday, combined with original cuts like the title track, made for an album we played again and again. Also on that recording was music familiar to most everyone...Ravel's Bolero. Their arrangement of Bolero was amazing! However, if you buy go a copy of Sympathique today, you won't find it.


Because when the Ravel estate caught wind of the arrangement, they informed Pink Martini in no uncertain terms that they were not to perform it like that ever. Ever. Seems Ravel's heirs would only allow it to be performed as it had been written. Period. Well, since Pink Martini has a huge following in Europe, and France in particular, they decided maybe they'd better not argue.

Now, however, things may change. Ninety years after Bolero premiered in Paris and became an instant hit, it has moved into the Public Domain. Bolero is so popular, Laurent Petitgirard of France’s Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers (SACEM), likes to say that a performance begins roughly every 10 minutes - and since Bolero is 17 minutes long, it is always playing somewhere.

While one would like to think that good taste will prevail and that the arrangements to come with be tasteful and elegant. Unfortunately, I fear some advertising exec somewhere will decided dancing cats and Ravel will sell more Friskies. You'll find more details here.

Meanwhile, enjoy what Pink Martini fans the world over have rarely heard for nearly two decades.