By Larry Taylor
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester from Germany make its Walt Disney Concert Hall debut on Wednesday evening, April 10, performing songs from and in the style of the 1920s and 1930s.
With debonair charm and wit, Raabe and his orchestra unveil a brand new program, I WON'T DANCE, which includes classics from the Great American Songbook that Raabe uncovered during a recent trip to Chicago. As well, there will be riginal arrangements of hits, dance hall songs and chansons. These, alongside new songs penned by Raabe himself.
The Disney Hall program will also include popular German songs; the original dance-band arrangement of Kurt Weill's Mack the Knife" and traditional arrangements of songs by the famous group Comedian Harmonists. Also included will be popular songs from Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, many performed by Raabe in the inimitable style of Fred Astaire.
As the Boston Globe recently wrote, the Palast Orchester goes beyond mere surface; this is serious music making. The 12-piece band is vibrant, versatile, exquisitely balanced, and tight as a bow tie." This is impeccable jazz from Europe's pre WWI era.
Founded in 1986 by the charismatic baritone Raabe, the group embodies the high style and musical glory of the '20s and '30s and has been heard by adoring audiences worldwide, performing over 100 concerts a year. A singer of incredible range, Raabe has the ability to capture the cunning rasp of the cabaret singer, the confident belcanto hero, the oily melodiousness of the revue beau, the carefree timbre of early jazz, as well as the falsetto of ragtime, all backed by his stellar 12-member band, many of whom have been with him from the beginning.
Raabe's passion for music was first roused by a record he found in his parents' cupboard—a humorous instrumental called I'm Crazy About Hilda." Before long he was collecting 78s in flea markets and junk shops. By the age of 16 he was an expert on the songs and styles of the turbulent Weimar era, his enthusiasm fuelled by black-and-white films featuring music, dance and comedy. He then discovered the Lieder maestro Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who remains his musical idol. Still in his teens, he plucked up the courage to dress up in his father's top hat and tails at the height of the disco era to sing old-fashioned favorites at parties for friends.
In his early '20s Max moved to Berlin to study opera, dreaming of becoming a baritone, moonlighting with a friend to perform the songs he loved so much at bars and student parties. After graduating, he made a handful of appearances in Carmina Burana at the Berlin Philharmonie, but quickly realized his true love remained the music of the '20s and '30s. Surprised to find that there was no ensemble performing such songs, he formed Palast Orchester with fellow students.
Raabe and the ensemble finish its California stay in San Francisco, before e returning to Europe for an extensive tour of Britain and Germany.