If you’re longing for something different from today’s catchy but largely empty pop hits, try looking to the past. The era between World Wars I and II was a musically rich time, producing much of the Great American Songbook, made up of classics that had swing, timeless melody and lyrical depth, by artists such as Gershwin, Berlin and Porter.
Take a journey back to the glitz and glamour of the period from the Roaring Twenties through the 1940s with Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester, a German 12-piece orchestra that makes its Florida debut Sunday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. You’ll hear classics including “Cheek to Cheek,” “Dream a Little Dream,” “These Foolish Things” and “Singin’ in the Rain” delivered with a lot of elegance and sophistication, and a little mischief for good measure.
“We have a lot of respect for this type of music, and we have the original orchestration and arrangements from that time, so it sounds to me exactly like a band in the ‘20s and ‘30s,” says bandleader and founder Raabe, who formed the orchestra with fellow students at the Berlin University of the Arts. “We took these arrangements as seriously as arrangements by Mozart or Brahms, because the charm of these songs is so wonderful and unique when you play them in their original orchestrations. They are the same notes as the musicians had when they played the songs for the first time in 1929.”
But the concert – despite its participants being dressed to the nines in tuxedoes – will be anything but stiff. Along with a silky-smooth baritone that led him to study opera, Raabe fills the nostalgic evening with deadpan jokes and cabaret humor in between the razor-sharp performances.
“The whole presentation is really funny – we are from Germany, but we can be funny, too,” says Raabe.
The orchestra’s repertoire can even be amusing – it’s known for its clever takes on pop hits, including tunes by Britney Spears and Tom Jones.
“Sometimes we have crazy ideas, and a few of them are horrible and a few are really good,” says Raabe. “And one of the ideas was to play "Oops!... I Did It Again" and "Sex Bomb" around 2001 or 2002 when these songs were absolutely at the top of the charts.”
You never know what you might hear, however, as the band boasts a repertoire of more than 500 songs.
“Half of the songs are English and half are in German, but I always explain what I’m singing about, so everybody knows what’s going on,” says Raabe. “In Germany, we have a lot of children and old people intertwined – the audience is very well mixed. And you don’t have to know anything about the repertoire – but most people are quite familiar with it, because you hear it when you see “Tom & Jerry” cartoons – so it’s an entertaining and funny evening.”