01.31.10 ''Perfectly orchestrated waltz of the dollars...'' reports the Philadelphia Inquirer of last night's gala concert headlined by Sting...

In a gala concert that packed together Sting, the meteoric Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, and several ardent love notes to a 153-year-old opera house, last night's Academy of Music Anniversary Concert might have threatened to swallow up the ensemble at the heart of it all: the Philadelphia Orchestra.

But Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos was on the podium, and the orchestra's exactitude and firepower stole the show, even in some of Sting's own songs.

In a tough economy, this year's Academy of Music Concert and Ball hit some high notes. The event grossed $2.9 million and attracted an additional $1.1 million in donations to the restoration fund, a spokeswoman said.

Nearly 2,800 tickets were sold for the concert, with 2,100 attending the ball that followed at the Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue.

Among the grandees attending: Gov. Rendell and Judge Marjorie O. Rendell; Mayor Nutter and his wife, Lisa; and a multitude of socialites, cultural leaders, and philanthropists, such as H.F. "Gerry" and Marguerite Lenfest and Jeffrey and Marsha Perelman.

This year's Academy of Music fete was without the landmark's patron saint, Leonore Annenberg, who died in March - "a philanthropist of global acclaim," in the words of Britain's Prince Charles. She and husband Walter Annenberg donated more than $100 million to the Academy and the orchestra.

But making a spectacle of itself even before visitors entered the building last night was one of her final strokes of munificence. The newly restored Academy Ballroom, thanks to $5.6 million from her and funding from others, now closely resembles its appearance just after the opening in 1857. The five large windows on the facade, long blocked, are clear glass again. The inside of the second-floor ballroom was a glowing volume from snowy Broad Street, its new, stained-glass windows and diaphanous French chandeliers giving the building a street presence it has lacked for decades.

The ball and concert were something of a coming-out, too, for Allison Vulgamore, the former Atlanta Symphony Orchestra executive who arrived two weeks ago to take over as the orchestra's president and chief executive officer. She sat in the box with the mayor and governor.

The gig was no classical hit-and-run for the English-born Sting, 58, née Gordon Matthew Sumner. He appeared in a film about Robert and Clara Schumann, once took the part of the soldier in Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, and has recorded works of Renaissance lutenist John Dowland.

Last night he performed "Message in a Bottle," "Roxanne," "Moon Over Bourbon Street," "Every Breath You Take," and other songs, some orchestrated especially for the concert.

Following Rod Stewart, James Taylor, and Billy Joel, who have also headlined the event, Sting was helped considerably in his eight songs by the orchestra he hailed as one of the most "august and celebrated in the world."

Especially so in "Russians," which pitted the singer's high, urgent voice against a hulking orchestration by Vince Mendoza embedded with nods to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and Lieutenant Kijé.

The orchestra somehow managed to miss Flórez when he was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in the mid-1990s, but now he and his huge career were welcomed back to town for his debut with the Philadelphians.

His voice is a wondrous blend of silvery overtones and bel canto ease, and, though it's slightly churlish to say, it was hard not to notice that for pure talent, his was the star voice.

© Philadelphia Inquirer by Peter Dobrin
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