Transfigured Nights - Sting's musical curiosity has led him to Dowland, Schumann, Schubert, and Bach. Sting talks to Symphony magazine about one of his newest passions: the orchestra...
March 04, 2010 


Transfigured Nights...

Sting's musical curiosity has led him to Dowland, Schumann, Schubert, and Bach. Here, the rock legend talks about one of his newest passions: the orchestra.

I was brought up in the '50s, when there was only one radio station really - BBC Radio - so you could hear everything, from Beethoven's Fifth to music hall to the Beatles. I grew up with the taste that music was universal and not necessarily this ghettoized... this tribal ghetto. Although there are qualitative differences between music forms, and certainly skill differences, it's basically the same building blocks. And so I approach music that way. I have a great deal of respect for classical music - and awe, sometimes. Nonetheless I see it as a language that I can communicate in, and certainly be reached by.

I had a great experience last May when I worked with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and we put together a concert of my own compositions for orchestra. And we tried as far as possible to use the orchestra to its strengths, rather than, you know, what happens when pop singers work with an orchestra - they just play whole notes behind ballads, and it's kind of boring. The Chicago Symphony is a very rhythmic orchestra, so we wrote arrangements that we hope were challenging and fun for them to play. They certainly had a great time. I had a ball, standing in front of that band. Boy, can they blow!

That experience really inspired me, In January with the Philadelphia Orchestra, I played more or less the same program. It's a very exciting adventure for me. But I think it is a two-way commerce - that an orchestra exposed to my music may have an effect on the way I compose.

I like playing with musicians who can improvise, but who can also - if it's a classical player - be dyed-in-the-wool classicists. More and more classical players are familiar with pop music. They are familiar with its limitations, but also sometimes pop music is quite sublime. They don't have a prejudiced view about it. They are open to it. So I am always looking for people with flexible and open minds about music, because that's what I think it should be, that's where we have growth.

For one of the songs on my 2009 recording 'If On A Winter's Night...', I chose a fairly simple Schubert song - 'Der Leiermann' from 'Winterreise' - and I interpreted it in my own way. I think it is important for me to say to the classical world that my job is not to impersonate a classical performer or a classical singer. It's to interpret. I read music fairly well, I know what a C-sharp is, and I can read the value of the note. But I will not interpret that note the same way a trained, operatic bel canto tenor would. My technique is different. My emotional take on it is different. So, it's not an impersonation. Hopefully it's a respectful interpretation.

I enjoy performing in football stadiums as much as I enjoy performing in small clubs. I think there are different skill sets that are required. Your job in a large place is to make it an intimate event, so that the person at the top of the bleachers has some sort of connection with what you're doing. In a small club, your intention is to make a memorable event out of something that is small and intimate. They involve different ways of looking at and presenting music, different ways of singing, different gestures, perhaps. But I like the challenge. For me, success is having the freedom to explore new territory and making that territory, as far as possible, my own. But that involves in the first instance putting yourself out of your comfort zone. So I'm certainly outside my comfort zone with classical music, but I'm here to learn.

© Symphony

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