Sting is front and center at the Hollywood Bowl, belting out the familiar melody of 'Roxanne', The Police's 1978 ode to a prostitute. All of a sudden, a cello solo fills the air. Within a few elegant notes, the image of a common street hooker is upgraded to that of a high-priced call girl.
Backed by a 45-piece symphony, Sting launches into 'Next to You', an early Police thrasher-punk gem. Several musicians stand up and rock out. Some actually head-bang while sawing enthusiastically on their violins.
What's next? A mosh pit in the expensive seats?
Sting is reinterpreting his greatest hits with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, on loan for the summer from the queen of England. His current 26-date North American tour is called 'Symphonicities', a playful take on 'Synchronicity', the final studio album from The Police. A companion CD follows July 13.
CNN caught up with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer just after sound check on his Los Angeles, California, tour stop.
CNN: What's the genesis of doing the symphonic version of your greatest hits?
Sting: Well, I wouldn't have thought of it except I was asked by the Chicago Symphony last May to put together a program of my music - an hour and a half. I'd played with orchestras at the Grammys and the Oscars - just one-offs - and I enjoyed it, but I never thought about putting a whole thing together. The orchestra liked playing the music, and the audience loved it.
CNN: You like a challenge, don't you? You don't like to do the same thing over and over.
Sting: No, I don't. I love surprise and novelty. I think surprise and novelty are the keys to music. Every eight bars needs a surprise. I like to keep them guessing.
CNN: Is that part of the formula for staying relevant?
Sting: I follow my instincts. And maybe my instincts don't sound logical at the time, but largely, my instincts have coincided with popular taste. Largely. I'm very lucky for that, and I will continue to follow my instincts until I get it completely wrong -- and even then, I'll still do what I want to do.
CNN: What did your instincts tell you about the lute (an instrument featured on his 2006 album of baroque music, 'Songs from the Labyrinth')?
Sting: They told me if something is well-crafted, then people will come. Build it, and they will come. That's the expression, isn't it? Build it well, and they will come, anyway.
CNN: You've always had a fondness for classical music.
Sting: I've had a yearning to play classical music for a long time. I mean, I do play classical music -- you just wouldn't want to pay money to hear me play! Nonetheless, I've learned a great deal from classical music. I enjoy it, and I've certainly stolen enough of it for my own music, so it's payback time.
CNN: A lot of musicians won't cop to having stolen anything.
Sting: Oh, we steal everything! That's what we do. We steal from the best.
CNN: Do you hear people who steal from you? Do you ever hear something on the radio and say, "That sounds like a Police song?"
Sting: I hope so. I'd be totally flattered to hear that.
CNN: Do you think it's flattering, or that they're ripping you off?
Sting: No, it's flattering. And then call the lawyers! (Chuckles) It's fine.
CNN: You've got six kids. A couple of them have gone into music.
Sting: I have six kids. Well, they're not really kids, really. My oldest boy is 33. (Son Joe fronts the rock band Fiction Plane, while teenage daughter Coco records under the moniker I Blame Coco.) I've only got one "kid" left, and he's 14. He's on the cusp on being a grownup. They're very interesting adults, actually.
CNN: They've probably traveled around the world and been exposed to some pretty interesting people.
Sting: They've all been born in a suitcase, so I suppose they have a pretty sophisticated geopolitical sense. But also, they've missed me a lot. I come home from touring, and I'm like, "Hello, I'm your father." I've had to make up for that. I've had to try and rebalance that. It's a bit like being a sailor, a sea captain.
CNN: How do you feel about the situation down in the Gulf of Mexico - the oil spill that we can't seem to contain?
Sting: It's not surprising to me. Oil companies are there to make a buck to get this filthy stuff out of the earth. I'm surprised more stuff like this doesn't happen. I'm not surprised the planning wasn't there to cope with an accident like this. Governments have allowed them to do this for decades. It's a wake-up call.
CNN: Do you think offshore drilling should be stopped?
Sting: I'm not an expert. I don't want to pretend to be an expert. It should certainly be looked at more closely in light of this.
CNN: What are the biggest priorities for you?
Sting: The same as everybody's - the environment, peace, all that big stuff. We all have a stake in it, and we all play a part in it, no matter who we are. So I'm 58. It's about time I gave something back.
© CNN By Denise Quan