Sting with Philly orchestra: Synchronicity, sometimes...
The choice of former Police front man Sting to headline the 153rd anniversary
concert of Philadelphia's Academy of Music on Saturday proved both inspired and
indifferent, depending on his choice of songs.
Sting's 45-minute set of eight of his solo songs and The Police hits had moments
that thrilled when they put a new twist on great songs. But some of the songs,
mostly Sting's solo material - which has moved increasingly close to classical
-- was too unfamiliar or too unchanged to offer similar thrills.
Playing for a nearly sold-out white-tie crowd, the 58-year-old Sting took the
stage in a black suit with an open neckline and a black tie around his neck -
and without the beard he's worn in recent appearances.
He opened with The Police's 'Message in a Bottle', singing in the island lilt of
the original version. But the full, lush orchestration added amazing depth to
the song and gave it a cinematic feel. In a way, it became the song you always
envisioned in your mind.
He sang the chorus accompanied by a chiming piano, then strings, and ended by
desperately wailing the title as if he truly was lost at sea. The audience gave
him hearty applause that was unusual for the staid orchestra crowd.
'Roxanne' broke the decorum even more, drawing applause as soon as it was
recognized and cheers and whistles when it was over. But it was well deserved.
Sting was in extremely strong voice, and the song drew swirling tension from the
orchestra, and sadness from the combination of guitar and violin.
'If I Ever Lose My Faith' wasn't all that different from the version on 1993's
'Ten Summoners's Tales', except that it was fuller and more dramatic, and
Sting's voice strong and sure. 'Desert Rose' also was stirring.
But the set lost serious steam halfway through. 'Russians', the melody of which
Sting said he ''stole wholesale'' from Russian composer Prokofiev, was flat.
'Moon Over Bourbon Street', which Sting sang standing in a spotlight or casually
leaning on a piano - he spent most of the rest of the show seated with a guitar
-- was less successful, and its orchestral treatment not much different from the
original. In fact, it sounded like a show tune. 'Fragile' was similarly flat.
Even ''Every Breath You Take,'' the closing song, seemed to lose its dynamic
appeal - becoming less of a story of obsession and more of a tribute to a lost
love. Only when the song faded, then kicked back in to rock as it closed - the
crowed even clapped along! - saved it.
It was disappointing that Sting played no songs from this millennium - the
newest was from 1999's 'Brand New Day'. That meant he not only skipped
everything from 'Sacred Love' and 'Songs from the Labyrinth', but everything
from his new 'If On A Winter's Night...', which topped the classical charts.
A personal favourite, 'Fields of Gold', was sorely missed.
Sting gave props to Philadelphia, saying it was a thrill to play with ''one of
the most August and celebrated orchestras in the world. He laughingly said his
emotions could be summed up in two words: excitement and trepidation.
He also noted the Philadelphia roots of the bassist in his backing quartet, jazz
artist Christian McBride, and McBride's teacher, the orchestra's associate
principal bassist, Neil Courtney. Sting said McBride and another Courtney pupil,
renowned composer Stanley Clarke, ''made me recalculate myself as a double
bassist and seriously take up singing.''
In addition to Sting, the night brought a wonderful three-song set by
Philadelphia-trained tenor Juan Diego Flores and wonderfully whimsical direction
by Rafael Brubeck de Burgos, chief conductor and artistic director of the
(c) Liegh Valley Music by Jon Moser