On a recent sultry summer night in the Chicago suburbs, Sting enchanted the sold-out crowd with symphonic renditions of his Police and solo work. Ranging from hits to more obscure tracks, Sting and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra breathed new life into his extensive catalog while performing at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois on July 18. Wearing black jeans and a tuxedo-like jacket, he looked as though he hasn't aged a day since his time with the Police, and his voice sounded exactly as it did since his 1970s debut.
Sting is touring in support of his newest album, Symphonicities, a project that has its roots in Chicago. In 2008 the Chicago Symphony Orchestra invited him to perform with the outfit, rearranging his hits in a classical style. After the acclaimed concert, Sting appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra to celebrate the 153rd anniversary of the Academy of Music. Fueled by these performances, Sting decided to record an album version of these shows with the Royal Philharmonic, and embarked on a worldwide tour. In addition to these musicians, he is also backed by guitarist Dominic Miller, percussionists Rhani Krija and David Cossin, bassist Ira Coleman, and vocalist Jo Lawry. The result is an intriguing combination of rock and classical, often adding emotional power to well-known tracks.
Highlights include "Englishman in New York," a Nothing Like the Sun cut that already lends itself well to an orchestral makeover. The string section, combined with the alto saxophone, recreated Sting's intended effect of walking down a typical New York sidewalk. One of the most radical transformations was a quiet but moody "Roxanne," lending a sad overtone to the lyrics describing a prostitute. The Dream of the Blue Turtles' "Russians" also benefited greatly from the Royal Philharmonic, their dramatic and bombastic playing evoking dark images of the Cold War era.
Some material adapted quite naturally to the classical treatment, such as the delicate "Shape of My Heart" and the subtle "Fields of Gold." Perhaps the most jarring examples were the reworkings of Police materials, such the punk-tinged "Next to You" (from 1978's Outlandos d'Amour). Sting broke out his piercing rock voice while the string section furiously worked to keep up with the rapid tempo. "King of Pain" also fared well, the strings duplicating the drum and bass solo in the song's bridge. The crowd favorite "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" worked amazingly well, the orchestra adeptly recreating the beat.