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Sting with Royal Philharmonic at SPAC provide classical performance with rock-show vibe...

Saturday night was a perfect night to take in the orchestra at Saratoga Performing Arts Centre.

But on this night, it came with a twist - not the usual Philadelphia Orchestra, but the Royal Philharmonic graced the stage with Sting at the helm.

The three-hour, 26-song set, the final show of the North American leg of Sting's 'Symphonicity' 2010 tour, was filled with a range of songs from the former Police frontman's extensive catalog.

A classical performance with a rock-show vibe, the collaboration worked beautifully with the energetic Maestro Steven Mercurio conducting.

Sting, dressed in black and white, stood front and centre, but didn't overwhelm the orchestra. He was the star of the show, but he made it a point to acknowledge soloists in the orchestra, as well as his band, which included two percussionists, a bass player and a guitarist.

The powerful pipes of singer Jo Lawry complemented Sting's pitch-perfect sound.

He opened with his 1993 hit, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', followed by 'Englishman in New York', which garnered enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Songs from his Police days, including 'Next To You', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and a subdued version of 'Roxanne', proved popular with the crowd, often eliciting standing ovations.

Other songs included 'Shape Of My Heart', 'When We Dance', 'Whenever I Say Your Name', and the Oscar-nominated 'You Will Be My Ain True Love'.

The standouts of the night were the vampire-inspired 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', replete with 'spooky' music and 'Russians', which had the Royal Philharmonic pounding out a Wagner-like performance.

The reworking of 'Fields of Gold' was about the only song that didn't quite fit with the orchestra. Sting's vocals seemed a bit off from the music.

The worldly singer's tales of his dad, explanations of his song writing and stories behind the lyrics gave the show a 'Storytellers'-like feel, making SPAC seem like a much more intimate setting.

The orchestra's rich musical layers helped bring the stories to life. The three large overhead lighting fixtures, which doubled as video screens featuring works by nine artists, completed the package.

'King of Pain' and 'Every Breath You Take' should have been the final songs of the night, as the audience got to its feet, clapping and singing along. Tons of confetti dropped on the orchestra and the maestro ''conducted'' the crowd as the musicians danced along.

The four-song encore, which featured 'Desert Rose' (with a voluptuous belly dancer) and 'She's Too Good For Me', keep the energy up, but the soft ' Fragile' and the a cappella 'I Was Brought To My Senses' seemed to make the show fall a bit flat at the end.

In all, the crowd seemed satisfied with what proved to be a spot-on performance. And the 'royalty' wasn't just on stage at SPAC, as the 'queen' of Saratoga, Marylou Whitney, and her husband John Hendrickson, were seen taking in the sounds on a beautiful Saturday evening.

(c) The Saratogian by Deanna Moore



Sting @ SPAC, 7/31/10...

Ever since his debut solo album 'Dream of the Blue Turtles' in 1985, Sting has pushed himself to be taken as more than just a rocker. Sure the title was pretentious, but the album showed the jazz standard side of him with a new kind of singing that was more akin to pop standards, but always with his distinctive voice.

With the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra Saturday night Saratoga Performing Arts Center, he explored the richness of his catalog with an entertaining and satisfying collection of 26 songs that had been rearranged to make great use of the orchestra, and to show off Sting's voice. At 58, he may not be able to sustain the high notes, but he hit all the right ones.

The packed amphitheatre crowd ate it up when he said he was playing with ''the biggest band I ever had in my life.'' That would be the 45-member orchestra, under the baton of the kinetic Steven Mercurio. Lest anyone think he had crossed over completely into Nelson Riddle pops territory, he had a backup vocalist, guitarist, bassist and two percussionists standing behind him - but in front of the orchestra.

With rocking hits like the crowd-pleasing 'Every Little She Does is Magic' early in the show, it seemed as if the band would upstage the orchestra.

But the concert deepened as it progressed. He gave a brief overview of the Cold War realities that helped inspire 'Russians', a song from 'Dream of the Blue Turtles'. With a chorus already inspired by Prokofiev's 'Lieutenant Kije', the song allowed the orchestra to show off its dexterity with a brash, discordant and tense introduction that sounded like a conflict with a heavy-footed Soviet marching band. It was a thrilling musical moment, and the orchestra referenced it with various instruments throughout the song.

The orchestra injected a new energy into the 1999 song 'Tomorrow We'll See', an already moody piece about understanding a transsexual's point of view, allowing the lush orchestration to allude to a 1960s Burt Bacharach beat.

'Moon Over Bourbon Street' - Sting's homage to the New Orleans in Anne Rice's 'Interview with the Vampire' - displayed the orchestra's ability to show a range of moods and emotions from ominous to playful. 'End of the Game', which opens as with gentle, pastoral strings, featured the interplay of strings and horns the built toward a rocking beat that brought the audience to its feet.

The true surprise was the sad and beautiful 'All Would Envy', a song written in 1999 that didn't make it onto the album 'Brand New Day', but with its steady beat recalling a samba and Sting's quiet singing, it allowed a strong trumpet solo to lead the audience's attention and let the orchestra's rich, resonant sound come forward.

Sting wisely placed hits at the beginning and ends of sets. The orchestra went punk, with violinsts' bows jumping to the staccato beat of 1977's 'Next To You'. And when Sting went from 'King of Pain' to 'Every Breath You Take' (both from 1983, and when is the last time you listened to those two former radio staples?), the audience let out a collective gasp of surprise, as if just remembering how enjoyable those songs are.

The risk with the Police hits, of course, is that it shows how much Sting's voice has changed, though still strong when he sang ''That's my soul up there,'' it seemed a register or two lower than in the 1983 recording - 27 years ago.

Clearly, Sting has been entertaining for a long time, and his concert showed he has plenty more tricks up his sleeve as he reinvents himself - and his music. In case you forget that the night was all about Sting, his final encore was just him singing 'I Was Brought To My Senses', while the orchestra sat waiting for him to finish.

His ego can be forgiving, though: His concert makes a convincing argument that his songs, and not just the hits, are pop standards that stand the test of time.

Sting - with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra

When: 8 pm Saturday

Where: SPAC, Saratoga Springs

Length: 2 hours, 50 minutes with a 20-minute intermission and a four-song encore

Crowd: Older than the usual rock show, younger than the usual classical music concert, but the mix didn't always work. Late arrivals (typical of rock shows) interrupted those who had taken their seats on time, when they should have been forced to wait to take their seats (which is more typical of classical performances).

Highlights: The jazzy upbeat 'Englishman in New York', the orchestra on 'Russians'.

(c) The Times Union by Michael Janairo