At the Salem Open Air, Sting impresses fans with his 'Symphonicities' project.
Salem. Usually, when musicians take an orchestra with them on stage, alarm bells start ringing: This is what artists do, who lack new ideas, who bask in their former glory, who want to fill up their retiree's account. So the common prejudice says, and reality has proved it several times; think of the Scorpions or Kiss. And it is true: Just adding a sugar-sweet strings arrangement to some world-famous songs does not automatically make them better.
Now there's Sting, former ''Police'' frontman, charismatic solo artist and a musician with a proclivity for perfectionism. 'Symphonicites' is the name of his classic-meets-rock project, which is more classic than rock, as the approx. 9,000 people in the audience of the Open Air in Schloss Salem are about to find out. When Sting enters the stage and the first chords of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' are heard, there is big applause, the recognition factor does its job. Sting himself – dressed elegantly in black and white, with a rose in the buttonhole – is leaning casually against the microphone. He is hitting a tambourine, which is fixed to the microphone stand so he has his hands free.
British understatement as a stage pose: Sting appears to act almost casually at times, but never seeming unmotivated or affectionate. When he is not singing, he is mischievously dancing to the orchestra's music, falling to his knees in front of conductor Sarah Hicks, or, like a general certain of victory, inspecting the rows in the audience. In German, he lets the Open Air crowd know: ''I am very happy to be here tonight''. The few scraps of German are likeable, even if the communication with the fans is limited. During the third song, 'Englishman In New York', the first Sting-fans start to sing and dance along, which is not too easy, considering that this is a seated audience: It keeps looking like a sitting dance, thus not very cool. The music makes up for this, though: There is pizzicati, violin cascades and bass grumbling, all delivered in crystal-clear sound quality, while a clarinet is taking the place of the soprano saxophone of the original recording. Pop classic 'majestoso'.
The strength of Sting's orchestra project is that nothing of it seems put-on. The clever arrangements wrap elegantly around the songs's essences, adding new facettes to them. Other big stars failed trying to mix classic with rock. Metallica's mega-sellers, on their ''S&M'' album, mercilessly smashed the orchestra against the wall; it was playing music against instead of with each other. Fortunately, Sting does not have this problem. At times, the songs seem like movie scores, due to the orchestra: especially in 'Englishman', or also in the Johnny Cash cover 'I Hung My Head', which creates a Western movie-atmosphere - not least because Sting is playing the harmonica. Once upon a time in the west? No, everyone looks rather alive here. Even if 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' tries to make you believe else: Sting is dressed in a black-and-red coat, playing the vampire in this Anne Rice (''Interview with the vampire'') inspired song, which has a blood drunk, swaying rhythm to it, that makes it sound almost like Tom Waits. The set list includes ''Police'' years as well as the solo phase; one hears 'Roxanne', in a reduced version, and a richly orchestrated 'Cowboy Song'.
The sitting dance is passé soon, by the way. After the break, dozens of fans are standing around the photographer's pit, taking memory pictures, the security has to send them back to their seats. But when, towards the end, 'Every Breath You Take' is echoing over the place, the security is chanceless. A sea of people is gathering around the stage, nobody wants to be seated anymore, some few are complaining about the sight - but they are not heard as everyone is singing along. There are several encores, naturally. A stunning-oriental 'Desert Rose' impresses, followed by the withdrawn 'Fragile', and finally it's only Sting and his acoustic guitar, enchanting with 'Message In A Bottle'. There is only a thin line between popular and serious music, when you are as dedicated a musician as Sting.
(c) Schwäbische Zeitung by Daniel Drescher (very kindly translated by Petra Lachout)
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Photo by Christian Lewang