Over four decades ago, when the British-American punk rock group The Police burst onto the pop music scene with a song called “Roxanne,” it would have been hard to imagine the lead singer one day performing it with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
The Police blended reggae, jazz and funk with their punk sound.
The group’s charismatic lead singer was its Newcastle, England born songwriter and bass player Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, otherwise known as Sting. His voice sounded like it had been scraped off of a tough London street. He sang the sparse and pulsating “Roxanne,” written from the point of view of a man who had fallen in love with a prostitute, with a raw and desperate, almost off-key cry.
The group’s debut song and sound was so unique it required time to wrap one’s head around it.
But it was only the first of many hit songs and albums for The Police and Sting, who released his first solo album, the triple platinum “The Dream of the Blue Turtles,” in 1985.
Sting, now 71, will be performing his greatest hits with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Monday and Tuesday evenings at 7:30 at Heinz Hall. The songs have been reinterpreted with orchestrations first created for his 2010 Symphonicity tour.
The 20 selections include “Roxanne,” “Next to You,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” and “Every Breath You Take,” from The Police. And then there are songs from Sting’s solo career, including a tune begging for an orchestra: “Englishman in New York,” as well as a Cold War-era song taking on renewed relevance “Russians,” plus “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” “Fields of Gold,” and “Shape of My Heart.”
While these songs are well known to even the most casual Sting fans, that wasn’t the case for 36-year-old Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Moon Doh, 36, who will be waving the baton for both of these shows.
“The Police and Sting were not exactly groups I grew up listening to, but preparing for this program, I’ve become a huge fan,” Doh said. “(His) level of harmonic writing is beyond imagination. He uses lots of different scales in his music. There is some harmonic language that is quite avant-garde, I would say. And the way he writes his lyrics, he is the best storyteller.”
Doh said from the moment he learned that he would be conducting these concerts last fall, he not only went back and listened to Sting’s music but also watched as many of his interviews on YouTube as he could to “educate myself on just who this person Sting is.”
So, if The Police and Sting were not part of Doh’s formative years, what made him want to conduct these concerts?
“I thought this would be a great opportunity to work with a world class musician to expand my horizons, because I believe modern day conductors should be versatile and do everything possible to broaden the Pittsburgh Symphony’s reach as a musical organization,” he said.
PSO first violinist Dylan Naroff, 27, is not old enough to remember the heyday of The Police and Sting, either. But he knows their music because he inherited vinyl copies of their records from his dad, who is a big fan.
“I was geeking out about this concert when I found out we’re playing with Sting,” Naroff said. “I’ve been looking forward to it a lot. It gives me the opportunity to be in the pocket with Sting, who is an awesome bass player, so I’m always listening to bass lines and trying to fall into that groove.”
For his part, Doh said “Roxanne” is a song that particularly impresses him.
“I actually have the ‘Roxanne’ score in front of me, and of course every syllable is connected to a note, right? But when I listen to these recordings, he doesn’t always follow these notes 100% of the time,” Doh said. “He sings as if he’s talking, he adds a different note – a dissonant note or a consonant note – so the freedom with which he sings is another revelation for me.”
Doh said he only received the set list a few days ago and he’s still trying to figure things out. Aside from the orchestra, there will be a rhythm section with a guitarist, bassist and keyboard player.
Doh said he’s especially excited about collaborating on “Shape of My Heart.”
“It was the song that first introduced me to Sting,” he said.
“Russians” is another song he said he’s looking forward to performing.
“’Russians’ is very timely. It has a very powerful message for us going through another war. I think artists have the responsibility to somehow reflect society’s pains and happiness. And this is a very timely song to highlight what’s going on right now. I was very moved by the lyrics.”
Last Friday, the PSO released a statement that only “a handful of tickets remain for both performances. Tickets start at $360. Patrons are encouraged to call the box office directly at 412-392-4900.
Leave a Reply