VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Sting, former frontman of The Police, kicked off a world tour of his greatest hits on Wednesday but replaced the familiar guitar, drum and base riffs with the gentle strains of oboes, violins and cellos.
Backed by the London Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the 58-year-old rocker rolled out crowd-pleasers like "Roxanne" and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" in front of a sold-out crowd in downtown Vancouver on Canada's West Coast.
"I normally don't like pop music with orchestras because you basically end up sawing long notes behind pop ballads," Sting said in an interview.
"It's boring for the musicians, boring for the audience and boring for the artist," he said before the first show of the "Symphonicity Tour," which criss-crosses North America this summer and then heads to Europe.
The audience at the Center in Vancouver for Performing Arts did not appear bored, refusing to let the British-born musician leave after three hours on stage and three encores. He eventually came out for the final time and sang a ballad without musical backing before the mostly 35-plus crowd let him go. Sting said he changed his mind about combining rock with flutes and harps once he'd worked with top-caliber classical musicians. He said the secret was to create a challenge for them and "getting them to work harder so that they'll enjoy it more."
"I've always liked classical music, since I was young, and stolen from it royally," said the teacher-turned-rocker, who has sold nearly 100 million records in his 35-year career with The Police and on his own as well as acting in various films and TV shows.
His interest in working with orchestras was piqued in 2008 when he was invited to perform with the Chicago Symphony. Then in January he worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
"So once those two had worked, I thought why don't we take it out to the rest of the country," he said.
What's next for this musician, who has also done stints as an actor, runs a charity with his wife Trudie Styler, is a devoted yoga buff and human rights and environmental activist?
"I have no idea what I am going to do next ... I've still got my band ... I could go back to my Renaissance project with the lutes. We are doing our Christmas performance again. I like to keep a lot of irons in the fire," he said.
The name "Symphonicity" is a play on the name of The Police's final album released in 1983, the grammy-award winning "Synchronicity."
The pop trio formed in the late 1970s as punk rock was taking hold in clubs in London and New York but differences in opinion on their music led to a bitter breakup in 1984. They did, however, reunite in 2007 for a world tour that also kicked off in Vancouver.
Asked if there were any plans for another reunion with guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland, Sting said: "I don't think so."
"Symphonicity" heads next to Portland, Oregon, for two shows.
Reporting by Nicole Mordant, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith