The Florida Orchestra has landed a real rock star.
The orchestra will celebrate its 50th anniversary fundraising gala with a performance from Sting, one of popular music's biggest icons, the orchestra announced Thursday.
Orchestra leaders were elated to have finalized the booking with the 16-time Grammy winner, who will play for 90 minutes Dec. 9 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, joined by the orchestra and a three-piece band. Concert tickets for An Intimate Evening with the Florida Orchestra and Sting go on sale to the general public Oct. 2.
Music director Michael Francis, who grew up in England singing along to Roxanne and other hits by the Police, the British rock group Sting led before launching a career as a solo artist, is predicting a watershed musical moment.
"This will be a concert that Tampa Bay will remember for decades," said Francis, who will conduct the performance with the man he considers a "genuine world music star."
"To me, I am personally thrilled as a Brit to work with him," said Francis, who did not personally know Sting. "It's going to be a tremendous honor for me to share the stage, and for all the musicians — and just for the community to see how important the Florida Orchestra is for the Tampa Bay community, how much we want to communicate with them and to be a fair reflection of the community."
It's a departure from the orchestra's previous gala guests, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and acclaimed violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman. But once the idea emerged, the idea of pairing a major event for the orchestra with a popular superstar met with unanimous approval, Francis said.
Snagging one of music's most diverse talents mirrors the kind of mission Francis has undertaken since his debut as the orchestra's music director in 2015, only the fourth in its history. Francis, 40, was an infant when the Police were being formed in 1977 by Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, the British musician now known as Sting.
"We shot for the moon and we're so delighted that it all worked out," said Edward Parsons, the orchestra's general manager. "It was important for us on the 50th anniversary to really go all in and try to get someone of world class caliber."
The out-of-the-box vision for the gala stems from a desire to reflect the Tampa Bay area's wide range of ages and musical tastes, Parsons said. The orchestra has sought to broaden its potential audience base for years, an effort accelerated under Francis.
Then there is a financial component. The orchestra might not have entertained the idea of securing a mega star for the gala, had not patron Bob Schmidt, of Schmidt Investments, approached the orchestra with a targeted donation.
"He was willing to offer a significant amount of resources, on top of what we would normally have for a gala artist, to bring in someone that we really couldn't normally achieve," Parsons said. The orchestra would not disclose financial terms of the deal.
Parsons, who as a bassoonist had played at Carnegie Hall in one of Sting's environmental events, thought of Sting.
Sting himself was not a tough sell.
"I think he was very interested," Francis said. "I think he sees the importance of this around the world and also in America. He was extremely understanding, and I think his view was, 'Look, if I can make this work, I'd be happy to.'"
Sting will take the audience on a tour of all-time hits, including Roxanne, Every Breath You Take, Fields of Gold, Englishman In New York, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and more, some song from Sting's Symphonicities album. All have been arranged for orchestra by Rob Mathes, who has arranged and composed music for a wide-ranging list of stars including Bruce Springsteen, Renée Fleming, Jay-Z, Eric Clapton and Luciano Pavarotti.
Sting achieved a new level of stardom in his solo work, starting with the 1985 jazz album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. (One of its songs, Russians, featured a theme from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite by composer Sergei Prokofiev.) Sting's 2006 album, Songs from the Labyrinth, featured the music of Renaissance composer and lutenist John Dowland. His versatile journey continued with dance beats, more rock tunes and folk music, going on a hugely attended reunion tour with the Police and becoming more engaged in environmental activism.
Another group of songs formed the basis of a 2014 Broadway musical, The Last Ship, about the decline of the British shipbuilding industry. It's that range, Francis said, that distinguishes Sting from most other popular legends.
"For 40 years now he's been at the top," Francis said. "For me it's the diversity of him, and I think that really reflects the ethos of the Florida Orchestra. He is equally adept in dance, in pop, in rock and New Wave and classical."
For an additional price not included with concert tickets, customers may attend a pre-concert champagne reception with hors d'oeuvres and live music, plus a post-concert dinner with Sting, Francis and orchestra musicians. Local chef Chris Ponte, a James Beard Award semifinalist, will cater the dinner. Proceeds from the orchestra's only fund raiser of the year support the organization, its education programs and other outreach efforts.
The orchestra and Sting's engineers will spare no effort to perfect the musical and technical aspects of the performance, Francis said.
"We'll be working very hard on it the day before and on the date," he said, "with acousticians and electronics and engineers, to really turn this into something truly spectacular."
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.