GREENSBORO — Orchestra conductor Chelsea Tipton II remembers his manager calling him in spring 2011 and asking, “How would you like to go on tour with Sting?”
That’s right, Sting.
We’re talking about the multi-Grammy Award winner, Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner, the Oscar and Tony awards nominee. He has sold 100 million albums with rock band The Police and as a solo artist.
“Absolutely!” Tipton replied.
Tipton, who grew up in Greensboro, already had been leading orchestras for about 12 years back then.
“So it was a good period for me to delve into something like this,” Tipton said.
He joined Sting’s Symphonicity tour for an extensive European trip of concert gigs. For nearly three months in summer 2011, he would work with 19 orchestras in 14 countries, preparing their musicians for concerts with Sting that another conductor would lead. Tipton also conducted three of the performances himself in Spain.
A decade later, Tipton will conduct for Sting again.
On Saturday and Sunday nights, he will lead the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra in concerts with Sting at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts.
This time, he will both prepare the orchestra and conduct.
“For my next time to work with Sting to be in my hometown is quite prophetic,” Tipton said before coming to Greensboro from Beaumont, Texas, where he leads the Symphony of Southeast Texas.
This weekend’s concerts result from Tipton’s past connections with Sting’s Symphonicity tour, and Tipton’s friendship with Lisa Crawford, president and chief executive officer of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.
Although Tipton has attended Greensboro Symphony concerts, this will mark his first time leading that orchestra.
He will lead Sting songs such as “Englishman in New York,” “Fields of Gold,” “Roxanne,” “Desert Rose,” “The Last Ship” and of course, “Every Breath You Take” — the latter winning the Grammy Award for 1983 Song of the Year.
In 2010, Sting had embarked on his Symphonicity tour in support of his album “Symphonicities,” which featured his greatest hits reimagined for symphonic arrangement.
Sting’s arranger, Rob Mathes, arranged and orchestrated the pieces, Tipton said.
This weekend’s concert music “sound like the pieces that you know,” Tipton said. “But they have been re-clothed by having a symphony orchestra — strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion.”
“These pieces really capture the spirit of the music,” Tipton said. “People will be amazed at how bringing the colors of the orchestra to his pieces gives a fresh new dimension to the music.”
The opportunity to perform with Sting thrills Greensboro Symphony musicians.
“There are many generations represented in our orchestra, and most of the musicians know at least some if not all of his catalog,” said violinist Wendy Rawls, orchestra personnel manager and assistant concertmaster.
The orchestra and the city also feel the impact, Crawford said.
The symphony added the Sunday night concert because of popular demand for Saturday night tickets.
As of Wednesday afternoon, only 24 tickets remained for Saturday’s performance and 68 for Sunday’s in the 3,023-seat Tanger Center, Crawford said.
The Sting concert has greatly increased the orchestra’s Facebook and website traffic, as well as increasing awareness nationally and internationally for the city and the Tanger Center, Crawford said.
“We have customers from all over the country and even Canada flying in to see the concerts,” Crawford said.
“Some people have bought tickets for both nights,” she said. “They are booking hotel rooms and will be eating in downtown restaurants.”
Tipton himself gets to the city a few times each year, to see his mother Blonnie. His father, Chelsea Tipton, died in 2019.
Born in Oklahoma, Chelsea Tipton II arrived in Greensboro from Virginia at age 10 with his family, when his father became a dean at Bennett College. Years later, his father began acquiring real estate, buying and renting out apartments.
It was a musical family, with Tipton and his father playing clarinet, his mother and brother playing trumpet and his sister playing piano.
Tipton attended Bluford Elementary School, Mendenhall Junior High and Page High School.
He studied clarinet at UNCG during his high school years, and played clarinet in the Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra. He attended Greensboro Symphony concerts and the summer Eastern Music Festival, based at Guilford College.
He pursued a degree in clarinet performance at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
Tipton thought he could both play clarinet and conduct. “As it turned out, the conducting had taken over my life pretty fast,” he said.
He earned his master’s degree in conducting at Northern Illinois University and did more graduate studies in orchestra conducting at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
He returned to EMF to assist founder Sheldon Morgenstern and work with student orchestras
Tipton has divided his career between leading classical and Pops concerts.
Now he not only leads the Symphony of Southeast Texas, but serves as principal Pops conductor of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut and artistic advisor to the Lake Charles Symphony in Louisiana.
Back in 2011, he shared a manager with conductor Sarah Hicks.
The manager offered Tipton the job of preparing the orchestras that would perform with Sting on the Symphonicity World Tour in Europe. Hicks would conduct most, but Tipton led three.
“It was very easy to do the concerts because I had been doing all this preparation, preparing the orchestras,” Tipton said.
Tipton called such opportunities “being at the right place at the right time, and being prepared for it.”
A decade later, the planets aligned for Tipton to conduct the Greensboro concerts.
Crawford contacted Sting’s management, set up the Greensboro concert and invited Tipton to conduct.
Mathes was not available to conduct the originally-planned Greensboro concert in December 2020, so Sting’s management approved Tipton to do it.
The concert date changed. Mathes will assist with this weekend’s concerts but not conduct, Tipton said.
Mathes created an orchestra chart for “If It’s Love” on Sting’s new album “The Bridge.” Sting will play “If It’s Love” with the Greensboro Symphony.
This weekend, Tipton will conduct primarily the same Sting pieces for which he prepared musicians 10 years ago — plus “The Last Ship,” the title song from Sting’s 2014 Broadway musical.
Tipton has learned valuable lessons from Sting.
“You have to get outside of your musical box every few years,” Tipton said. “You have to continue to reinvent yourself. ... It’s good to do what works and what’s successful. But you also have to continue to grow and evolve in your artistic pursuits. It’s a lesson for us all.”
Tipton heard the local orchestra about 18 months ago, “and they are sounding wonderful,” he said.
He plans to stay in the city to celebrate Thanksgiving with his mother.
He will return in January to conduct The Texas Tenors’ Pops concert — with the Greensboro Symphony.
Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.