The Duchess of Gloucester, President, attended the Elton concert, in aid of the Royal Academy of Music, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, on December 1, 2002.
Elton performed at the Royal Opera House with the 100-strong Royal Academy of Music Orchestra and 30-piece choir, all of whom are students at the Academy.
A charity gala performance in aid of the Elton John Scholarship Fund, the event was being filmed for broadcast on BBC One on December 14, 2002.
As a black-tie affair, with tickets for the best seats priced at £1,000, there was an air of genteel formality a long way removed from that of your average pop concert.
The mood was serious, sombre even, as Elton opened the show with a selection of songs from the early stages of his career, some performed solo at the piano (Skyline Pigeon, Border Song), others, including Someone Saved My Life Tonight, played with his five-piece electric band.
“I think we’ve got over the intimidation of playing this place,” Elton said before Tiny Dancer, but he didn’t sound too sure. The orchestra weighed in after the interval. Conducted by James Newton-Howard, who used to be a member of Elton’s backing band in the 1970s, it added an extra dimension to a trilogy of songs Sixty Years On, I Need You To Turn To and The Greatest Discovery from Elton’s second album.
The orchestration belonged to these arrangements, and during a stirring instrumental passage linking Carla Etude and Tonight, we saw a side of Elton not often displayed: the serious musician who himself studied at the Royal Academy as a teenager.
The slightly stilted atmosphere remained even after the band returned and joined in with a cracking version of Philadelphia Freedom and an emotional Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.
Returning for an encore, Elton made frantic movements with his hands to encourage the fans to stand up. And finally, as band and orchestra made one last unlikely pact over Saturday Night’s All Right For Fightin, the audience clapped along.
Here’s the setlist from Royal Opera House, December 1, 2002:
Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters with Davey Johnstone and John Mahon
With the Band
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Circle Of Life (with choir)
With The Royal Academy Of Music Symphony Orchestra
Sixty Years On
I Need You To Turn To
The Greatest Discovery
Carla Etude – Tonight
Take Me To The Pilot
This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore
Have Mercy On The Criminal
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Burn Down The Mission
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
[Ed. We plan to publish fan reviews of this historic event. Come back soon!]