For Elton John, payback is a pleasure.
The British rock star, who more than 30 years ago attended the Royal Academy of Music in London on a scholarship, beamed happily Tuesday as he announced a string of New York concerts backed by a symphony orchestra and a choir of students from The Royal Academy and New York’s Juilliard School.
Proceeds from the July 13 opening night of a series of five shows at Radio City Music Hall will fund scholarships at both the Royal Academy and Juilliard.
“My time there was absolutely invaluable to my career,” John said of the Royal Academy.
“Now 34 years on, I wanted to do something to show I appreciate all the things that they taught me. Young musicians deserve the chance that I had, to go and live their dreams and become great musicians,” he told a news conference.
More than 20 years ago, John performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which produced a memorable album.
In December 2002, he performed at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden backed by a 90-piece orchestra and choir from the Royal Academy, raising more than $1 million to establish his scholarship fund there.
“I have to say that concert was one of the most thrilling, chilling moments of my career,” John said.
“I’m inspired by young people,” he added. “I like to hear what they have to say, and I’m inspired when I play with them. When I did this concert with the young musicians from the academy, some of their enthusiasm rubbed off on me.
“I’m 57 years old and I feel like a kid at heart, but I’m not a kid anymore. But when you listen to them play, what they have to say, it inspires you.”
John said he would select some of his songs with strong orchestral parts, possibly including “Madman Across The Water,” ”Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” and “Levon.” He will also choose a new song from an upcoming album.
Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School, said the orchestra would be split about 50-50 with the Royal Academy.
Royal Academy principal Curtis Price was impressed by the Juilliard Symphony Monday at Carnegie Hall.
“They were absolutely fantastic,” he said. “The only difference between that and a professional orchestra is they probably had more enthusiasm and excitement and youth, and that is what our two orchestras are going to bring to these concerts in July.”