Etta James and Adele

GENERATIONS: Etta James, left, will perform with Adele next Sunday. (Left: Rick Diamond, Getty Images. Right: Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images)

Adele can't contain herself. Nothing new there. The hot young British soul singer is, by her own account, "pretty mouthy." But learning that she will share the bill with her idol, Etta James, at the Hollywood Bowl next Sunday has sent her over the moon.

"It blew my mind," she gushes on the phone from London. "She's the reason I started. The first time I heard her voice, it sucked me in. Made me believe, and made me cry."

James will join Adele thanks to the Bowl's one-up, one-off style of "creative packaging" -- an ambitious, arduous, occasionally nerve-racking attempt to put on shows that go beyond the usual summer fare.

"It's a constant balancing act," says Arvind Manocha, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn., which oversees the Bowl's programming. "Can we find the right pairings? Can we help an artist do something differently? We want concerts that only exist at the Bowl."

That can mean uniting two performers who otherwise might not work together. "Here's a new British artist who loves a legend that we've got a long history with," says Manocha. "We can make it happen for them."

It also means embracing what senior programming manager Johanna Rees calls "our synergistic philosophy -- you know, one plus one equals five," in which genres and generations cross over in hopes of sparking some creative combustion, and big names help new or niche acts fill the 17,000 seats.

Rees already had booked flamboyant, frenetic indie popsters Of Montreal when she heard that eternally flamboyant, chic Grace Jones (who's been emerging from a decades-long hiatus) might be coming to America. To complement this July 26 double bill, she's added Dengue Fever, an L.A.-based hybrid band fronted by Cambodian pop singer Chhom Nimol. "What we always hope for when we put these shows together is a special moment," says Rees. "Artists inspiring each other. Or maybe an artist inspired to do what they don't usually do."

In recent seasons, the Bowl has been pairing the Philharmonic with indie bands. The latest is Death Cab for Cutie, which will arrive July 5 for an evening that includes two Canadian outfits: Tegan and Sara, and the New Pornographers. "Playing at the Hollywood Bowl is an event in itself," says Death Cab's leader, Ben Gibbard. "Being on tour, you're doing the same stuff every night. But you expect a kind of magic to happen in a place like that."

Gibbard adds that he's "a bit intimidated by playing with the Philharmonic." However, he says, "we've got the chance to show what we're made of. We're excited to meet them. We hope they feel the same."

Over the years, even old pros such as James Brown have been persuaded to try something new. In 2006, a few months before he died, Brown agreed to perform music he hadn't sung since he recorded his 1970 jazz/big-band album, "Soul on Top." "Many times, he was quoted about wanting to go back to that chapter in his musical life," says Manocha. "But he never did. So we made an offer: 'We'll hire the big-band musicians. We'll make the charts.' "

Watching the 73-year-old Brown rehearse was memorable, says Laura Connelly, the Philharmonic's director of presentations. "He sang these songs as if they had never left him, with such emotion and clarity. He was thrilled to be back with his jazz roots."

The next day, however, things changed. "James Brown has this persona," says Connelly. "Once he went on, that persona took over. It was a really good show, but not quite as good as the rehearsal. I think he lost his nerve a little. Being onstage took him out of what he'd been doing."

Such surprises aren't that surprising to the Phil's bookers, who list "being prepared for anything" and patience among lessons learned after years of adventures in programming.

Performers may need reassurance about working outside their comfort zones. Music may need to be created, or re-created, on short notice. Producing any event at the Bowl involves a scramble to get everything together in time for the rehearsal -- often, there's only one -- at which conductor, artists and technical staff may be seeing and hearing one another for the first time. (Mixing sound outdoors for a rock band and an orchestra of a hundred is an art in itself.)

From concept to concert

Every booking cycle begins with a flurry of ideas. Connelly, who specializes in jazz and world music, and Rees, who handles pop and rock, brainstorm with the Philharmonic's other programmers and with colleagues including Christian McBride, the creative chair for jazz. They also travel the concert circuit, roam the Internet and network with agents, artists and bookers.

World music is one of the Bowl's strengths -- in part because Connelly and Rees say they try to present "even the traditional in a nontraditional way." After a Bollywood night featuring A.R. Rahman three years ago, the Bowl is lining up a Sept. 20 show that includes classical and folk programs curated by Ravi Shankar, the folk-Sufi-rock-funk sound of the band Kailash Kher's Kailasa and Punjabi pop from Malkit Singh.

Like other major orchestras, the Philharmonic uses the summer to reach out to audiences who may not flock to the concert hall in the fall. "There's a long history of working with pops, jazz and rock," says Manocha.

For the last five years, the Phil has teamed with indie bands, whose moods and music seem like a good fit. "There has to be a cultural understanding," says Manocha. A band must follow the orchestra's work schedule -- "we've found not everyone is used to showing up on time" -- and welcome feedback on often sacrosanct set lists.