Pete Townshend wants to save the symphony orchestra

Pete Townshend wants to save the symphony orchestra


norman lebrecht

December 01, 2014

Here’s the press release.

the who


Today, the legendary Pete Townshend announces that he has created a “classical” version of one of The Who’s landmark albums – ‘Quadrophenia’ – for symphony orchestra, opera singer and choir.

The new “symphonised” version of ‘Quadrophenia’, an album originally released by The Who in 1973, was orchestrated by the composer, orchestrator and singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller, who is also the partner of Pete Townshend.

The recording will be released by the Deutsche Grammophon label, internationally renowned for its repertoire of classical and opera music, and launched next summer by U-Live with the World Premiere concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Both the recording, which took place in October of this year at London’s Air Studios, and the world premiere feature the nation’s leading tenor, Alfie Boe, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Oriana Choir, conducted by Robert Ziegler, with Townshend himself on electric guitar and performing cameo vocal roles. Tickets go on sale this Friday (5th Dec 2014).

The project, announced in The Who’s 50th anniversary year, is the latest chapter in Townshend’s lifelong mission to break the three-minute mould of the traditional pop song and take rock music to a higher artistic level. In the 1960s he defined the concept of the “rock opera” with ‘Tommy’, taking it a stage further with ‘Quadrophenia’. Conceived and written by Townshend in 1973, ‘Quadrophenia’ went on to become a feature film and a theatre production, and was performed in its entirety on The Who’s most recent live tour.

The rock superstar, who turns 70 next year, began work on the project as part of his plan to leave a legacy of all his work arranged for orchestra as sheet music, for future generations to enjoy. Townshend hopes the new work will go on to become a regular part of the orchestral repertoire and boost attendance at classical concerts.

“A lot of major symphony orchestras are in trouble because their audience is getting old and the younger audiences prefer softer stuff, such as film soundtrack music,” he explains. “I think that Quadrophenia would reinvigorate their audiences and bring in people who might not otherwise go to see a symphony orchestra perform without lights and fireworks and a movie screen.”

Alfie Boe, who sings the parts originally sung by Roger Daltrey, was born the year ‘Quadrophenia’ was originally released, but has been listening to it for years. “It’s in my blood. I’ve always thought the classical voice can lend itself to this type of repertoire. It’s harder than opera, but thrilling to sing. The music is so full of excitement, positivity and strength – I wouldn’t separate it from a symphony by Beethoven or Mozart.”

Commenting on Alfie Boe taking the “lead” role, Townshend says: “Alfie is a true star, who gives every performance his all. He reminds me of Roger Daltrey in that – he’s also a real pleasure to work with. I never thought I’d hear a classical tenor singing my songs, and for them to work so well – but Alfie makes it happen. He’s a funny man too, and good looking. The girls like him. I can’t wait to be on stage with him. I’m going to push him into the orchestra pit.”


  • Halldor says:

    Bless him, he thinks young people listen to “Quadrophenia”…

  • DM says:

    “Both the recording … and the world premiere feature the nation’s leading tenor, Alfie Boe”

    Really? REALLY?!!

  • Christy says:

    What is happening in the UK??!!!

    Why do pseudo-classical singers get all the big gigs? Are there no well-known real classical singers?

  • Anne says:

    “….bring in people who might not otherwise go to see a symphony orchestra perform without lights and fireworks and a movie screen”

    At least something I can agree with. Otherwise, yet another Beethoven or Mozart from the rock world who is going to save the genre in spite of being unable to score for a jug band.

  • Dave K says:

    “The nation’s leading tenor”.

    So what’s Alfie Boe got to do with it?

  • John Borstlap says:

    But all this is a joke, isn’t it? To show-up the state classical music is in, in the UK?

  • Halldor says:

    It doesn’t say anything about the state of classical music in the UK. Anyone at all with enough money is free hire a symphony orchestra and a venue and get them to play pretty much whatever they like – that’s been the case for over a century. Ageing rockers with a late-flowering love of classical music have been dong this since at least the early 1990s: the existing fans love it, the orchestra and venue earn a decent fee, and some (usually pretty decent) professional orchestrators get a nice slice of royalties. Music journalists get a flurry of “is this the future?” article commissions; they might even get a leading article in the weekend culture section. The concert happens; the audience (every bit as grey-haired as the usual classical crowd, just with slightly longer grey hair) loves it while reviewers are generally bemused; there might be a tour (more fees for orchestras and venues), the disc peaks briefly on the Classic FM chart, and after 6 months, the whole thing is forgotten, until ENO announces it’s commissioned Suggs from Madness to write an opera. And so the cycle continues, adding greatly to the gaiety of nations. What’s the problem?