Pete Townshend’s ‘Quadrophenia’ revisited by his partner Rachel Fuller on Symphony Hall

This week, rock and classical music collide on Symphony Hall (Ch. 76) when composer Rachel Fuller revisits an opera written by legendary guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who, her longtime partner. Fuller recently orchestrated Townshend’s 1970’s rock-opera Quadrophenia, and the result is a passionate and dramatic tour de force for singers and orchestra. She and Townshend will be on hand to introduce highlights from the genre-defying Quadrophenia on Tuesday 6/30, Friday 7/3, and Sunday 7/4 at 10 pm ET.

Here’s the full story from Symphony Hall’s David Srebnik:

After The Who’s groundbreaking rock-opera Tommy redefined the boundaries of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Opera, Pete Townshend composed his own opera, Quadrophenia, a coming-of-age drama telling the universal story of teenage life, a story of angst and dating back to the first ever teenager.

I think Rachel Fuller’s new “symphony-sized” version is stunning. Unfortunately, and with some embarrassment, I come late to Quadrophenia.

I’m a very young child of the ’60s in Berkeley, California, so The Who is not a foreign name to me. I knew Tommy and many of their classic hits, but somehow, Quadrophenia passed me by.  So, while Quadrophenia is a classic to many, even beyond the hardcore Who fans, I heard it for the first time recently when it was performed by the highly esteemed members of the London Symphony Orchestra with heavy lifting from singer Alfie Boe (Les Misérables), along with Billy Idol, Phil Daniels and Pete Townshend.

Classical music and Rock ‘n’ Roll share a terribly unfortunate legacy.  In the past, when someone has deemed it necessary or even beneficial to bring classical rock to the orchestral setting, the result has often been hideous – Muzak at “best,” and as they say in England, “rather cheesy.”

Not the case here.

Composer/orchestrator Rachel Fuller easily avoids the muzak and the cheese in the orchestrations heard on a new gripping recording on Deutsche Grammophon (DG).  I say “easily” because that’s what Rachel told me when I asked about the risk of Muzak and cheese. She said the quality and richness of Townshend’s music was already present, along with an authentic and obvious orchestral sensibility.

Townshend grew up listening to orchestral music and says he often heard and conceived of the music he wrote with an orchestral template in the back of his head. Still, Pete credits Rachel for understanding the music and his intentions as the composer.

I could close here with “Let’s Rock!” but I don’t consider Quadrophenia classic-rock or classical music. It is, though, an opera, and in this case, a classic opera.  But it’s even more than that: It’s beautiful, passionate, gutsy, loud and expressive music. Therefore, it fits right in on Symphony Hall.

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