Pete Townshend on why the Who lends itself to classical reinterpretation: ‘Pulled all the stops’

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Pete Townshend said the power and sweep of the Who’s original recordings made for a seamless transition in recasting the Quadrophenia album as classical music. His solo symphonic update, called Classic Quadrophenia, features the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with orchestrations by Rachel Fuller.

“There are a number of reasons why Who music lends itself,” Pete Townshend tells Barnes and Noble. “Keith Moon’s style of drumming was almost orchestral, more about decoration, flourishes and celebration than just keeping a beat. Who bassist John Entwistle was classically trained on trumpet and French Horn, so his work — especially on the Who’s Quadrophenia — encompassed a complete set of brass instruments, and he made his own arrangements. By the time the Who came to record the original album Roger’s singing was probably at its peak, and he pulled all the stops to make the words come alive. I was also adept at using analogue synthesizers — especially for orchestral emulation, having used them extensively on Who’s Next.”

Due on June 9, 2015, Classic Quadrophenia advances a performance by Pete Townshend and featured English tenor Alfie Boe with the Royal Philharmonic on July 5 at the Royal Albert Hall. Pete Townshend says he was thrilled with the collaborative successes he had with the orchestra, describing a far different experience this time around.

“The most wonderful surprise was seeing the way orchestral musicians threw themselves into playing this music,” Townshend says. “The last orchestral sessions I had done had been a while back, and so much has changed now for orchestras. They are challenged all the time, not only by the demands of the usual repertoire like Brahms, Beethoven and Wagner, but also by complex and highly rhythmic and explosive film scores written by the likes of Hans Zimmer. So they only needed a few takes to get the music right. Indeed, it sounded right first time.”

Townshend’s regularly returned to Quadrophenia over the last few years, as the Who released an expanded reissue of the original project in 2011 and then mounted a globe-crossing supporting tour through 2013. A terrific live document, titled Quadrophenia Live in London, followed in 2014. The Who also revived the project for a 1996-97 tour featuring the late Entwistle.

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