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As lead vocalist for formidable British rockers the Who, Roger Daltrey has sung enduring classics like “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me” from the 1969 rock opera Tommy too many times to count. However, he has never performed the material in quite the way fans can hear on for The Who’s Tommy Orchestral. On the new album, Daltrey brings the rock opera to life with his own band and an orchestra conducted by Keith Levenson.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Daltrey while touring Tommy in 2018. “Adding all of the orchestration to enhance the root of the rock band is a magical experience, and Tommy is the ideal music for the two together. After seeing a lot of grand operas, I think Tommy is one of the best operas ever written.”
Daltrey reported that Tommy found eager support among the classically-trained musicians performing at different cities during the tour, contrasting his show against other symphonic rock concerts with strings relegated to parts easily performed on a synthesizer. “This is anything but,” he said. “The orchestral players have been thrilled to play this. The scores are very challenging. They’re very percussive, and the voicings are extraordinary. So many of the musicians have said, ‘Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play this wonderful music.’ It must be like a breath of fresh air.”
The Who have performed Tommy in full, but Daltrey’s approach was distinctly different. “I play Tommy as though the record was written by Mozart,” he said. “It’s played as a structured piece of music that is written and respected just as we respect the great composers of the past.”
Although the Who catalog brims with classic rock favorites including “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Who Are You” and more, “Tommy” and its messianic story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy make a special connection with the audience.
“For me, Tommy has always been all of us,” said Daltrey. “You’re Tommy, I’m Tommy. The other characters are different parts of our human makeup. We all have the potential to be Uncle Ernie, or spiteful cousin Kevin. We’re all trying to get through this life the best we can. For a lot of it, we are deaf, dumb and blind. Hopefully, we end up with our eyes open.”
The author interviewed Roger Daltrey on June 18, 2018 for the Chicago Sun-Times. The singer was promoting his orchestral tour of the Who’s Tommy ahead of a Ravinia Festival date in Highland Park, IL. Dates in Budapest and Bethel, New York (the site of the original Woodstock festival) were recorded for The Who’s Tommy Orchestral. The Who’s Tommy Orchestral features several members of the touring Who lineup. Daltrey’s band includes Simon Townshend on vocal and guitar, Frank Simes on guitar, Scott Devours on drums, Jon Button on bass, and Loren Gold on keyboards. Keith Levenson conducted orchestrations by David Campbell.
The Who’s Tommy Orchestral features several members of the touring Who lineup. Daltrey’s band includes Simon Townshend on vocal and guitar, Frank Simes on guitar, Scott Devours on drums, Jon Button on bass, and Loren Gold on keyboards. Keith Levenson conducted orchestrations by David Campbell.
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