At the beginning of the summer I was feeling a little down. I was only doing one performance at Tanglewood with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and while I was really looking forward to singing Mahler’s Second again I was sad not to perform with my friends for the other weekends—especially for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, which I sang with Reilly Lewis twenty years or so ago. But I had business and family travel and so resigned myself to it being a quiet and ordinary summer.
That’s when the email came. “On Saturday, September 2nd, The Who’s Pete Townshend will bring his ‘Classic Quadrophenia’ show to Tanglewood. This show will feature Townshend, Billy Idol, Alfie Boe, the BSO Pops and TFC singers.”
I didn’t even ask. I just checked the calendar and put my name in. A few weeks later, I was dancing when I got the roster and my name was on it.
I suspect that for all classical singers of Generation X and later (and maybe for a few born before me), there’s a part of us that wants to be a rock and roll singer. And while I’m not the biggest fan of the Who, I’ve always had a ton of respect for Pete Townshend’s songwriting — and Billy Idol’s stage presence.
So we started rehearsals last week and by Friday’s orchestra rehearsal we had a show. It was mind-blowing to sing backup with Pete Townshend on tunes like “The Punk and the Godfather,” and to hear his guitar with us on “I’m One.” Even more mind-blowing was watching Billy Idol, looking a great deal like James Marster’s Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), duetting with wundertenor Alfie Boe.
On Saturday, we boarded a bus to Tanglewood, rolled off and got straight to rehearsal on the stage. The main learning from this: the tech part of the rehearsal, as Pete’s sound team figured out how to balance soloists vs. chorus vs. orchestra, was the most important part of the day. As our director noted, they get one shot at balancing sound in an unfamiliar space and have to balance the audibility of quiet instruments like acoustic guitars against the punch of big percussion sections and voices. We even got our own sound check. (See below.)
And then came the performance, and it was amazing. First, Alfie Boe is a force of nature:
Second, I have never seen a Tanglewood audience so excited. They cheered for the opening bell; for the orchestra tuning; at the end of solos. They jumped to their feet and started dancing at various points. It wasn’t a full on rock concert audience—it couldn’t be, given the seats in the Shed—but it was as close as Tanglewood comes.
Last, it was an amazing honor to sing behind these guys. The passion they brought to the stage was unbelievable, and the music still hasn’t left my head.
I had a bunch of thoughts about the music itself, but I’ll save that for part II.