Lenox — Leonard Bernstein had it right. Rolling Stone magazine had it wrong. How awkward: The world’s most esteemed classical musician hears greatness in a piece of extremely loud rock music that San Francisco’s ultra-hip rock intelligentsia greets with smug derision: “‘Tommy’,” the magazine proclaimed, “does not vindicate The Who.” And wouldn’t you know it? “Tommy” has been vindicating the Who (and Bernstein) for nearly half a century, during which time the original “Tommy” album has sold more than 20 million copies; has been adapted for film, ballet and a Tony Award-winning musical; and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Vindication, indeed! It’s no surprise to anyone, then, that Shed tickets for Roger Daltrey’s June 15 Tanglewood performance of “Tommy” are sold out.
Some background: Following a performance of “Tommy” at the Fillmore East in 1969, the Who’s lead guitarist and songwriter, Pete Townshend, received Leonard Bernstein’s effusive praise in person, straight from the maestro’s mouth:
“Leonard Bernstein came with his daughter,” recalls Townshend (in various published interviews). “And he was incredibly excited. He grabbed me by the shoulder, shook me and said, ‘Pete! Do you realize what you’ve done?’ He was so passionate! … Of course, what he was talking about was that I was going the next step in what he had done with ‘West Side Story,’ which was creating a popular song cycle, a musical that was really rooted in street culture.”
To be fair, it must be said that not everyone at Rolling Stone missed the boat with “Tommy.” In fact, by 2003, the magazine had ranked “Tommy” number 96 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
On Friday, June 15, Roger Daltrey will perform “Tommy” in its entirety, which means 24 songs (plus, according to rumor, a three-song encore). He will be joined by members of the Who touring band: Simon Townshend, guitar; Frank Simes, guitar; Loren Gold, keyboards; Jon Button, bass; and Scott Devour, drums. Special guest Katie Jacoby plays violin. That’s enough great musicians to soundly dispatch “Tommy.” Or so it would seem. The term “less is more” does not apply here, because, in this case, more is more: Positioned just behind Roger’s band will be the Boston Pops Orchestra playing charts by David Campbell. Prepare to be amazed.
Opening night of the 2018 Tanglewood season, titled “Bernstein Centennial Summer — Celebrating Lenny at Tanglewood!” is July 6. But if he were available to attend his own birthday party, we know perfectly well what Lenny would do: Leonard Bernstein would be first in line to get two tickets for Roger Daltrey’s “Tommy” performance on June 15. One ticket for himself, one for his daughter.