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Interview: Katie Jacoby And Keith Levenson of THE WHO at Schottenstein Center

Orchestras may add extra texture to the Who’s classic landscape

Interview: Katie Jacoby And Keith Levenson of THE WHO at Schottenstein Center

After stunning her St. Mark's High School classmates with a blistering re-creation of the violin solo in the Who's "Baba O'Reilly," Katie Jacoby was ready for bigger things. Jacoby, then 15, emailed the Who to let them know she was available to perform in their upcoming show at the Wachovia Center in 2007.

After over a decade of waiting to hear back from the band, Jacoby has been making the most of finally getting her chance. The violinist will be front and center when the Who invades Columbus Oct. 9 at the Schottenstein Center (555 Borror Street on the campus of the Ohio State University).

"I'm living my dream gig right now," said Jacoby on Oct. 1, the eve of the band's opening concert of The Who Hits Back tour in Toronto. "It is the most powerful, energizing, and formidable thing to be playing music with the Who.

"I was a super precocious teenager when I sent that message. They never got back to me, which is something we laugh about today. But it is quite surreal that I just sent that message out into the universe and then ended up working with the band years later."

Jacoby, cellist Audrey Snyder and keyboardist Emily Marshall, will be the core component for orchestra conductor Keith Levenson. They will join singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, the original members of the group, and their six-member posse. In each tour stop, the Who will be accompanied by the hosting city's symphony.

"Katie's a marvel," Levenson said. "She's a stunning player and great to be around. Between Katie, Audrey, and Emily, we finally brought women into the Who. Everyone's behavior may be a little bit better."

From their creation, the Who, a 1990 inductee into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, has been known as a dangerous band. Townshend became infamous for smashing guitars on stage while the late Keith Moon blew up his drum kit on the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour TV show in 1967.

Adding a 40-50-piece orchestra has not mellowed Townshend, Daltrey, guitarist Simon Townshend, keyboardist Loren Gold, bassist Jon Button, drummer Zak Starkey, and backup vocalist Billy Nicholls.

"You never know what's going to happen," said Levenson, a life-long Who fan. "The band could go off the rails on a song while an orchestra is just reading the dots (trying to keep up). Getting everybody back together is a feat, really.

"You can go off a cliff easily, but that's also the fun of it."

Levenson fell into the job as the Who's conductor at a low point in his life. He was working on Broadway when four shows he was involved with, ANNIE WARBUCKS, THE BEST LITTLE WHORE HOUSE GOES PUBLIC, THE FLOWERING PEACH and SHE LOVES ME, all closed on the same day in 1994.

Daltrey was gearing up for his first orchestral solo tour when a friend of Levenson's, who was supposed to conduct the orchestras, had to drop out because of a prior commitment to THE LION KING.

"I was sort of at the point where I was thinking, 'what am I going to do with the rest of my life?'" Levenson said. "So, when he asked me if I wanted to do it, I said sure. I didn't even audition. In fact, I didn't even meet Roger until the first day of rehearsal."

The two formed a unique partnership so when Daltrey decided to do an orchestral tour of Tommy, Levenson reupped.

On Daltrey's 2018 orchestral tour of Tommy, Levenson recruited Jacoby to join him. Jacoby and Levenson returned to their roles for The Who's "Movin' On Tour' in 2019.

Jacoby was a bit of an oddball in the world of violinists. Her mother Esther Jacoby was a classical pianist, and her aunt Nancy Kim was a classical violinist.

"I came from a very musical family," she said. "My mom wanted music to be a part of my life, so she presented me with the illusion of choice of 'what instrument would you like to play?' instead of 'would you like to play an instrument?'"

Jacoby's parents raised a few eyebrows when their daughter would come home with a Who or Black Sabbath CD.

"They were definitely shocked because it was sonically so different from the music I had dedicated my life to until that point," she said with a laugh. "But that was landmark classic rock, and they were quite keen on that. They only got concerned when my tastes got heavier and heavier and turned into Metallica, Exodus, and Iron Maiden.

"I think they imagined I'd become a classical concert violinist, but I took the rock-n-roll path."

Levenson has had the chance to work with many rock artists including Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, Paul Rodgers, Meatloaf, and KISS.

You might think classically trained musicians might guffaw at a string arrangement for "Pinball Wizard," "5:15," or "Eminence Front." But the conductor said that most of the musicians the Who works with in the local symphonies share Jacoby's eclectic tastes. They might seem a little starchy in their tuxedos, but they are wearing their rock t-shirts underneath.

"You know, there are a lot of people in these orchestras that are big Who fans," Levenson said. "They could be 60-70 years old but they're the same age as the guys in the band."

According to Jacoby, purists of The Who may come reluctantly to the show, but they walk away as true believers in the orchestral performances.

"It's different, but it is a very powerful show," she said. "People think, 'The Who with an orchestra? What's that going to be like? The Who doesn't need an orchestra.'

"I think a lot of Pete's compositions are inherently orchestral, especially Tommy and Quadrophenia. The shows with an orchestra are just as powerful, possibly even more powerful (than the ones without)."

The Ticket Office (Northeast corner of the venue) is open 9AM-4PM weekdays with extended hours on event days. Email them at or call 1-800-GO-BUCKS (1-800-462-8257) M-F 9AM-4PM.

From This Author - Paul Batterson

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