Michael Torke’s “Green”: Verdant Vibrations

What color is E major? This question will leave many listeners bemused. Yet, for the American composer Michael Torke, the key of E is inextricably linked with the color green. Torke experiences synesthesia, a neurological condition that Dr. Oliver Sachs defined as “an immediate, physiological coupling of two sorts of sensation.” It’s a blending of the senses that other composers such as Liszt, Scriabin, Sibelius, and Duke Ellington reportedly experienced. Synesthesia inspired the …

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Michael Torke’s “Unconquered”: A Tone Poem for Saratoga

Unconquered, an orchestral tone poem by the American composer Michael Torke, is music of celebration. The four-movement work was written in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. For decades, SPAC has served as a summer home for the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet. In 1777, with the defeat of the large invading force of British General John Burgoyne, the Battles of Saratoga marked …

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New Release: Michael Torke’s “Being”

Being, the newest album of American composer Michael Torke (b. 1961), is a celebration of pulse and pattern. Written in 2019 and scored for a chamber orchestra of 24 instruments, the work is described in Torke’s program notes simply as “a continuous 43 minute composition, in 9 parts, whose tempo is a consistent 126 beats per minute.” Being plays tricks with our perception of time, centering us in the moment, and delivering an experience akin …

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Michael Torke’s “Jasper”: A Glorious, Living Canopy

Do you ever hear music in your dreams? It has happened to me on rare occasions. Short, vague musical phrases emerge, repeat, dissipate, develop, and mix together in an unfolding sonic stew—the ghosts of Bruckner, Debussy, Beethoven, Mahler and a host of others stored in the deep recesses of memory. If I was a composer, I might be able to remember these fleeting ideas and organize them. Often, when I listen to …

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Michael Torke’s “An American Abroad” (“An American in Paris” 2.0?)

Did George Gershwin write this piece from the grave? The spirit of Gershwin seems to inhabit Michael Torke’s 2002 orchestral tone poem, An American Abroad. It’s music filled with broad, warmly embracing melodies, the almost naive optimism of Broadway, and, at moments, quiet nostalgia. The title is an obvious reference to Gershwin’s An American in Paris and brings to mind the mysterious nature of influence. Listening to this piece, I get the sense that Torke didn’t …

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“Three Manhattan Bridges:” Michael Torke’s Valentine to New York

The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up …

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Five Pieces Inspired by the Olympics

The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that’s wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.  -John Williams Music has served as a celebratory backdrop for the Olympics since the first modern games in Athens in 1896. As the 2016 Summer Olympic Games unfold in Rio, let’s listen to five pieces which form an Olympic soundtrack: Josef Suk: …

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