The Unexpected Hero

 In Program Notes

Photo by Bryan Hainer

Among the most frequently performed American composers of his generation, the music of Michael Torke (b. 1961) has found a regular place on orchestral concert programs. Born in Milwaukee, WI, Torke began composing at an early age with premieres of his first orchestral works performed by the Milwaukee Music for Youth Ensemble in which the composer played the bassoon. He was trained in composition at the Interlochen Academy, the Eastman School of Music, and Yale before moving to New York City. He is now based in Las Vegas, NV. Torke’s music is an appealing synthesis of several musical influences, including some early 20th-century composers like Stravinsky and Messiaen, later 20th-century styles including the Minimalists, and popular musical genres like Jazz and Rock. Beginning in the mid-1980s he often referenced color in the titles of his works, making a synesthetic association between visual, aural, and emotional character in the music. Torke says “I think when I listen to music it is more vivid because I can not only see the colors I experience but I can see the notes on the page as if I’m looking at the score as the music goes by.” The visual or non-musical seems to have played a role in the creation of his orchestral score titled, Javelin (1994). The piece was commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and has since become one of his most regularly programmed works. Asked about the inspiration for the title to this work, Torke has commented that

I was riding a bicycle down a dirt road … when I thought: “I like the word ‘Javelin.’” I like the shape of the letters, especially the capital “J.” There is something sleek about it; perhaps I still remember the sports car my Dad owned in the early 70’s called “Javelin.” The sweeping motion of a lot of the music is like an object thrown; a slender spear such as a javelin seemed apt. The semi-heroic spirit certainly has an application to the 1996 Olympic Games, …I knew the title would be appropriate.

Through his publisher, Torke has provided the following comments regarding the music of Javelin:

Photo by Bryan Hainer

I had three goals for this Atlanta Symphony’s anniversary piece: I wanted to use the orchestra as a virtuosic instrument, I wanted to use triads (three-note tonal chords), and I wanted the music to be thematic. I knew I would welcome swifter changes of mood than what is found in my earlier music. What came out (somewhat unexpectedly) was a sense of valor among short flashes and sweeps that reminded me of something in flight: a light spear thrown, perhaps, but not in the sense of a weapon, more in the spirit of a competition. …the word javelin suddenly suggested itself… Its fast tempo calls for 591 measures to evoke the generally uplifting, sometimes courageous, yet playful spirit.

Javelin virtually sparkles from its bubbling opening wind figures through the surging heroic themes activated by pulsating rhythmic accompaniments. Bright colors, cinematic themes, and irresistible rhythmic energy make this concert overture a celebratory experience that has won audiences favor since its debut in 1994.


Don’t miss our spirited performance of Michael Torke’s “Javelin” with Classics V: Mozart and Grieg!

Saturday, February 8 at 7:30 PM
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
Tickets start at $15


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