Michael Torke: Sky

Albany Symphony Orchestra

Albany Records

Composer Michael Torke was born in Milwaukee and went to Wauwatosa East High School, then studied music at the Eastman School of Music and Yale. He has since become a world-renowned composer and he was recently back in Wisconsin to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Sheboygan Symphony with a new piece he wrote.

Torke is known for having synesthesia — he experiences colors and music together — and has named many of his works for colors. But not so with this newest recording — it’s on the Albany label and features four concertos called Sky, West, East and South, for violin, bassoon, clarinet and oboe, respectively. Each concerto features a top-notch soloist performing with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller conducting.

Torke wrote a little about these pieces:

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Brevity focused me to be concise. Though rhythm and orchestration were always on my mind, it was melodic development that I thought about most—the ways that melodies and themes open up and combine with themselves. West, for the bassoon, reminds me of the western coast of the U.S., especially in Oregon. South, for the oboe, reminds me of feelings I’ve had in the south of France. East, for the clarinet, reminds me of morning with a hopeful, fresh sun rising in the eastern sky.

I have always loved what woodwind instruments can do, both expressively and technically. I feel somewhat more at home in this medium, having played bassoon growing up, and sitting in the woodwind section of Music for Youth, Milwaukee’s youth orchestra at that time.

That experience, both playing a woodwind and growing up in Wisconsin comes through in the concertos. The music is beautifully crafted, expressive and comforting in places; you might think of it as highly artful “Midwestern-nice” with an edge. I hope these concertos find their way onto playlists and concert programs.

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