Quad City Symphony premieres Torke’s Oracle

michael-torkeOn October 5, the Quad City Symphony gave the premiere of a new concert opener by veteran orchestra composer, Michael Torke. Led by music director Mark Russell Smith, the concert was followed by a second performance in Augustana College’s Centennial Hall a day later. According to Torke:

Oracle was composed in a burst of creative energy from mid-June to mid-July. “I think this is going to be one of the best pieces I’ve ever written,” Torke predicted the day after the five-minute composition was completed. “I am so jazzed up about it. It starts off with this kind of ‘Pines of Rome’ thing, with one variation of the melody warm and juicy, and another noble.”

He said the short duration of the commission allowed him to “obsess over the orchestration, help the audience focus on what I’m doing with the music, where every detail is clearly heard.” Torke described the result as “very thematic, based on melodic intervals” as opposed to a 12-tone row, or static tones with varying rhythms. Fundamentally, he wanted the music “grounded in American sounds, [similar to] the pandiatonicism” found in the music of Aaron Copland.

When asked about the title, Torke said, “Titles are something I agonize over. They can help a piece live or die.” As a springboard to naming the work, Torke imagined “the audience just settling into their seats and the conductor walks out … the opening piece of the concert and the season.” Inspired by the Oracle of Delphi, the ancient Greek priestess known for her prophecies, Torke realized his mission was musically foreshadowing both the concert and the season.

Torke also said color informs the title. He experiences music as a synesthete, someone who, in his case, “involuntarily sees colors” when he hears music. In Oracle, Torke said he “sees an off-white, creamy color … travertine” that recalls marble – another link to ancient Greece, but also to the rock’s use in concert halls across the country. The composer originally considered using “Travertine” as the title but rejected the idea because “it didn’t really tell you the emotions involved in the music.”