On Feb. 5, composer and Eastman alumnus Michael Torke gave a presentation on his music at Eastman. He was visiting Rochester to attend the evening performance of his orchestral work “Ecstatic Orange” with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Torke presented parts of different pieces of his and talked about their structure.He began by saying that he possesses music-color synaesthesia. This is a neurological condition when two or more senses are crossed in the brain. It is especially frequent in composers and artists. In Torke’s case, he sees colors when he listens to music. “When I was in school I was always told that a piece begins and then has to modulate,” he said. “When I graduated I wanted to write a piece which doesn’t modulate at all. I composed ‘Ecstatic Orange’ during the summer I graduated from Eastman and during my first year at Yale. “The title refers to the note G-sharp which is orange for me,” Torke said about “Ecstatic Orange,” a piece commissioned by The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and “Meet the composer” and premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic with Lukas Foss conducting. After “Ecstatic Orange,” Torke played an excerpt from another orchestral piece, “Bright Blue Music,” in D major. It was even less harmonically variable then “Ecstatic Orange.” “I occasionally put a IV chord in, but tend to stay at I and V,” the composer said. He explained that he had derived several ways to make the piece “automatically compose itself.” In his work called “4 Proverbs” for voice and ensemble, he attributes a specific pitch to a specific syllable and then “play[s] around” with them for 20 minutes, again, without modulating. Later, when Torke spoke of his Percussion Concerto, he said “This was a commission. I don’t even like percussion, and I didn’t know what to do. So I decided I will assign a specific timbre to any pitch that occurs in the orchestra and then the percussion part will write itself. I kept on sending stuff to the performer who would return it back saying it is unplayable. I think he should be credited with more then half of the piece.” After this derogatory remark about his own craft, Torke surprised the composition department even more by comparing music and sex in reference to his Percussion Concert. “When I listen to music I enter a different state. When you think about it, the only other time we enter into this state of being outside ourselves in during sex. A friend of mine begged me to turn off the Percussion Concerto after a minute and a half. I thought, okay, he listens to music in a different way then I do, he wants to be engaged with it. He ‘got’ the piece in minute and a half, so to speak,” Torke said.Torke admitted he owes a lot of his career to chance and the good fortune to meet the right people at the right time in New York City. “I never got a graduate degree,” he said. “I dropped out from Yale after a year. It was disgusting. Disgusting!” “Why?” Eastman composition professor Sanchez-Gutierrez asked softly “Why was it disgusting? I mean, I went to Yale!” “Yes, I know disgusting is a strong word and I am probably offending someone here,” Torke continued without understanding the hint. “People were walking around in the ‘I am going to Yale’ fashion. I mean, these people couldn’t even play their instruments! Neither could the faculty!” Torke’s visit to Eastman was surprising in more then one way. He spoke disrespectfully of his teachers, his supporters and even of his own music. He left an unfavorable impression on his audience. People left his presentation unsure whether or not Torke’s reputation is based merely on several lucky strikes in the 1980s. Fol can be reached at afol@campustimes.org.



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