BSO adds color to a new CD of Torke's work

Michael Torke is a 30-year-old American composer of classical music whose work seems to fit the times: it is often energetic, youthful, clever and unconcerned with lasting themes.

His music is quick, sometimes even agitated, rushing around in fragments, repeating snippets of melodies in driving beats and exuding originality despite hints of diverse sources. Torke's head is full of sharp ideas and he has fun with a variety of instruments.


His music created a stir here last year. Whether you want to hear the same Torke works over and over again in a recording is another matter. The answer is maybe, if you want to explore hidden things; no, if you're looking for dramatic impact or take-away melodies.

All this comes through in a newly available Argo compact disc by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, "Michael Torke's Color Music." It is a 53-minute recording of five works inspired by Torke's linking specific musical notes with specific colors.


The five -- "Green," "Purple," "Ecstatic Orange," "Ash" and "Bright Blue Music" -- can be heard as movements of a symphony. The BSO, under director David Zinman, plays Torke's kaleidoscope of colors brilliantly.

"Ash," the longest piece at 15 minutes, sums up the disc's strong points and its limitations. The running rhythmic action includes some baroque and Classic-tinted passages and others of delightful freshness. They anticipate bigger themes that never come and suggest instead movie background music.

Listening further fails to satisfy or overcome a yearning for more solid, lengthy threads.

The Milwaukee-born Torke composed the music from 1985 to 1989 after graduating from the Eastman School of Music in 1984. Reminded of "the incredibly popular touch" of Aaron Copland, Zinman has championed the composer's zesty music.

The BSO first played Torke in 1986 with a rendition of "Vanada" and focused on his color music in September 1990 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Stravinsky, Steve Reich and Madonna are among musicians whose music has influenced Torke.