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The Musical Colors of Michael Torke


Bryan Hainer

Composer Michael Torke

This Saturday night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, under the direction of Donato Cabrera, will perform music by Schumann, Beethoven, and Torke.

Michael Torke is a Las Vegas-based composer whose work "Sylvan," was inspired by the natural beauty of the Lake Placid region of upstate New York.  

"I think that a tree is a metaphor to how I think about shaping music," Torke told KNPR's State of Nevada, "You have a trunk that opens up into branches and leaves, but it doesn't do it in necessarily a symmetrical way."

He said it is the imperfections in music that allow him to get closer to the expressivity of music.

"Sylvan" has three movements: Eastern White Pine, Yellow Birch, and Red Spruce. 

Those colors in the movement titles are not happenstance. Torke has a neurological condition called synesthesia.

As a synesthete, Torke "sees" musical notes as colors. In fact, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about Torke in his book, "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain." 

"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," he said.

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People have commented toTorke that his music is more visual than other composers but he doesn't start his compositions with images.

"I actually don't think visually as much as you would think," he said, "I'm thinking about musically forms which I hope will elicit emotions or images but I don't necessarily start with that."

Music featured in this interview:

“Sylvan” by Michael Torke

Album: Lake Placid Sinfonietta, The Orchestra of the Adirondacks: The First 100 Years (2017)

Lake Placid Sinfonietta - Ron Spigelman, Music Director


“Javelin” by Michael Torke

Album: Three (2003)

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – Yoel Levi, conductor




Michael Torke, Composer

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