Composer  Michael  Torke

An Early Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Michael Torke was born September 22, 1961, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he attended Wilson Elementary School, graduated from Wauwatosa East High School, and studied at the Eastman School of Music with Joseph Schwantner and Christopher Rouse, and at Yale University.  (Names which are links in this box and throughout this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD)

Beginning his career with exclusive contracts with Boosey and Hawkes, and Decca Records, he now controls his own copyrights and masters through his publishing company, Adjustable Music, and record company, Ecstatic Records.  Many of his earlier recordings which appeared on the Argo label have been re-issued on Ecstatic.

His music has been called "some of the most optimistic, joyful and thoroughly uplifting music to appear in recent years" (Gramophone). Hailed as a "vitally inventive composer" (Financial Times) and "a master orchestrator whose shimmering timbral palette makes him the Ravel of his generation" (New York Times), Torke has created a substantial body of works in virtually every genre.

One of Torke's most frequently performed orchestral pieces is Javelin (1994), a "sonic olympiad" commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics in celebration of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's 50th anniversary season. In the spring of 1996, two different recordings of Javelin were simultaneously released (a rare occurrence for a contemporary composition).  The first recording, featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Yoel Levi, was the fourth all-Torke CD to be released by Decca's Argo label.  The second recording is on Sony Classical's Summon the Heroes, the official centenary Olympics album featuring the Boston Pops conducted by John Williams, which reached the Number One position on Billboard's Classical Crossover chart.


See my interviews with David Zinman, Mikis Theororakis, and Miklós Rózsa

Strawberry Fields, a one-act opera jointly commissioned by Glimmerglass Opera, New York City Opera, and WNET's "Great Performances" television program (PBS) made its debut at Glimmerglass to widespread critical acclaim.  Four Seasons, a 62-minute symphonic oratorio for vocal soloists, two choruses, and large orchestra was commissioned by The Disney Company in celebration of the new millennium.  Kurt Masur conducted the New York Philharmonic in the work's premiere.

In 1997 Torke was appointed the first Associate Composer of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. One of the first highlights of his residency came in March 1999 with the U.K. premiere of Book of Proverbs. The orchestra also commissioned two new works: Rapture, a percussion concerto for the young Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, and An American Abroad, a tone-poem that made its debut in February 2002 under the baton of Marin Alsop.


This interview with Michael Torke was done very early in his career.  He was in Chicago at the beginning of June of 1988 to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play Ecstatic Orange, conducted by Kenneth Jean, and we met on the day of the first of three performances.  Much has happened in the intervening years, and it is quite interesting to see what he had to say back then. . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   The first and most obvious question is, how does someone who is not yet thirty, get a piece played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra?

Michael Torke:   [Changing the question slightly]  How do I feel?  Excited!  They are a good band.  [Laughs]  They do everything well, but one of the things they do very well is play aggressively in a naturally musical way, which lends itself to this piece because it’s rhythmically-charged.  It depends on brilliant brass playing, as well as high intensity from the strings and winds, so it come together nicely.

BD:   It
s a tour de force for the orchestra?

torke Torke:   In a way, yes.

BD:   Did you write it with this orchestra in mind, or did you write it for any good orchestra?

Torke:   I certainly didn’t write it with this orchestra in mind, because the piece was written back in 1984, and now it’s 1988.  It was written originally as a commission for the Brooklyn Philharmonic with Lucas Foss, in a concert that celebrated Aaron Copland as an American composer.  It was a commission that came along... actually, I was half-way through writing this piece
which was my first orchestra pieceand the commission came, which made me happy because then I had an orchestra to play it.  So, the Brooklyn Philharmonic was the first to play it, and then it’s been played by other orchestras, including the New York City Ballet Orchestra, because it was made into a ballet with Peter Martins.  It’s only eleven or twelve minutes long, and was made into a short ballet in January of 1987.  Then we expanded it into a three-movement ballet with another piece of mine called Verdant Music [later known as Green].  I composed a link called Purple, a pas de deux that brought these three movements together, and we called the whole thing Ecstatic Orange.  [These three pieces, along with Bright Blue Music, and Ash were eventually gathered into a suite called Color Music.]

BD:   Do you ever want the pieces pulled apart again?

Torke:   They are played separately, as in today’s performance.  In fact, I wish it were played more as a three-movement piece on the concert stage.  On the ballet stage it is done, but so far, there has been the tendency to pull them apart.

BD:   After you had the pieces all written, was there anything that surprised you about the score?  Did the performers find anything in the score you didn’t know you’d hidden there?

Torke:   [Laughs]  That happens with every piece of new music.  It’s one of the exciting things, because no matter how much you think and plan, no matter how experienced you are with orchestration, it always comes out just slightly different
and sometimes very different.  With Verdant Music, the color green was in my mind.  I see colors around certain harmonies and melodies when I compose, and I had anticipated it would have been a spring green color, but it came out more on the olive side when I first heard the piece.  It isn’t so long ago, but I’ve forgotten what my feelings were at the time, whether it reached the planned expectations or not.  Sometimes, even the miscalculationsmaybe that’s too strong of a wordbut things come out slightly different, and you at first you would think about changing.  But after many performances they have incorporated themselves into the character of the piece, and its like you learn to the love the problem child.  The weaknesses and the strengths come all together to form the character of the piece.

BD:   Is there ever a case where you would go back and try to the strengthen the weaknesses?

Torke:   There has been.  This piece I didn’t go back and revise or redo, but I’m finding that in each successive piece I’m spending more and more time revising.

BD:   How do you know when it’s right?

Torke:   [Laughs]  It’s mostly intuitive.  It’s a feeling inside.  I have a feeling in my stomach that’s close to the kind of regret or guilt that you feel about human affairs.  I feel that, sometimes, just looking at a score, or many times after hearing a piece, and if that level is too uncomfortable, I know something has to be done.  But being a perfectionist, I never have an acid-free stomach, so sometimes I know it’s not done, but it’s time to move on.  With this piece, I don’t know why it was.  Maybe because it was it was the first orchestra piece, and to me it seemed to come together right away.  It just had that kind of creative energy behind it.

BD:   When you’re writing, are you in control of the pencil, or is that pencil in control of you?

Torke:   Although it sounds strange, you want it to be that the pencil is controlling you more than you might think.  The way that the pencil would control you is if you set up a series of compositional relationships that start moving.  Then they take on an inertia of their own, and so pretty soon the myriad choices that you have with every new note, or every new phrase, becomes less and less because the piece just begins to spill out.  That can be really exciting.  You want to believe that the monitor way back there is always looking down... and it is!  Sometimes though, you can really get quite carried away, and the piece just starts zooming down some alternative path you never thought of, and you go with it.  But most of the time, the piece progresses forward in a pretty controllable way for me.

BD:   When you start out, do you know how long it’s going to be?

Torke:   Oh, no!  I never know.  The bigger problem is when I start off because I usually deal with a central idea.  Sometimes it is harmonic, and sometimes it will be a small rhythmic cell.  It’s a kind of seed, but I find as many different kinds of clothes as I can to dress up this idea, and not always just for varying it.  In fact, many times a melody will never be transposed from beginning to end, but I’ll find all these different contexts.  As those gather, and the overall form of the piece takes place, I have these general ideas of what I would like it to be, such as a twenty-five-minute piece with four movements.  Then two angels come together as the piece grows, looking down from the sky to the Earth.
BD:   If someone comes to you and wants a thirteen-minute orchestral piece, would you be able to work within that parameter?

Torke:   Yes, and those parameters aren’t bad.  In fact, those limitation are sometimes kind of nice.  But things sometimes start going in a certain direction, for example, that middle movement for the ballet, Purple.  They only wanted it to be four or four and a half minutes, but I came to them and said, “Here’s the music, but it’s six minutes long!”  They gulped at first, but it turned out to work really well.  In fact, it was the movement that Peter Martin’s choreography was given the most critical acclaim that it’s ever gotten.  I don’t think it was due to being six minutes, but it worked out well.

BD:   [Optimistically]  Maybe he unconsciously worked harder at it because he had extra time!

Torke:   That could be, yes.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’re also a pianist?

Torke:   Yes, although I concentrated on piano more several years ago.  When I was student at Eastman, I was a double major, and I performed the ‘Emperor’ concerto with the orchestra.  I went to Tanglewood on the keyboard program, and played lots of chamber music.

BD:   Are you a better composer because you also trained as a performer?

Torke:   I would want to say yes because composing is making music, and you make music by having the experience of performing.  I don’t quite understand how a composer could not be a performer and still come up with something in some capacity, because writing music for people is such a human dynamic.  Music-making is real, so how could you possibly do that unless you had hands-on experience with the repertory, and knew what it meant to breathe, and make phrases, and make music speak?

BD:   When you were performing, were you a better performer because you were also creating?

Torke:   That’s what they said.  [Laughs]  When he or she performs, a composer has an immediate grasp of form.  People wondered how I could learn a big sonata in a couple of days.  I would learn it quickly.  Maybe it wasn’t as polished as it could be later, but there was an immediate grasp of how the music worked.

BD:   Was there also an understanding of the work?

Torke:   Yes, because you saw it from the angle of the composer.  Also, you could memorize the music faster.  Some people would have a lot of trouble with that, but to me it would just come naturally.  It was right there.  There was nothing even to think about, because I got behind the mind who had written it.

BD:   How much of these inside details and technical aspects do you expect to be known on the part of the audience?

Torke:   As a performer?

BD:   As a performer, and as a composer.

Torke:   I went to a concert recently that Alfred Brendel played.  I love his approach to structure, and I heard that he studies architecture.  You can kind of hear this, and it made the music so convincing to me because you knew there was a mind thinking about more than how the fingers hit the keys.  So, knowing these technical sides absolutely comes out from the performer.  As a composer, it’s tricky.  The shop-talk that composers have seems to have no relevance at all on a listener’s thinking and perceiving.  In fact, there was an American music performance where the program notes were longer than the pieces, with the composer trying to get into mathematical detail about how everything went together.  But there’s the danger of going to the other side, and saying it’s simply the sensual pleasure of the moment for the listener.  To say that these details have nothing to do with his inner workings, because a human being can’t possibly hear these relationships, is simply false.  The human ear of even the untrained listener absorbs so much.  It’s amazing!  They’ll say that they thought the piece worked, or it hung together, but they could never maybe say why!  You do hear these complex relationships, and it inspires me to continue writing maybe even in a more sophisticated way on the foreground or midground level, because it's amazing what people pick up.

BD:   Is your music generally accessible or difficult for audiences?

Torke:   I could safely say that it’s accessible, but that it is challenging, too.  I was interested in how composers like Beethoven and Mozart make a given symphony.  A person can come, and enjoy the piece even in the most superficial way.  It is sensual, or it makes you feel good.  On the other hand, you can find volumes of theoretical analysis written on the same symphony.  So, it intrigued me to think that there would be this crossing the strata of every different level of sophistication of the listener that it could appeal to.  It seemed to me that music has fallen into a trap of being either just ‘easy listening’, or so difficult that it takes the utmost patience to even get some bit of understanding of what was going on.

BD:   Do you try to hit a middle ground?

Torke:   Not a middle ground, but all the ground.  If you want, you can just sit back let it hit your ears.  Or, you can write a thesis about it.

BD:   Is this something that contributes to making a piece of music great
that it works on so many different levels?

Torke:   I would hope so, yes.  That’s my theory.

BD:   Is the music of Michael Torke great?

Torke:   That’s up to the collective listeners through time.  I’ve set out to write the best pieces that I can.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if greatness was a science, and we could sit down and know that if we only worked a certain number of hours with this amount of sweat, we’d have the ideal piece?  That’s the nice thing about art
it’s so unpredictable.  Over time, we’ll see what emerges.  Even over a short period of time, it’s interesting to compare this piece of mine with another one, and see how one particular piece might emerge as being something that people are more interested in than another piece which doesn’t seem to be performed as much.  But even that is tricky, because, if these pieces are still played twenty years from now, the balances may all change.
BD:   Do you expect your music to last twenty, forty, sixty years?

Torke:   I want it to!  It certainly has support from the publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, who publishes all my music.  That gives it a nice foundation.  I can only say that it’s one of my goals.

BD:   Has any of your music been recorded yet?

Torke:   A small chamber piece called The Yellow Pages has been recorded.  It’s going to be on a small label [New Albion] in California sandwiched in with a lot of other chamber pieces.  The group is called The Californian Ear Unit, and there’s going to be some short works of Elliott Carter among other composers.  There have been some talks between two or three labels right now that could potentially could be really exciting, and I hope that things will come together very soon.
 [This is how a young composer gets known, by having a piece or two here and there on CDs with other composers.  As we now know, Torke had several CDs with just his own material, and later began issuing works on his own label.]

BD:   Is this something that’s very important to a composerto get the scores not only played but recorded?

Torke:   It’s even more important now, because people listen and depend on recorded music so much more than ever before.  I don’t think that live-music attendance has gone down, but everyone has a stereo and a CD player, and people depend on those hours of the day when they go home and listen to it to get the music out.  It’s of utmost importance.  However, there can never be a definitive performance.  You don’t even want that, because music lives through the different interpretations of conductors.  But it’s nice to have a performance that’s safely accurate, and that you can use to represent the piece.  From my own experience, people will come up to me, and the first question everyone asks is,
“How can I get a piece on a disc?

BD:   As to the idea of interpretation, how much interpretation do you want in any one piece of yours?

Torke:   That’s an interesting question.  With a piece like Ecstatic Orange which the Chicago Symphony is playing, it’s more that if they observe the rhythms and the energy, the piece will almost play itself.  But that isn’t quite correct.  Going around from orchestra to orchestra, I’m so concerned that they just get the notes and they play it together to have a fairly decent performance, because it’s hard to do that.  Over times though, like with the ballet orchestra, when they’re on their twentieth or thirtieth performance of it, it’s in their bones and they can play it.  Then it’s nice to hear bigger shapings starting to come out, and even a wildly kind of interpretation I would be very interested in hearing.  Other pieces, like Bright Blue Music, is not neo-romantic, but there’s more room for a traditional pull and ebb, and there I’m very excited about the individual personality of the conductor.  Sometimes I don’t always agree with it, and I’ll make my suggestions before the concert.  Then I’ll sit back during the concert, and hear it, and I’ll think,
I don’t agree with everything, but that’s nice because they’re making it alive.

BD:   At what point is it no longer your piece?  Or when does it become so distorted that you would not accept it?

Torke:   There are certain standards that would never allow it to become so distorted and still be called a good performance.  There aren’t too many wildly distorted ways you can play my pieces, unless you made them just simply unclear.  So, if you had some wild interpretation, if it were completely off, people would hear it that way, and that’s just incorrect.  But as far as being too much or not enough, that’s like asking where does red leave off before orange and yellow begin?  That’s constantly changing, and during certain parts of music history, there were more liberties than others.  Right now, we’re in an era that’s just starting to come out of the severe strictness of interpretation.  You hear pianists talking about which edition they should use, and they have gone down to the minutest detail.  We’re coming out of that now to much more freedom.  In the middle
70s into the 80s, people are becoming freer once again, and that’s exciting.

BD:   Are there any problems with different versions of your works?

Torke:   Not so much problems, but there are two versions of Verdant Music.  One is the original sixteen-minute version, and the second is the shortened twelve-minute version that was used for the ballet.  After I shortened it, I liked the piece better, and so now when people want to do it, I insist that they play the revised, up-to-date version, and there’s no argument about it.

BD:   [Speculating]  Say I’m the world’s greatest conductor, and I have the world’s greatest orchestra, and I want to play that sixteen-minute version, and that’s the only one I will play...

Torke:   If that happens, I would be very interested to know why the conductor felt so strongly.  That would be so fascinating to me that I certainly would want to talk about it.

BD:   Are you willing to be convinced?

Torke:   [Smiles]  Probably more than I’d first admit, yes.  If someone has a real strong musical conviction, that’s exciting.  A lot of times a performer or a conductor will say, “We
ll, take out that timpani roll!  I’m a timpanist and I know what works or not!”  Then I’ll say, “I’ve used this kind of figure in other pieces, and it works perfectly fine, and I have every reason to believe that in the world premiere tomorrow it will work!”  But, if there’s real conviction behind his idea, I want to listen.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You say this work the Chicago Symphony is playing is your first orchestral piece.  Have you also written chamber or solo works?

Torke:   Chamber works.  There’s a piece written right before it called Vanada for fourteen instruments that uses synthesizers and brass and percussion.  The pieces before that are all really student works that aren’t really being played, so it was Vanada from 1984, and this one, finished in ’85, that are the first pieces that now are being played and are considered part of my output.

BD:   So, this is your beginning as a full-fledged composer?

Torke:   Yes, I think so.

BD:   Are you now where you expected to be a few years ago?

Torke:   You never know.  [Thinks and laughs]  I started out wanting to do what I could in this field, and for me to stop and assess how things are going along doesn’t make any sense.  It
s like walking through the path in beautiful woods.  You don’t continue to turn around and look at that evergreen tree behind you.  You’re always looking forward to the next twist and turn in the scenery.  I don’t look back.  It’s not that I’m always dissatisfied with the presentbecause there is a lot of joy in the presentbut there’s always the next thing that I want to do, and that anticipation makes it difficult to even address that question.

BD:   Are you getting more and more commissions?

Torke:   Yes.

BD:   When you get a commission, how do you decide whether you’ll accept it, or postpone it, or decline it?

Torke:   By what I want to do.  It’s a luxury when there’s more than enough work, because then you can decide.  An opera commission has come along from Munich, and I had to really sit down and ask if I really wanted to write vocal music.  If that were the only piece of work that came along, I might say, “Yes!  This is exactly what I want to write!” because I make my living as a composer, so there are economic concerns.

BD:   You’re not doing any teaching at all?

Torke:   No.

BD:   No concretizing of other people’s music?

Torke:   No.

BD:   You want to make it just as a composer?

Torke:   Yes!  That’s how it’s been so far.

BD:   What advice do you have to others who want to make their living as a composer?

Torke:   Never give up.  Persistence is really important.  [Pauses a moment]  You can’t really give advice.  If composers want to say something, there’s got to be enough left-over energy from just wanting to feel they are part of the world.  A composer needs to be something useful to society, rather than be scorned and put up in a tower to write his so-called masterpiece that will be unearthed a hundred years from now.  So, my advice would be to think of yourself as something useful, and if you do really believe that, you’ll find ways to make yourself useful.

BD:   [With genuine concern]  Is music something that is useful to society???

Torke:   Yes.  I speak about being useful in terms of the music being important to the world, which I think it is.

BD:   Then what is the purpose of music in society?

Torke:   That’s like asking what is the purpose of art.  We need a philosophical direction into perceiving reality.  We need to be shown that one can celebrate.  There is a dignity and nobility that even goes beyond, and celebrates the heights that human beings can achieve.  We embrace art as a reminder of what human beings are.  It’s a way of humanitarian thinking, that we can have these hopes and we can achieve these dreams.  That’s one big level, but on another level we musicians work hard.  A lot of people work 9 to 5, and when they get home there’s the television.  But there’s also something that can give you more than that bit of laughter after a comedy show.  There can be the feeling of three or four hours
or even daysof high after hearing a Mahler symphony.  I’d rather spend my time in that way than other ways, so there is a function.
BD:   In concert music, where the balance between the artistic achievement and an entertainment value?

Torke:   It’s interesting, and those two go back and forth.  For a long time, I always said I was interested in the entertainment side of the music that I write.  Sometimes I would say the exact opposite of what I really thought, but maybe that’s just because these are so interchangeable.  I thought that my approach to life was pure entertainment.  Every second of my day I wanted to be entertained, but I found that I use that word differently from a lot of people.  I’m entertained when I read Wittgenstein, because that gets the gears in my brain working in a pleasurable way.  So, those two ideas are interchangeable, and work in interesting ways.

BD:   What do you expect of the audience that comes to hear a piece of yours, either for the first time or for the tenth time?  [Vis-à-vis the CD shown at right, see my interviews with Philip Glass, and Steve Reich.]

Torke:   I expect that they listen as well as they can.  Judging from some of the comments, I’m really pleased when they’re really listening on a high level.  That was pleasing for me to hear.  But, if it was a children’s concert, where maybe the audience didn’t have the exposure, if they sat and thought, “Okay, now this piece is going on, and I’m listening to it, and I’m hearing this and I’m hearing that,” that’s really satisfying.  If an audience gets up and leaves after twenty seconds, in a way that is better than an audience which sits and reads through the program all the way through [while the music is playing] because their immediate departure is showing an emotional or even a responsible reaction to it.  They’re saying that they hated it, and that’s more exciting than indifference.

BD:   Are you there to create a stir?

Torke:   Sometimes stirs happen, and those can be some of the most exciting times of all
where the boos are just as strong as the bravos!  [Laughs]  Then you know you’re reaching something.

BD:   [Mildly distressed]  Do you ever want the boos to out-weigh the bravos?

Torke:   Ideally, we all want to be loved, but more than that, we want to know that what’s happening up in our heads goes through the page, through the musicians’ instruments, and is hitting the audience in whatever way.  Even if everyone hates it, that transmission is mainly my prime goal.

BD:   Do you enjoy the music that you write?

Torke:   Yes, and I enjoy blasting my music through my headphones late at night.  All I’m doing is filling out bills, and I have to supply the music that I would enjoy blasting through my ears.  That’s one way of looking at it!  I can’t imagine writing music that I wouldn’t enjoy, because each step along the way you’re asking if this is what I want.

BD:   Are you always sure it’s what you want?

Torke:   Sometimes more than others, and sometimes it’s exciting not to be quite sure.

BD:   [Having been told by someone else about one future work]  How far along are you on the piece you’re writing for the Empire Brass?

Torke:   It’s going to be performed tomorrow.  In fact, today the Chicago Symphony is playing Ecstatic Orange, and tomorrow, June 3rd, the Empire Brass will be playing this new piece with the Detroit Symphony.  It’s called Copper, and it’s a concerto for five brass players and orchestra.  [See my interview with Rolf Smedvig, founder and First Trumpet of the Empire Brass.]

BD:   Have you been involved in the rehearsals at all?

Torke:   Unfortunately not.  I was on the phone with the conductor because I’m here in Chicago, but tomorrow there will be the chance to hear it at the dress rehearsal, and do any last-minute changes.  I felt good when I talked to Stephen Stein, the conductor, because it seemed like his mind was going in somewhat of a parallel interpretative way as mine.  So I feel confident, and the soloists are some of the greatest players around.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   Is composing fun?

Torke:   Yes... I wonder if that would be a surprise to say,
“Yes, it is!  Composing is hard work, but it’s the kind of work I enjoy doing the most.  The joy and self-reliance when you’re really getting involved in a work is almost dangerous, because the circle of rewards can be right there.  I try to make an effort, although I can’t bear too much solitude.  So, I’m out on the streets, and I’m at the parties before long.  But I love composing.  I couldn’t imagine anything else that would give me more satisfaction.

BD:   Being out on the street and going to the parties
is that how you avoid burnout?

Torke:   No, although if burnout were to come, that would be an answer.  But I’m on the phone making plans for dinner with who knows who, just because that’s a human thing I need more than the music needs it.  Any artist can burn out if his goals become misdirected, and his feelings about his work take on perverse things, or if you just work too hard.  But I can feel when it’s time to stop.

BD:   Singers have to pace themselves and not sing too much.  Do composers have that same kind of problem?

Torke:   Everyone is different.  For me, it is like a gas tank.  I have to fill it up with doing enough reflecting.  I find that reading, for instance
not just non-fiction, but fiction toorestores the cells, restores the earth before the new seeds get put in.  You can’t predict it.  For some periods, everything comes out all at once, and other periods might be dry.  Every single composer is different, and works in different ways.  Every piece also fulfills a new need.  Sometimes there comes a point where I really want to start changing the general angle of things, and that might require more thought before the piece gets started.  Another time, you’re so interested in a particular musical solution to a problem that one piece isn’t enough, and another piece has to come out shooting off of that energy, and it comes right away.

BD:   You have many commissions, so how far ahead are you booked?

Torke:   It’s hard to say because they keep changing, but the next three years could easily be filled up if I just sit down and sign the contracts.  But things shuffle around a lot.  The last ballet I did with the New York City Ballet, called Black and White, was just premiered a couple of weeks ago.  At one of the last rehearsals, Peter Martins came up and said, “We want to do a new ballet for Spring of 1989!  Can you possibly do it?”  In a way I couldn’t, but I found a way, since I really wanted to do it.  I hadn’t committed to various things, so this is going to be done, and I am going to write it.

BD:   When you get any commission, do you immediately have a few ideas, or do you let it sit and ferment for a while?

Torke:   It’s different all the time.  Usually the ideas are real basic ones.  I want this new ballet to be contrasted with the last ballet, and since I don’t want to say the same thing, that’s the starting point.  Then it gets more and more specific until you finally get a central idea.  It could just be chord, and then it starts going out the other way as the proliferations of that idea emerge.

BD:   I wish you lots of success as you continue to work on all this.  I look forward to hearing the pieces.

Torke:   [With a big smile]  Oh, thank you!

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© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on June 2, 1988.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1993; and on WNUR in 2002, 2005, and 2017.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.