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Javelin (1994), 9 minutes

Michael Torke was born on September 22, 1961 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Javelin was first performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yoel Levi on September 8, 1994 in Atlanta, Georgia. The work is scored for 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, various percussion, harp and strings.

The music of Michael Torke has been called "some of the most optimistic, joyful and thoroughly uplifting music to appear in recent years” (Gramophone). He has been 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’s music is strikingly colorful, radiating with spectral brilliance. The vibrant, prism-like palette of his vocabulary will be immediate just by perusing the titles of his works, which include, Estatic Orange (1985), Yellow Pages (1985), Bright Blue Music (1985), Green (1986), Ash (1988) and Rust (1989). His music has been commissioned by such orchestras as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and by entities such as the Walt Disney Company, and Absolute Vodka.


In describing Javelin, Torke writes: “I had three goals for this Atlanta Symphony’s anniversary piece: I wanted to use the orchestra as a virtuosic instrument, I wanted to use triads (three-note tonal chords), and I wanted the music to be thematic. I knew I would welcome swifter changes of mood than what is found in my earlier music. What came out (somewhat unexpectedly) was a sense of valor among short flashes and sweeps that reminded me of something in flight: a light spear thrown, perhaps, but not in the sense of a weapon, more in the spirit of a competition. When the word “javelin” suddenly suggested itself, I couldn't help but recall the 1970s model of sports car my Dad owned, identified by that name, but I concluded, why not? Even that association isn't so far off from the general feeling of the piece. It's fast tempo calls for 591 measures to evoke the generally uplifting, sometimes courageous, yet playful spirit.”


A whirlwind of finessed wind filigree opens the work, encapsulated by a sound arena of luminously orchestrated harmony, sprinkled with the buoyancy of string pizzicato. As the bowed strings enter in propulsive rhythms traversing this stadium of sound, the vision of Olympians, spear in hand and raised parallel, will sprint gallantly into heroic valor. The strong athletic and muscular toned silhouette of the human form, will express a classical Grecian beauty as the the whole of the orchestra enters in triumphant fanfare.


The strings will showcase a rich singing lyrical melody punctuated with centripetal brass exhalations. The music is absolutely Olympian in spirit, and it will be no surprise that this work was included on the album titled after John Williams’ “Summon the Heroes,” the 1996 centennial theme of the Olympic Games. The winds and then violins with horns, will dialogue with melodies that outline slopes and tangential trajectories, with the straight paths pulsing fourth from repeated brass notes.


The middle section will develop the theme with fragmentations in a tapestry of pastel-flourishes and sparkles. A brief blossoming of orchestral exuberance emerges then recedes into the folding contours of tender warmth, melodic sportsmanship. The orchestration scales back and a stately march-like motive dominates. Musical turmoil will proverbially build into the tightening of the muscles, the arching of the arm, and the aim. With spiraling arpeggiations, the sprint and valiant release of the spear hurls the orchestra into the return of the starting music, a victory lap.


Amid the fluttering gyrations, there is something Mozartian, perhaps simply classical, in harmonic moments that flash in an instant before being swept up in the swooshes and gestures of orchestral speed.  It is balletic and may recall Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies. Where Satie embodied a caricature of Spartan festive war-dancing, Torke’s Javelin is anything but, it is the infinite orchestral light spear of hope, gliding and surfing the wind currents at super sonic speeds, ripping through more than air, but the fabric of time and the history of competitive sports. © MTF

*Digitally published for the Hawaiʻi Symphony Sheraton Starlight Series on July 9-11, 2021.

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