Sylvan for chamber orchestra (2017)

First Performance

July 9, 2017
Lake Placid Sinfonietta
Ron Spigelman, conducting

Instrumentation

Flute
Oboe
Clarinet in A
Bassoon
2 Horns in F
Trumpet in C
Timpani
Piano

4 Violins I
3 Violins II
2 Violas
2 Violoncellos
Contrabass

Duration

17'

Movement Titles

I. Eastern White Pine
II. Yellow Birch
III. Red Spruce
Program Note

Program Note
Michael Torke-SYLVAN


Having spent several summers in the Adirondacks, the smell of the trees, as the cool air settles from the mountains to the lakes, has lingered as a piquant memory. The grandeur of the Eastern White pine, which at one time was used for the masts of ships; the color of the autumnal leaves of the Yellow Birch, and the use of the Red Spruce for not only Christmas trees, but whose tonal qualities in the wood make it ideal for violin making, contributed to my work to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta. All in all, there is a soothing majesty about trees found in the Lake Placid region.

We live in pluralistic, eclectic times—which make me want to limit my stylistic palette to as tight and concentrated as I can make it. To say something and to be heard require focus. What if I wrote a piece that had just one theme? The danger of this restriction could delimit the listener’s enjoyment.

But what if we hear three themes, and underneath it all, each is actually coming from the same source, with its presentation disguised in such a way that they sound like completely fresh ideas? If such a plan could succeed, durability would flow from the unity of ideas, and the ear would sense a more cohesive, communicative voice. I’ve always believed that the tighter the relationships between the notes, the stronger a composition will be, the longer it will be valued through the vicissitudes of time’s judgment, and the more reliably we can respond emotionally to the music.

With Sylvan, each of the three trees have their own distinct music, but everything is derived ultimately from the same series of notes, a kind of hummable tune that gradually emerges as the branches reach out to limbs and leaves.