Michael Torke, born in Milwaukee in 1961, has emerged as a contemporary composer whose music has been received with uncharacteristic warmth by traditional classical audiences and newcomers to "serious" music alike. Torke's music is characterized by a fusion of styles that range from lush Romanticism to pop- and jazz-influenced idioms. Typically, the composer makes use of colorful timbres, minimalism-influenced repetition, and dance rhythms. A number of his works have proven especially adaptable as dance scores; a number were specifically commissioned by dance ensembles.
Torke pursued formal musical studies at the Eastman School of Music, where he earned degrees in piano performance and composition; his principal teachers there included Christopher Rouse and Joseph Schwantner (composition) and David Burge (piano). His subsequent period of study with Jacob Druckman at Yale yielded two of his earliest successes, both of which demonstrate the composer's penchant for combining classical form and technique with "popular" content: Bright Blue Music (1985), commissioned by the New York Youth Orchestra, and The Yellow Pages (1985). The former was the earliest entry in an extensive series of color-themed works that eventually came to include Ecstatic Orange (1985), Green (1986), Purple (1987), Copper (1988), Red (1991), and others.
Torke has explored vocal idioms in such works as Mass (1990), for baritone, chorus and chamber orchestra, and King of Hearts (1993), a television opera commissioned by the United Kingdom's Channel 4. Torke's music is sometimes described as "post-minimalist," and this characteristic is at once apparent in his Four Proverbs (1993) for female voice and instrumental ensemble. In this work he intricately blends melodic cells with series of syllables to produce a distinctively textured work based on a handful of basic ideas.
Torke's Javelin (1994), commissioned by the 1994 Olympic Commission to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, has proven to be one of the composer's most popular works. One measure of Javelin's success was its simultaneous release on two different recording s— one with Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony, the other with John Williams and the Boston Pops — in 1996, a rare distinction for a contemporary concert work. Torke was the recipient of one of the more high-profile commissions in the 1990s, a choral symphony in celebration of the new millennium commissioned by the Walt Disney Corporation. The much-acclaimed result, Four Seasons, was premiered by Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic on October 8, 1999; it was also prominently featured as part of the Y2K festivities at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida on New Year's Eve, 1999.