Year: 2001

Heading: Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra

Movement Titles:
1. Drums and Woods
2. Mallets
3. Metals

First Performance:
original version:
22 February 2001
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland
Colin Currie, percussion / Royal Scottish National Orchestra /Marin Alsop

band arrangement:
5 July 2003
WASBE Conference, Jonkoping, Sweden
Colin Currie, percussion / National Youth Wind Ensemble of Great Britain / Phillip Scott

Instrumentation: percussion soloist 2.picc.2.corA.2.bcl.ssax.tsax.3 pft(=cel)strings
(also arranged for band)

Duration: 28'

Recordings: Rapture can be found on the release, rapture, an american abroad, jasper

Rapture by name, rapturous by nature. It's the best way to sum up Michael Torke's percussion concerto, commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and given a stunning performance by soloist Colin Currie and conductor Marin Alsop. —
The Herald (Scotland)

Program Note:
Commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Rapture is the first new work written as that orchestra's Associate Composer. I collaborated closely with Colin Currie, the soloist, to learn how to write for percussion.

In a surreal late poem by W. B. Yeats, “News for a Delphic Oracle”, he describes a mythic and transcendent sexual state.  A kind of rapture.  

“…Those Innocents re-live their death… Through their ancestral patterns dance..”

A brute beating of drums may connote an earthly violence, but when it is organized and insistent, it begins to have a ritualistic effect, and incite a kind of rapture.  It is that kind of transcendence that I am interested in discovering in this composition.

I have often believed there is a thin line that separates religious rapture from sexual rapture.  Music has the capability of reflecting that intersection.

When Yeats writes, “ …Down the mountain walls, From where Pan’s cavern is, Intolerable music falls….”, he is characterizing this transfigured state as over- brimming, over- flowing, and overpowering.  Since it is too much to bear; this rapture, we can only submit.

My usual approach to composing is to think of melodies as the building blocks of a piece.  Faced with the task of writing for non- pitched percussion instruments, like drums, wooden instruments, and metallic instruments, I was challenged to find a way to shape and develop the music.

My solution was to shadow everything the soloist is doing.  For example, in the first movement, which features drums and woods, when Colin plays a pattern on three high Tom-toms, clarinets and trumpets play three and only three assigned pitches.  At exactly the same rhythm.  Every percussion instrument of Colin’s at the front of the stage is mirrored by specific instruments in the orchestra.  In the third movement, which features metallic instruments (a kind of “industrial rig”, as Colin would say), tins are matched with flutes and piccolo, pipes with clarinets, cow bells with oboes and bassoons, gongs laid flat with horns, cymbals with trumpets, and brake drums with trombones.  The energy of the outer two movements finds repose in the slower middle movement, that features mallets: marimba and vibraphone.

This technique is reinforcing: the soloist gives an edge, a pronouncement, to the notes from the orchestra, and the orchestra gives a context and a melodic value to the rhythms the soloist is playing.  Reinforcement gives confidence and power to the overall result.

The concerto explores a new idea of the roles of soloist and orchestra.  In my piece, the tight correspondence between the two is the antithesis of the romantic struggle between the soloist as hero, conquering his foe, the orchestra- rendered in the end as only an accompanist.  Yet my soloist is the leader, the initiator of every rhythm that the orchestra is bound in a slave-like way to shadow.  The orchestra, however, is not subordinate in their role because by shadowing, they add  vital color and perspective without which the soloist’s patterns would not have much meaning on its own.