Year: 2018

Heading: concerto for violin and orchestra

Movement Titles:
I. Lively
II. Wistful
III. Spirited

First Performance and Recording:
January 5-7, 2019
Tessa Lark, violin
Albany Symphony
David Alan Miller, conducting
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Troy, New York

Instrumentation:——timp.perc(1)—harp—violin solo—strings

Duration: 23'

Recording: Sky

Commission Consortium:

  • Albany Symphony Orchestra

  • Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra

  • Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra

  • Tucson Symphony Orchestra

  • Erie Philharmonic

  • Chamber Orchestra of the Springs

  • West Virginia Symphony

Torke writes music that is energetic, tuneful and brilliantly orchestrated. [This] new concerto is among Torke's best, right there alongside his 2015 piano concerto "Three Manhattan Bridges."

The opening sounds of "Sky" come from the violin and the tambourine. There's an immediate feel of country music, but also the noble spirit of Copland. In a piece tailored to her strengths, Lark played with apparent ease and unaffected beauty. Keeping true to the source material, the violin is light and active and remains in a limited melodic range. Yet it's easily heard because the orchestral accompaniment pulses with color and weight yet still remains light and clear. There's plenty of fun and sass along the way.

The more placid second movement turns to the Irish folk tradition and is lyric and beguiling. The bluegrass influence is most explicit in the crackling finale, a spirited nonstop dialogue between violin and orchestra. The gestures of fiddling get passed around in the orchestra, most obviously in the bent notes from the trombone. Pizzicato phrases from the violin expand into stomps from the orchestra. —Joseph Dalton, Times Union

[The] crowd…gave the most extended standing ovation of the season to Lark, who came onto the stage with a shimmering dress and broad smile before absolutely tearing up the joint with a concerto titled "Sky" by contemporary composer Michael Torke. "Sky," inspired by Irish reels and American bluegrass, was right in her wheelhouse. —The Day

"Sky" is no doubt inspired by its soloist Tessa Lark’s Kentucky roots. The concerto…sounds like it descended from the mountains only to run into Aaron Copland outside the concert hall. —Nathan Cone, Texas Public Radio

Program Note:
The inspiration for this concerto came from Tessa Lark, who will be premiering, recording, and
touring the piece among the consortium of orchestras that are supporting this project. Tessa is a
unique artist, in that not only is she deeply immersed in the classical field but comes from
Kentucky, with a father who is a veteran Bluegrass musician, and has this style in her blood.
Tessa and I worked together on an earlier piece of mine, Spoon Bread—a duo for violin and
piano commissioned by Carnegie Hall—and it was during that period that the idea to write a
concerto for her clicked.

Banjo-picking technique given to the solo violin was the departure point in the first movement.
For the second movement my source material was Irish reels, the forerunner of American
Bluegrass. The template for the third movement was fiddle licks with a triplet feel. In each case I
wrote themes of my own in these styles, and developed the ideas into a standard, “composed”
violin concerto. Everything is written out, nothing improvised.

Just as when one looks up and sees the open expanse of the sky, I felt an openness when writing
this piece, a renewed freshness to putting notes together. I thank Tessa for opening this door and
working so closely with me on this project.