For: soprano saxophone and orchestra
in three movements
There is also an arrangement for band.
14 January 1994
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York
John Harle, saxophone / Albany Symphony Orchestra / David Alan Miller
Recording: Saxophone Concerto can be found on release called, three
It is a work of deceptive simplicity but beneath the surface are treasures galore...[it is] ingeniously conceived. —South Wales Echo
...the music is disarmingly unaffected, with economical scoring and a finely honed style of thematic development. —Gramophone
...both the flickering orientalism of the opening movement's main motif, and the sweetly-breathed rhapsody spun by the soloist in the slow middle movement, are evidence that Torke's gift for melody is richer than his large scale "colour" works for orchestra suggest. —Classic CD
Saxophone Concerto was written in the last month of 1993, at the request of John Harle, who had room for one more concerto on an album he was recording for Argo records. It was premiered by Harle with David Alan Miller leading the Albany Symphony on 14 January 1994, and recorded the following day.
When I develop ideas for a piece, I try to make sure the orchestration is determined when the idea comes to me. Then as I am putting the piece together, these orchestrational decisions are already made. For instance, in the first movement, whenever two clarinets play the theme, two vibraphones always double, and whenever the oboe and English horn play, two marimbas oblige. Furthermore, the solo soprano saxophone decorates these passages with flowing 16ths whose notes are drawn exactly from the 8th note material these winds are playing. And, the string and horn "pads," or held harmonies supporting the melodic material, are nothing more than sustaining selected melodic tones. Thus, everything tightly relates to itself, and the intended result is not only cohesion, but an identifiable sound or "voice."
Another compositional device I play with is to insert decorative 16ths within an 8th note melody. Then, I restore the original 8th durations, but include the new 16ths in between, which results in a variation slightly longer than the original, undecorated version. When I combine both versions, an interesting counterpoint emerges.
The second movement, with its long, plaintive melody (inspired by lush arrangements I heard on Natalie Cole’s 1991 album, Unforgettable), is also developed by inserting decorative 8ths where before there were only quarters.
The third movement features two alternating three-note chords in the strings, which is a grid from which short melodic bits are selected, again, by doing nothing but highlighting the doubling. It once occurred to me that the secret of orchestration is doubling; I take that one step further by asserting that a secret to composition might be finding ways to double material, but make it sound like a fresh idea. This movement features waves of musical activity, structured in three large sections: the original, its inversion, and finally an open voiced variant of the original.
Because of the limited time I had to complete this piece, I felt almost forced into a kind of automatic writing, where many decisions were predetermined. Paired on the concert which premiered Saxophone Concerto was the brand new Piano Concerto; a composition that I spent many luxurious months composing, with a freedom of palette that diametrically opposes the mode of construction I used in the Saxophone Concerto. Piano Concerto has never been performed again or recorded, while the Saxophone Concerto has been recorded twice and played often. That demonstrates to me (aside from the fact there is more need in today's world for saxophone literature) that the kind of composition I used under pressure was actually more effective in writing music that in the end has a more distinctive sound, is more "me," and becomes more useful.