In my opinion, Michael Torke is something of a national treasure. He has the rare ability to take elements of American culture and develop them with all the tools of a contemporary classical composer. The end result is music that sounds distinctly American. It’s always connected to the traditions of the past, but with a sound that could only be possible in the present. His music is always accessible and — most important — in his own voice.
“Unconquered” is but the latest example. This 25-minute tone poem was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Torke uses it to commemorate another historical moment. The 1777 Battle of Saragota, which marked a turning point in America’s War of Independence.
The work has four movements. The heraldic trumpets of the first movement summon the troops. The second “Dawn,” evokes a misty morning before the attack. “Advance” captures the emotional essence of conflict, while “Liberty” celebrates an awakening American spirit.
As Torke writes, “For me, [this music] comes from a love of history and a regard for the aspirational…. Neither battlefield nor bloodshed is depicted… only the expression of moods conjured by these images.”
And Torke succeeds admirably. This is a work that sounds timeless and timely. And it’s truly a patriotic work in the best sense of the word.
The Philadelphia Orchestra directed by Cristian Macelaru do this music justice. The power the ensemble envokes makes the emotional impact that much stronger.
I’ll be programming “Unconquered” for my July 4th radio program. But don’t just file this away as an occasional piece. “Unconquered” is a work that can be enjoyed year round.
Michael Torke: Unconquered
The Philadelphia Orchestra; Cristian Macelaru, conductor
Ecstatic Records ER92271