It’s hard not to admire a composer who quotes Wittgenstein in his program notes, but I think I can manage it.

The composer in this case is the highly successful Michael Torke, whose “Javelin” Olympics music was played last year by the Portland Symphony Orchestra under Robert Moody. I recall characterizing it as fascist bombast appropriate to the occasion, but pleasant to hear and beloved of TV audiences.

At its season-opening concerts today and Tuesday, the orchestra will play Torke’s “Bright Blue Music” (1985). (See related story on Page D1.) From 1985 until 1989, Torke composed a series of pieces, each exploring a single color. The series is a synesthete’s (someone who sees colors when hearing music) delight, but I haven’t seen a test panel determine whether the color titles are correct — probably because each member would see a different color.

“Bright Blue Music” is the first to incorporate a new language, at least for Torke, tonality. This is where Wittgenstein comes in. Torke writes:

“Inspired by Wittgenstein’s ideas (sic) that meaning is not in words themselves but in the grammar of the words used, I conceived of a parallel in musical terms: harmonies in themselves do not contain any meaning, rather, musical meaning results only in (sic) the way harmonies are used. Harmonic language is then, in a sense, inconsequential.

“If the choice of harmony is arbitrary, why not then use tonic and dominant chords — the simplest, most direct and — for me — the most pleasurable. Once this decision was made and put in the back of my mind, an unexpected freedom of expression followed. With the simplest means, my musical emotions and impulses were free to guide me.

“The feeling of working was exuberant; I would leave my outdoor studio, and the trees and bushes seemed to dance, and the sky seemed bright blue.”

Sky color was one influence in the choice of bright blue as a title. Another was the key of the piece, D major, which corresponds to the color blue for the composer. There may be a  semi-scientific basis for this, since the frequencies of “D” and the color blue are related. This seems a little far-fetched, as the frequency of  blue light is so much higher than that of “D.”

I suppose. however, that a sound might trigger a visual reaction in the form of a multiple of its frequency, like sunlight causing a sneeze, but that is only a theory.

The Portland Symphony often sandwiches a modern work between two classics, in this case the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto with an equally glorious pianist, Awadagin Pratt, and the Brahms Symphony No. 4.

In the case of Torke’s “Bright Blue Music,” it was unnecessary. I guarantee that traditional audiences will love it as long as it doesn’t go on too long, because it sounds like the “Swedish Rhapsody” arranged by Philip Glass.

In addition to “Javelin” and his color series, Torke has written two full-length ballets for the national Ballet of Canada; “Strawberry Fields,” a performance of which was nominated for an Emmy; “Four Seasons,” a 65-minute oratorio commissioned by the Walt Disney Co. to celebrate the millennium; a percussion concerto; and many other works. His newest project is a rock version of “The Coronation of Poppea.”

Torke characterizes his style as “post-minimalism, a music which utilizes the repetitive structures of a previous generation to incorporate musical techniques from both the classical tradition and the contemporary pop world.”

Try it, you’ll like it.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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