Portrait in Music

Debra TorokNorman Dello Joio is an eminent American composer whose music isn’t played very much. Debra Torok, artist-lecturer in piano, wants to fix that.

Recently she released “Family Album,” the third CD in her series of his complete piano music. She’s planning to record his only piano concerto, “Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra,” a fiercely difficult piece written in 1961 for the steely-fingered virtuoso Lorin Hollander. She is editing Dello Joio’s piano works for publication by Carl Fischer, and she has set up a web site for the composer.

And next January 14, when Dello Joio celebrates his 90th birthday, Torok may find that all this work makes her much in demand among national concert producers. After all, she’s the only pianist who can claim to know every note of his keyboard music.

Best known as a choral composer, Dello Joio is a contemporary of David Diamond, Vincent Persichetti, and William Schuman, all of whom lost ground over the latter half of the 20th century to 12-tone composers such as Milton Babbitt and then to the new minimalists such as Philip Glass and John Adams. But he’s never stopped composing, Torok said.

She came across his work when she was making a decade-by-decade survey of 20th-century piano music. A piece by Dello Joio was her choice for the ’70s. To her surprise, she found it had never been recorded. None of his piano compositions had been.

In May 1997, she went to visit him “way out in the Hamptons” and told him she wanted to record his works. Many of them he had not heard in years. As she played, “it was amazing to see the look on his face,” she said.

Norman Dello JoioBut the chance to hear some of his music allowed the composer to think second thoughts. He even withdrew what had been his best-known work for piano and orchestra, “Ricercar,” which he had once performed nationwide. “It’s simple enough for me to play,” he said scornfully.

And “to my dismay,” Torok said, “he wrote a piano piece as I was in the midst of recording!” Not that she wants him to slow down, but not while she’s trying to make the definitive record. “I wanted to say, ‘Don’t write any more pieces, please.’ ”


May 14, 2002

Address Book
Faculty, student and guest speakers for Baccalaureate, Commencement and Seminary Commencement. Honorary degree recipients for College and Seminary.
A Sign of Times
College introduces a new graphic identity program, with logo, typeface, tagline, usage guidelines.
Portrait in Music
Artist-lecturer Debra Torok issues third CD in her set of the complete piano works of American composer Norman Dello Joio.
Over the Hill
2 staff members celebrate 50th birthdays.
All-campus announcements.
Calendar of campus events.
Faculty, staff and student honors.
Risky Business
Topic for 2002-03 faculty reading group is "The Perception of Risk."