Imaginary Dances —1991

Commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition for the Oakland East Bay Symphony, conducted by Michael Morgan, Imaginary Dances received its world premiere at the Calvin Simmons Theater in Oakland, California, and received wonderful reviews.

Program Notes

Imaginary Dances is a nine-movement concerto for orchestra, divided into three parts, each consisting of three contrasting movements.  Taken as a whole, Imaginary Dances is a set of variations on three separate themes, which sometimes reflect, and sometimes contrast with one another. Some of the movements allude to the United States involvement in the “Gulf War” of 1991, during which much of this music was written. Musical parody abounds, with a very familiar American patriotic song at the center of the action. The lyrical and spacious slow movements are more private reflections on matters of the heart that were taking place amidst the global crisis.


Maggio handles the orchestra with genuine flair, and the interactions of the brass and percussion sections give “Imaginary Dances” a certain punchy energy. The score is divided into three parts, each consisting of three movements; each part includes a jaunty waltz and a fugue on a slow, string theme. The three free movements, including the percussive, Bernsteinesque opener entitled “The Krunch,” sounded engaging.

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 1992

…a nine-part concerto for orchestra commissioned especially for the Oakland Symphony by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. An ingenious catalogue of variations on three separate themes, the 35-minute work is crammed with music reflecting a bristling intelligence. The best parts of the work were its tendrilling fugues (named “Reflections,” “Dreams” and “Memories” in a reverse-order homage to psychologist C.G. Jung). Just as a cloud-streaked sky or gauze curtains fluttering in a window can unfetter the mind, these episodes proved capable of inducing a deep reverie. Maggio’s music, at its best, is deep and inspired.

David Gere, Oakland Tribune, January 27, 1992


…the audience was treated to the world premiere of “Imaginary Dances,” a splendid work written especially for Morgan and his Oakland forces. It was imaginative, whimsical, surprising and successful. Divided into three main sections, each of which, in turn, contained three contrasting sections, it had a clear thematic coherency along with fresh surprises in orchestral sonorities. And, there were frequent sallies into something which used to be rare in 20th-century music — harmony! It began with a section Maggio called “The Krunch.” In this section, the percussion predominated, and was given an assertive role in interrupting recurrences of lush sound blocks intoned by massed strings. Maggio’s ending was riveting with its long unison note sounded by the whole orchestra. It was followed by a succession of descending scales passed from section to section, then summed up by a tidy little thematic postscript from the cellos.

Cheryl Greger, Times Star, January 28, 1992

…music director Michael Morgan presented Robert Maggio’s “Imaginary Dances,” unveiling an exciting new talent in a composition that was both technically complex and very satisfying as a listening experience. Maggio, 28, writes in an idiom that is recognizably modern but plainly original. Where influence is evident, as in the Bartokian night-music episodes of “Dances,” it has been integrated into a personal statement.

The sound never roams very far from a tonal center, so it is accessible and its lyric qualities make it happily attractive. The work is constructed as an ennead: nine sections, divided into three parts which sometimes reflect, sometimes contrast with one another. Two familiar musical terms are used: in each part there is a “fugue” and a waltz.

The fugal sections sound nothing like the classical structure of that name but are rather a kind of emotional reworking of the struggling interplay of themes that a fugue deals with. The fugues are called “Reflections,” “Dreams” and “Memories,” and they are the most lyrical parts of the piece. Maggio’s way with melody is strong and unsentimental.

The waltz sections, labeled “Unfamiliar,” “Dangerous” and “Vanishing,” show a bright, even pixieish sense of humor. The use of percussion and brass is light and witty, not clownish or heavy-handed. The remaining sections, “The Krunch” in part one, “The March” in part two and “The End” at the close, punctuate the work with insistent reminders of the sense of struggle the music conveys. But it is an eager, questioning kind of battle rather than a pseudo world-weariness. Maggio is not a pretentious young man.

The overall impression was of freshness and exuberance, of a joy in making music and making it enjoyable for the listener. It roused hope and expectation of more of the same from this talented composer. In championing contemporary music of this caliber, Morgan shows the taste and foresight needed in a music director.

Basil De Pinto, The Montclarion, February 4, 1992