Q&A: Composer Robert Maggio on Music, Greece and Writing for Local Ensemble

Rob MaggioAfter returning from a vacation in Greece, renowned composer Robert Maggio has written a new piece for the Delaware Valley ensemble, Mélomanie.

Maggio, who’s also chairman of the Department of Music Theory, History and Composition at West Chester University’s School of Music, will introduce Aegean Airs with Mélomanie Sunday, March 29th at 2 pm at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in Wilmington.

The group will also play the seven-movement composition later in April at the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Maggio’s works have been performed around the world, and he’s received numerous honors and awards, including grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Pew Fellowships in the Arts.

Here Maggio tells us about his inspiration for Aegean Airs (it includes things as zany as Greek drag shows on the beach!), life as a composer and working with Mélomanie:

TSD: Give us some insight into the everyday life of a composer. How often do you compose, and do you have a specific process?

I teach full-time, so my composing mostly happens during the end of the week (Thursday and Friday), when I don’t have classes, and on weekends. In the summer, I have much more time to write. There’s not a set process, because each piece seems to have different demands and inspirations. The sources of influence on my music are as wide-ranging as watching a drag-show while eating lunch on a beach on Mykonos to reflecting on the nature of memory loss & dementia (that’s an upcoming project!).

Melomanie Group 2013

Melomanie. Photo by Tim Bayard.

TSD: Why did you write this piece specifically for Mélomanie?

RM: I teach music theory and composition at West Chester University, where Kim Reighley (Mélomanie’s flutist) also teaches. She and I had been talking about my writing a piece for the ensemble for a few years, and I think the timing just worked out this year. Also, it was fortunate that this commission coincided with the trip to Greece because Mélomanie blends modern and early instruments in a way that supports the main concept of the piece: modern and ancient Greek cultures blended in present-day Greece.

TSD: What’s your intention for this piece?

RM: It’s really quite simple: I hope Mélomanie enjoys performing it, and I hope the audience enjoys listening to it.

TSD: Tell us about your inspiration for Aegean Airs, and what kind of Greek influences we should listen for.

RM: The opening theme of the piece is a Delphic Hymn, one of two compositions to have survived in fragments from Ancient Greece. The odd-numbered movements (1, 3, 5 and 7) are arrangements and variations of this ancient hymn. The even-numbered movements (2, 4 and 6) are based on the kinds of Greek scales, rhythms and melodies that I heard in the pop-folk music while on vacation in Athens, Mykonos and Santorini this summer. Those movements are titled: Mykonian Dance, Santorinian Sails and Temples — they reflect something about modern day Greece, at least from what I could see as a 2 week tourist!



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