Flights of Fancy (1988)

for large ensemble

Flights of Fancy was commissioned by the (now defunct) Music Today Ensemble and premiered in New York in 1988 under the direction of Gerard Schwarz. It was meant to be a fairly lighthearted piece and probably arose as a reaction to a lot of the knotty, hard-core modernist music I was hearing around that time. If it seems too tame to me now, I can still enjoy its percolating energy.

The piece unfolds in five contrasting scenes, each emerging from the previous one as if in a sequence of daydreams. The first scene, “Dance remembered,” grows out of a haze, through which oboe and bassoon search to establish a melody. This gently swirling texture erupts into a syncopated dance. As the dance dissolves into the opening mist, a haunting cello solo anticipates the next scene, an eerie lullaby sung by the cello. The third scene, “Breakpoints,” is driven by a percussive motor rhythm, inspired by pop bass lines, set against chordal stabs; the cello now tries to screech like an electric guitar. A wave of chords submerges this raucous activity and settles into the next scene. “Afloat” places the instruments in a slow, suspended state, mildly threatened by harp chords. “Falling out,” beginning with a rude intrusion, combines sounds and processes from the previous two scenes: the mellow horn solo continues the mood of “Afloat,” but is drowned out by a passage reminiscent of “Breakpoints.” The work comes to a close with a repeated statement of one chord, after which the quivering texture dies out, while leaving the impression that the pulse continues after the music stops.


  • New Music Ensemble, Indiana University, Vince Lee, conductor; 12/5/2002
  • London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen, conductor; London, 1/27/1992
  • Fellows of Tanglewood Music Center, Bradley Lubman, conductor; 8/4/1991
  • Chamber Symphony of Princeton, Mark Laycock, conductor; 10/29/1989
  • Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, conductor; Nippon Kan Theater, Seattle, 5/19/1989
  • Music Today, Gerard Schwarz, conductor; Merkin Concert Hall, New York, 10/18/1988