A new piece by Dutch composer Johan de Meij is part pandemic requiem and part hopeful look into the future


But even once they are out of it, Gallastegui explained, they should never forget those who have been lost to the virus. He also felt that musicians and their supporters should celebrate their hopes for the future. And so Gallastegui decided to commission a special piece of music for the band to play. On Sunday afternoon, the Rockville Concert Band will present the world premiere of “The Year 2020”, written for them by the Dutch composer Johan de Meij.

The 8.5-minute work, de Meij said, is his way of translating into music the fear and frustration he felt as the pandemic spread.

De Meij was calling from Amsterdam, where he will lead a Dutch marching band in a TV appearance this weekend.

“We call it the Corona Liberation Concert,” he said. “This concert has been postponed about five times since 2020.”

Sunday afternoon’s Rockville Concert Band performance — at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater and streamed online — will mark nearly two years since the pandemic forced the band to change their tune, so to speak. First there were the cancellations. Then, when restrictions were lifted slightly, members were able to gather in small groups to perform outdoors.

These ups and downs are reflected in de Meij’s composition. It begins with the sound of the performers’ feet pounding the ground like marching soldiers.

“I imagine the pandemic came like an invisible army and then took over the whole world,” de Meij said.

Says Gallastegui, “You feel something is happening and we don’t know what it is.”

The mood is dark for the first half of “The Year 2020,” then brightens.

“It moves on to the second theme: hope, the brighter side of this whole issue,” Gallastegui said.

De Meij said he had trouble finishing the piece.

“The first ending I had was on a big chord, a major chord,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. It’s not good.'”

The original ending was too bright, with a resolution that de Meij found too clear and happy, inappropriate for the year 2020 – or even for today, when we still don’t know how, or if, the pandemic will end.

“It ends very softly in an E-flat major chord now,” he said.

Members and supporters of the Rockville Concert Band – formed in 1957 and with around 50 volunteer musicians – raised funds to commission the piece.

“We know that everything Johan de Meij writes goes directly into the canon of wind ensembles,” said Gallastegui, who was appointed director of the ensemble at the start of the pandemic.

Besides composing, de Meij is a busy conductor. Where was. He’s spent most of the past two years stuck at home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

“I’ve written an incredible amount of music,” he said. “If I didn’t have that, I’d go absolutely crazy. Writing music was like therapy for me. It allowed me to continue.

Listening to music can also be like therapy. Gallastegui believes music can keep us all going, even in the face of a pandemic.

The power of music may not be as tangible as a face mask or a vaccine, “but at some point music comes to help people, to help with the healing process, with the cooling off period” , said Gallastegui. “We are not done with this pandemic. The coming years will bring more reflection on what we did – and what we didn’t do, what our priorities were, what we thought – and music will have to play a part in that.

“The Year 2020” is one of five pieces the Rockville Concert Band will perform Sunday at 3 p.m. at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater, 603 Edmonston Dr., Rockville. Free tickets are available at fscottfitzgerald.showare.com. The show will stream on rockvilleconcertband.org.


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