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Opinion

Symphony Band works with famous composer

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February 25, 2015

This week is a busy one for the UW-River Falls Symphony Band as all year we have awaited the arrival of famous composer, Johan de Meij.

This week, he is in-residence here in River Falls, working with the Symphony Band until the concert on Thursday, Feb. 26. While his music presents a challenge in every part; at the end, it is always a rewarding experience to work with a famous composer and achieve a piece at a difficulty level we aren’t used to. Since this is my first time working with de Meij, I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I look forward to what I can learn in one week.

This is not de Meij’s first time in River Falls. Four years ago was his first residency with the Symphony Band. For some, they knew what to expect from the week; but for most, it’s a new experience that we will remember for years to come. In my four years here at UWRF, I have worked with several composers, conductors, and soloists, all of varying personalities and talents, and I learned something different with each of them.

This is no exception; de Meij is a household name in the band world, and with experience with bands around the world, we will be able to expand our knowledge.

At 7:30 p.m., de Meij will conduct the Symphony Band in six pieces, five of which are his own. These pieces include “Riverdance,” “Spring,” “Summer,” “The Witches’ Sabbath,” “Elfentanz,” and “Ballade.”

In addition to de Meij conducting us, we will be joined by alto saxophone soloist Hans de Jong on “Elfentanz” and “Ballade,” composed by Alfred Reed. “Riverdance,” composed by Bill Whelan, and “The Witches’ Sabbath,” composed by Giacomo Pucchini, are both arranged by de Meij, and “Spring” and “Summer” are his original works that follow a similar theme.

“Riverdance” is based on the world-famous theater production and includes mainly rhythms from Irish, Spanish, and Eastern European works. “The Witches’ Sabbath” originates from Pucchini’s “La Tragenda” from the opera “de Villi.”

Thursday’s featured saxophone soloist, de Jong, splits his time between playing alto saxophone (both as a soloist and as a part of chamber ensembles) and teaching both classical Saxophone and chamber music at the Royal Conservatoire in Antwerp, Belgium. In total, there are about 150 compositions dedicated to him, from chamber works to concertos.

In addition to these dedications, de Jong has also composed three works of his own, all concertos. He has presented Master Classes in several countries, including Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain. De Jong won several contests for his abilities, most of which were near his home in Antwerp.

Between being under the direction of de Meij and playing alongside de Jong, this week’s events will be something that we will all carry with us for many years, whether we go into music as a career or just keep playing for the pure enjoyment of it. It’s not every day that musicians get to work with one of the most famous band composers in the world. We are getting that chance.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.