Johan de Meij is a Dutch conductor, trombonist, and composer, best known for his Symphony No. 1, nicknamed “The Lord of the Rings” Symphony. Other favourite of his music include Symphony No. 2 “The Big Apple” (A New York Symphony), Symphony No. 3 “Planet Earth” and Extreme Make-over.
(This interview was conducted in July 2010)
Could we begin by telling us about your first composition?
My very first piece was my Symphony no. 1 The Lord of the Rings, written between 1984 and 1988.
Were there any inspirations or influences that kick-started your composition career? Any particular teacher/s that you would like to mention?
I started my writing career as an arranger. As an arranger as well as a composer I am self-taught, never had a teacher.
How does a piece usually begin for you? Is your inspiration for a piece usually a musical idea or an extra-musical thought?
It always starts with creating the idea of what I want to write [also depending on the wishes of the commissioning party]. Every time, the process is different though, I don’t have a specific formula to write a piece. If one has, all pieces may end up sounding the same…
How do you start a piece of work? Do you work it out at your desk or the piano?
I always gather my ideas with a keyboard or a piano. Without that I am unable to come up with something useful.
‘Extreme Makeover’ has been recently a more performed work of yours in our band scene. Do you have any suggested approaches to this piece?
It was my most performed piece last year, even more than The Lord of the rings, which has always been my no. 1. I try to keep track of all my performances worldwide, which is of course impossible. The various performances on my website agenda are just the ones I hear or read about…
Several of your pieces seem to portray the scene of a certain place such as the Symphony No.2: The Big Apple’, where it depicts the skyline of New York City. How do you write such as work with the correct atmosphere and character?
It sure helps to be inspired by a place, a book or a painting. The majority of my works are programmatic. There is one venue that I saw after writing the piece: Loch Ness! My imagination was enough to come up with the music.
After listening to ‘Symphony No.3: Planet Earth’, probably one of your largest work so far; it has also reminded me of Holst’s The Planets Suite. Are these two works of any relation?
It is my largest work [50 minutes] and yes there is a direct connection to The Planets. Here is a small quote from the program notes: ‘The title Planet Earth may remind us of The Planets by Gustav Holst. In that composition the composer deals with all of the planets… except for the Earth.
In Planet Earth I continue where Holst has stopped, not only in the figurative sense, but also in the literal. Whereas The Planets concludes with a six-part choir of female voices and a large orchestra, I use a similar strength at the beginning of my first part (entitled Lonely Planet) in the same vein. But that is where the similarity ends.’
Finally, 2010 has already been a busy and exciting year for you. Will we be expecting more new compositions / arrangements in the coming future?
I just finished a new work, called Wind Power, which will be premiered in October. I recently premiered to major works, the Overture Spring and “At Kitty O’Shea’s”, a large scale Irish Folk Song Suite. I am currently working on an arrangement of The Seville Suite by Bill Whelan [the composer of Riverdance].
After that I am commissioned to write a work for brass band and a euphonium concerto. I have already commissions lining up into 2013, so I am not afraid I will run out of work pretty soon!