2020 was an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) year. It began with raging wildfires in Australia, a stark embodiment of the impending catastrophe of human-made climate change. This was followed by a once-in-a-century (hopefully) global pandemic that would cause the death of millions around the world, as well as untold social disruption, as millions upon millions of people were forced to stay at home, lost work, and adjusted to lives of mask-wearing and isolation. In the United States, the summer brought an unprecedented outpouring of protest over the country’s dark legacy of racism as manifested most vividly in the brutal police murder of George Floyd. The year culminated in a shocking first: the refusal of an American president to concede his election loss, as he and his allies disseminated a toxic stew of lies and conspiracy theories that tens of millions of Americans believed – and, on January 6th, 2021, acted on, in the violent storming of the U.S. capitol, an unprecedented attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. There were moments of hope as well. The outpouring of demands for racial justice was notable in the breadth and depth of its support across society. The coronavirus pandemic laid bare the deep inequalities in society – and created hope that there could finally be the political will to address them. Covid vaccines were developed at a whirlwind speed, and scientists, healthcare workers, and public health officials displayed bravery and dedication that are an inspiration to all of us.
It’s a lot to process. No doubt social scientists, historians, public health officials, psychologists, artists, and all the rest of us will be reflecting on and learning from the events of 2020 for years, if not decades to come. A Requiem for 2020 is one early attempt at this processing. The work has no specific narrative, but taps into the swirl of emotions that dominated 2020 – fear, anxiety, sorrow, loneliness, rage – and slivers of hope. It is meant both to evoke the churning events and emotions of the year, and also to offer some space to grieve, reflect, remember, and find solace – hence the “requiem” in the title.
The work was composed for the Boston-based bass clarinet ensemble “Improbable Beasts” and premiered virtually at ClarinetFest 2021.