What are airy orchestral music
Claudio Abbado has created a green refuge for himself on the west coast of Sardinia in more than four decades. Like Italo Calvino's Baron on the trees, the conductor lives in his vacation home in the treetops, somewhere between heaven and earth. Green wooden walkways lead him high up through a thicket of colorful hibiscus bushes, stately palm trees, fragrant herbs and sweeping banana trees. Whenever he interrupts his score study for a moment, he prefers to go out into the garden. In the midst of the plants, the music suddenly sounds in his mind, he says.
In order to protect a nearby stretch of coast, Abbado had 9,000 plants planted there, which multiplied rapidly. As a “green fee” for his planned return to La Scala in Milan, he recently asked for 90,000 new trees to improve the climate in the industrial metropolis, which is burdened by smog. The project planned together with the architect Renzo Piano remained a utopia, and Abbado, who was music director of the opera house for 18 years, had to cancel his performances for health reasons. In Germany, however, musicians have themselves launched sustainability initiatives that pursue similar goals.
In June 2010, several members of the Staatskapelle Berlin presented the so far unique climate protection initiative “Orchestra of Change”, which is to be secured in the long term by the “NaturTon Foundation”. The musicians brought the foundation capital together from their private assets. The initiators want to promote environmentally friendly behavior within the Staatskapelle and support climate protection projects all over the world in close cooperation with the “World Wildlife Fund” (WWF). At the same time, the initiative sees itself as a public platform on which other orchestras, ensembles, soloists and music managers can present their own environmental projects and network with one another.
“With a lot of persuasion we managed to get all of our colleagues behind us,” says horn player Markus Bruggaier. The Staatskapelle agreed to give an additional benefit concert once a year. Its general music director Daniel Barenboim took over the patronage of the “Orchestra of Change”. At the first “Climate Concert” on January 16, 2011, Zubin Mehta will be at the podium in the State Opera in the Schillertheater. The entire proceeds will go to a WWF forest protection program in India. The “hard core” of the initiative has been interested in environmental protection from an early age. Some musicians then experienced the birth of their own children as an important turning point that moved them to take concrete action. “I don't want my son to have to ask me later why I didn't do anything about the destruction of the environment,” says the horn player Sebastian Posch, who is also a member of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which Abbado co-founded.
The artists hope to be able to sensitize the audience to climate protection through their music. Many people are probably on the verge of getting involved in such goals, but they still need a final push, they say. Donors can “fertilize” a “founder tree” shown on the website with their donations and watch how branches and leaves gradually grow.
"We now have the chance to bring this otherwise quite stressful topic to a completely different stage," says violinist Milan Ritsch. He hopes that this approach will result in interesting program cycles that reflect the relationship between humans and nature. He wishes that this idea could also be conveyed to other German cities and even abroad on tours. Other orchestras would also have the opportunity to take part in the cycles. To accompany the first climate concert, the “Denkwerk Zukunft” foundation will also hold a conference on the subject of consumer society and sustainability. “We believe in the snowball effect of our projects”, says the flautist Simone van der Velde.
In the everyday life of the Staatskapelle, the foundation wants to ensure that the musicians pay voluntary CO2 taxes on unavoidable air travel. Consideration is also being given to the use of recycled paper in orchestra administration, the linking of admission tickets and local transport passes, and the environmentally friendly renovation of the temporarily abandoned Unter den Linden opera house.
Another central concern of the “NaturTon Foundation” wants to support the sustainable use of wood for the construction of instruments. In Madagascar, 600 cubic meters of rosewood are fetched from the national parks every day, reports Bruggaier. The instrument makers have long been aware of the overexploitation of natural resources, he says. Bruggaier and his colleagues are now looking for partner orchestras to jointly initiate sustainable projects. As a counterweight to their international commitment to climate protection, the musicians are also planning projects with a specific reference to Berlin. Donors should be able to follow up close what their money is used for. The oboist Fabian Schäfer has the idea of planting a magical forest inspired by Wagner's Parsifal on a wasteland. On the premises, children should get to know nature and the world of opera in a playful way. Other generations could also be involved, says Schäfer. He imagines that former employees of the State Opera will bring the children closer to their personal cultural experiences.
While the members of the Staatskapelle launched the first climate protection project at orchestral level, individual artists came together at Ulrichshusen Castle in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for a concert for sustainability at the end of August. As a supporter of his initiative “Do something!” the violinist Daniel Hope won the bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, the trumpeter Till Brönner, the clarinetist David Orlowsky, the pianist Sebastian Knauer and the NDR Bigband. Federal Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen took over the patronage for the event, which was sponsored by the “Rainforest Project” of the British Prince Charles.
Already during the preparations, attention was paid to climate-conscious behavior. To reduce CO2 emissions, many employees came to work by bike. The NDR Bigband arrived in an environmentally friendly bus. A shuttle service was available to visitors to the concert, which took place as part of the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Festival. When it came to catering, the organizers made sure that regional products and vegetarian foods were offered. LED lamps provided light in an environmentally friendly way, and the programs were printed on recycled paper. "We artists reach a lot of people and can encourage them to do something about climate protection personally," says Daniel Hope. "But of course we also want to set an example ourselves."
At the start of the 2010/11 season, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and their chief conductor Jeffrey Tate also presented their own environmental project in September. As the “European Green Capital 2011”, the Elbe metropolis must credibly demonstrate its commitment to nature conservation. The Israeli-born director and composer Daniel Landau created a video installation with landscapes for Olivier Messiaen's work Des canyons aux étoiles, which premiered in the Laeiszhalle. As Landau explained, his film, projected on three screens, deals with the relationship between humans and nature and sees itself as a “polyphonic counterpart” to the orchestral piece. At the beginning of 2012, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra intends to present the video installation on their US tour in the Lincoln Center in New York and in other American cities.
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