– Written by John Warner, Founder & Artistic Director at Orchestra for the Earth, August 2019
For the 2019 Creative Green Awards, Orchestra for the Earth‘s principal cellist, Saran Davies, was asked to perform during the drinks reception, welcoming excited guests from the creative sector with a tailored programme of classical music, which was congratulated as ‘incredibly moving’ and warmly received. We found the event genuinely inspiring and are in awe of what Julie’s Bicycle and the broader Creative Green community have achieved. The following day, our team set off on our Alpine Tour: to open a new nature reserve in Austria which we’ve funded from donations at our concerts in the region over the last three years.
Every summer, Orchestra for the Earth piles into a coach in London packed full of our instruments, swimming gear, and hiking shoes. For the next 24 hours, this coach is our home. Although it’s a slow means of travel, it has about half the carbon footprint of flying and none of the complications surrounding safely transporting valuable musical instruments. For the next ten days after that, our homes are a collection of towns in the Czech Republic, Austria, and Italy, beautifully situated in and around the Alps. Over the centuries, this glorious mountain range has played muse to many of Europe’s greatest artists, writers, and composers: Gustav Klimt, J.M.W. Turner, William Wordsworth, Richard Strauss, and — the focus of our Alpine Tour — the composer Gustav Mahler.
Serenading the Alps
The project has two main objectives. The first, an artistic one, is to perform Mahler’s remarkable music—which bristles with the sounds and feelings of nature—among the stunning mountains and lakes that inspired it. He built three ‘composing huts’ throughout his career, all situated in remote areas of the Alps, which afforded him the peace and quiet he needed to write. When not working, he spent many hours swimming in the lakes and hiking mountain trails. We do the same between our concerts. The sense of Mahler’s music is all around, from the tinkling of distant cowbells (which appear literally in the Sixth and Seventh symphonies) to a deeper feeling of peace with one’s surroundings: ‘I am lost to the world’, as his most famous song puts it. To this day it remains a deeply inspiring place to make music.
We were the first, and remain the only, group of musicians to tour these three historically important locations, and each year we vary our concert schedule to include other significant places. This year, we performed a concert to a packed audience in the house where Mahler was born in the rural Czech town of Kaliště. Even in 2019, Kaliště has a population that barely exceeds 300. The house is still a functioning pub, as it was in Mahler’s day, but with part of the downstairs converted into a lovely little chamber hall. Every year, the owners plant a rose in Mahler’s name, and this year we had the honour of taking part in the ceremony, with a short open-air performance.
Music to inspire stewardship
Our second objective, closely related to the first, is to use these concerts as platforms to inspire a wide range of audiences to value and protect the natural world. Alpine landscapes and ecosystems are under threat from climate change and habitat destruction, with the numbers of endangered species on the rise and glaciers melting at an alarming rate. Our tour concerts have raised funds to open a new nature reserve in Austria, the ‘Gustav Mahler Field of Flowers’. The reserve, located near the town of Steinbach am Attersee where Mahler lived and composed, plays a part in protecting this unique area of natural beauty and biodiversity, and our future tours will continue to support it.
It’s a chance for music to give back to nature in a place where nature has given so much to music.
Our Environmental Mission
The tour is based on OFE’s foundational belief that music can provide a fresh approach to engaging people with the environmental movement, and as such it represents our mission as a whole. Throughout the rest of the year we perform a series of environmentally focused concerts that combine music with talks, films, art and photography exhibitions, and more, to inspire new audiences to act against climate change.
Music has a long track-record of making people feel and think, and this is exactly what is required to tackle the climate crisis. To protect something, you need to have an understanding of it, and, more importantly, you need to love it. Music can be a very effective educational platform, and it expresses and inspires a love of nature in a uniquely powerful way. It has the capacity to be a vital tool in moving hearts and minds to avert ecological catastrophe.
Our events have something for everyone, and a major benefit of our environmental emphasis is that it makes classical music more accessible to a wider public — something the industry desperately needs. We also run a ‘Tickets for Trees’ scheme, whereby for every ticket we sell, we plant a tree with the Eden Reforestation Projects. I’d encourage anyone and everyone to try out one of our events: at the very least, you’ll plant a tree. Our unique mission leads us to perform in non-traditional venues (such as in the Eden Project’s Mediterranean Biome this September), in unusual and engaging contexts (such as our annual candlelit concert for Earth Hour with WWF), and alongside inspiring speakers (such as Caroline Lucas MP this November). All of this helps to break down barriers for newcomers to this glorious music, at the same time as putting the need to protect our environment at the forefront.
Find out more at: www.orchestrafortheearth.co.uk
– Photo credit: Banner image – Max Verdoes; below image – Orchestra for the Earth