What with everything that’s going on, you can be forgiven if you missed World Environment Day last Friday. While helicopters were circling our local airspace (as we now realise, we’re rather close to the new US Embassy) I was trying to keep up with Beethoven Pastoral Project, a livestream from Germany celebrating both the composer and the environment, via his 6th Symphony. Since we’ve been deprived of the expected year of Beethoven 250th anniversary celebrations, it was pleasant to tele-witness some live performances happening in actual concert spaces. Someone had been busy arranging the Pastoral Symphony for string sextet, and, performed by a group from the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (seated slightly apart from each other, but not massively so) it sounded pretty good, even with most of the instruments missing and ‘copters intermittently revving above.
I was a launch signatory to Pastoral Project’s Artists Declaration about climate change – please join me if you wish, and do the same here. Of course, when signing such things I always wonder if anything will happen as a result. But just as I was thinking that thing, a statement flashed onscreen from singer Juliet Fraser, who had declared that she was going to limit herself to ten flights in a single year, and that all her musical employers would have to work round that proviso together. (I’m not sure whether a return journey here counts as two flights, like a pair of NHS rubber gloves à la Matt Hancock. But even ten annual return flights is, or was, a comparatively small number for a busy musician.)
It immediately struck me that this is where professional music and the environment coincide as an issue. All that touring via air travel, especially by orchestras. In the final fortnight of the Proms, which of course won’t happen like this in the current year, the schedule is generally full of orchestras from around the world. These days, with homogenised playing styles, international personnel and interchangeable conductors, do they really sound or behave all that differently from each other? I fear that it has become a mark of musical eminence to be always in a plane on your way to a faraway concert. For all sorts of reasons, I am very curious to see what happens to the orchestral scene in the times to come.