Today’s orchestras are striving not only to present music of the highest caliber, but to embrace the communities they serve.
The anniversary of Earth Day in April of 2020, intersecting as it will, with a national debate about the environment, provides an orchestra with a central theme around which to focus programming that will interest and attract audiences drawn to the idea of music as a reflection of the natural world and who seek inspiration from it.
In the 2019-2020 season, orchestras and other musical organizations can partner with Earth Day through Artists for the Earthtm, a global effort to engage artists, musicians, performers, playwrights and others.
Today, modern living composers all over the world are working on orchestral music that centers on the Environment and Climate Change.
Perhaps best identified with nature in music is composer John Luther Adams renowned for his many large orchestral compositions that focus on the natural world. He pulls his inspiration directly from the elements of the earth. He won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for his work Become Ocean, a piece about rising sea levels brought on by climate change, and several of his earlier works evoke the landscapes of his home in Alaska.
From Britain, Tony Biggin’sCry of the Earth is a choral/orchestral piece about climate change:
The Force of Things: An Opera for Objects by Composer American composer Ashley Fure was recently performed at Lincoln Center. In her program notes she says that her opera is “an immersive work of music theatre that wrestles with the animate vitality of matter and the mounting hum of ecological anxiety around us. The project is driven by a desire to turn our focus toward a rate of change (impossibly slow) and a scope of alteration (unthinkably vast) at odds with the scale of human life.”
The Chinese composer Tianyi Wang’s composition Under the Dome draws from his experiences growing up in China and points to the country’s problems with smog relaying a troubling environmental message.
The Icelandic composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir works with large sonic structures for orchestra that reveal the presence of a vast variety of sustained sound materials reflecting her sense of imaginative listening to landscapes and nature. Her music portrays a flowing world of sound. She says in her dissertation: Nature provides me with my greatest inspiration when it comes to writing music. Landscapes and various other portraits from nature have for a long time nurtured my creative imagination and they seem to have different ways of inspiring me for every new piece I write.
Mamoru Fujieda the Japanese minimalist composer spent 15 years creating music based on the electrical activity in living plants. He measured electrical fluctuation on the surface of plant leaves and converted that date into sound and found patterns which he used as the basis for his magnum opus Patterns of Plants.
Meredith Monk is a musician, dancer, singer, choreographer and filmmaker whose work has spanned the avant-guard for nearly half a century. Her multidisciplinary performance piece entitled On Behalf of Nature is a poetic meditation on the environment where humans coexist with the natural world.
The Climate Music Project seeks to make climate science personal. It combines composers, musicians, artists, and scientists to create “science-guided” music that inspires people to actively engage on the issue of climate change.
Climate Keys was started by composer and pianist Lola Perrin. It is a global initiative in response to climate change that began in 2017 around COP23. Their concerts feature a collaboration of musicians, scientists and actors. They have performed in 20 countries and will continue to do concerts around the world.
Luke Bedford’sSeven Angels is a modern chamber opera. The composer has said about his opera, “We (with librettist Glyn Maxwell) knew we wanted to use Paradise Lost as a template in some way and to bring out the issues of climate change and environmental destruction.” It was performed in 2017 at the Aspen Festival.
Vincent Ho, the Canadian composer wrote Arctic Symphony after visiting the Arctic in 2008. In the finale he aimed to bring together science and the elders of the Inuit culture because “Though their experiences and relationship with the Arctic came from differing perspective, they had a common concern for the region’s plights.” The symphony includes songs by the Inuit tribes and environmental sounds from the Arctic.
Tansy Davies is a British composer. She describes her work, Forest, as “an exploration of ideas about the relationship between humankind and nature, and a cry for a reprogramming of our attitudes toward other life-forms. It is a piece about finding a way of listening to the world around us; to a forest imagined in music, to hear what it might have to say about our current predicament as humans in a dramatically changing environment, as climate change becomes more and more apparent.” She believes that if we were able to listen to nature better, we might become more compassionate toward each other and toward the natural world.
Ben Mirin may not be strictly classifiable as a composer of orchestral music, however his music makes a veritable orchestra of nature. He is a sound artist, educator, and National Geographic Explorer who leads expeditions around the world recording animal sounds to advance scientific research and samples their voices to create music that inspires and educates future conservationists. He is the creator and host of the digital television series WILD BEATS on National Geographic Kids and Nat Geo Wild. He is a collaborator at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and was the first Artist in Residence at The Bronx Zoo.
In his TED TALK he said: “by giving into what I love nature and music nature and music – I’ve discovered something much bigger than myself that music and art can connect us all to the wild world and essentially turn conservation into an international language that anyone can understand… After all the whole world is singing, we might as well tune in.
Rayuichi Sakamoto the Japanese composer is known for his large scores for movies like The Last Emperor, The Revenant and The Sheltering Sky, but he is also an environmental activist. In Out of Noise, he used the sound of glaciers, icebergs and sea sounds that he had recorded in the Arctic.
Christopher Tin’s classical crossover album, The Drop That Contained the Sea, is about the melting Antarctic ice sheets and rising ocean levels. He says, “Water is literally going to shape the way we draw our maps.”
Andrea Breen is an Australian composer who strives to bring awareness to audiences about climate change. She performed Adrift at the Bay of Fires Winter Arts Festival in 2018 and in Tasmania. http://www.andreabreen.com/
Austin Fray and Andrew Christie wrote Symphony for Our World for a live orchestra and choir to accompany the National Geographic film which is a journey through the wildlife spectacles of their natural history footage.
Matthew Aucoin, an American composer, director and pianist was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago to write an opera for children that he entitled Second Nature. It is a story about a post-apocalyptic society that has been forced to live in a hermetically sealed shelter called The Habitat to protect them from the effects of global warming. It premiered at the Lincoln Park Zoo in 2015.
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The following are some ideas for programming for orchestras and other musical groups and links to modern classical music being done around the globe.