Every OFE performance has a positive environmental impact.
Yours can too.
As musicians, we must adapt to work more sustainably. Here we share our approach to environmentally positive music-making, plus further resources to help and inspire you.
Green Performance: Ideas from
John Warner, Artistic Director
Anyone who has experienced a thunderstorm or a sunset understands that nature taps into the same primal emotions as music does. It is no coincidence that composers from Mozart to Mahler escaped their busy urban lives to compose in the surroundings of the countryside. The beauty, complexity and wonder of the natural world provided a well of inspiration and stimulation for them to write their greatest music. That’s why I believe that almost all music (not just Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) has deep links to nature.
This makes music the perfect tool for communicating about the most pressing issue of our time. It gives us the power to inspire strong emotions, bring people together and motivate them to act in a way newspaper articles and podcasts can’t. The solutions to climate change lie cultural change, and that is where we can make a genuine difference.
How to put this into practice? Collaborate. Using nature as a springboard for programming opens up a host of exciting venues, speakers and artists to work with to create the classical music events of the 21st century. We have teamed up with a range of charities—big and small, local and multinational—to use our concerts to promote their message, engaging and inspiring support from audiences they may never have reached. We have hosted scientists, authors and activists, creating tailor-made musical programmes that bring their topics to life. Ultimately, it’s about speaking to audiences’ hearts as well as their minds. Our venues have included the Eden Project’s giant greenhouses, the Houses of Parliament and Alpine mountainsides, allowing us to reach people who may otherwise not have set foot in a conventional concert hall. The scope for commissioning new music that speaks to modern audiences about their deepest loves and fears is also huge.
Concerts are also meeting places, forums for sharing ideas and bonding over what we have in common as human beings. This is a precious resource in an increasingly politicised, social-media-saturated world. The days of stuffy performances where audience and performer never interact are gone. Our concerts have proven to be catalysts for environmental projects, such as a new nature reserve in Austria we have set up with audience members there. The appetite for environmental action worldwide is ripe and music can prove the perfect way to trigger that into action.
So much of the climate crisis is related to a communication crisis: but it as much about reaching people’s emotions as it is about getting across the facts, and that is where music has a vital role to play. At OFE we hold no monopoly on this, and I am thrilled to see orchestras and musicians the world over starting to raise their voices for our shared home.
We've partnered with Eden Reforestation Projects to plant a tree for every OFE ticket sold. This is not about offsetting our emissions or environmental footprint. It's simply about adding to the good our performances achieve.
Eden collaborates directly with local communities to recreate healthy forest systems in countries where deforestation has caused extensive damage to natural ecosystems and exacerbated extreme poverty among forest-dependent human communities. These new forest systems purify water sources, control flooding and erosion, replenish soil with nutrients needed for farming, and restore wildlife habitats.
Giving back: tickets for trees
Touring is one of the most powerful ways we can spread our message, work with communities abroad, and reach a wide variety of audiences. But it also comes with the potential for huge carbon emissions, so from our very first tour we have been committed to pioneering a sustainable approach to touring that we hope will form part of a broader cultural shift. We believe these methods not only minimises our impact on the planet but actively improve and enrich the tours themselves.
One of the simplest ways we do this is by touring with a small orchestra of around 25 players, often less. This immediately eliminates per-capita emissions. Far from being an artistic compromise, this allows us to perform in small, regional venues that are usually situated in remote areas of outstanding natural beauty. Such places often play host to composers, but rarely to orchestras playing their music. For projects requiring larger numbers, we love teaming up with local orchestras, creating a hugely beneficial cultural exchange. We also don't bring our own crew or technical equipment, but prefer instead to work with local technicians and stage managers.
The carbon impact of air travel so far exceeds equivalents by land and sea that its use is unjustifiable, no matter how high quality our international concerts and conservation projects are. Besides, Europe has an outstanding network of railways and roads that come with none of the logistical complications of getting instruments like timpani and double basses onto an airplane. Travel by train and coach is also sociable, relaxing, and affords us the chance to see the landscapes we traverse much more than we could by air and reach locations far from the usual airport circuit.
We plan our routes with great care, keeping the overall geographical area small and eliminating unnecessary travel to ensure maximum efficiency. This creates a win-win because shorter travel times between venues are much less tiring for our musicians, allowing us to be on top form for every concert. We also frequently perform more than one programme in each location and engage in our various environmental and community projects, making the most of our visit.
Julie's Bicycle is a non-profit supporting cultural organisations to take climate action. Discover their many excellent resources here: https://juliesbicycle.com/
Music Declares Emergency unites musicians calling for climate action. They have produced a climate pack advising all areas of the music industry on sustainable practice: https://www.musicdeclares.net/gb/
The Smithsonian has published contributions to its 2021 Symposium on the interaction between cultural organisations and climate change: take a look here.
Others Taking Action
Lahti Symphony Orchestra launched a mission to become carbon neutral in 2018. Find out about their process here: sinfonialahti.fi/carbon-free-lahti-symphony-orchestra/?lang=en
Fretwork have adopted a flight-free travel policy: https://www.fretwork.co.uk/sustainability
Orchestra for the Age of Enlightenment's musicians have voted to tour by train: https://www.thestrad.com/news/orchestra-of-the-age-of-enlightenment-refuse-to-tour-by-plane/10255.article
Opera North has developed a wide-ranging sustainability policy spanning everything from operations to partnerships: https://www.operanorth.co.uk/about-us/sustainability/