Orchestras Live Chair, Tony Stoller, gives his reflections on chairing the panel of 2020 Vision: A Carbon-Free Future at the recent Association of British Orchestras (ABO) conference.
Amid all our concerns about the impact of climate change and global warming, there have been some green shoots in the orchestral sector in recent weeks. Classical Music magazine reports a bold initiative by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment who have decided to enter an era of ‘green touring’ as part of their commitment to becoming carbon neutral.
I recently had the pleasure of chairing a session at the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) conference in Manchester, specifically devoted to discussing a Carbon-Free Culture. I thought it was a really encouraging occasion. First of all, although we were only a breakout session, the Victoria Wood room in Halle St Peter’s was absolutely packed, with people even standing at the back.
And it was worth their time. Four terrific speakers gave us all hope that we can achieve progress in this area in the sector, despite its challenges. Teemu Kirjonen from Finland’s Sinfonia Lahti told us how he managed a carbon-neutral orchestra, which was an integral part of his eponymous Finnish town. Rosa Corbishley explained how Bristol Music Trust has made a commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030, and explained how that underpins the current refurbishment and transformation of Colston Hall in Bristol.
John Warner’s Orchestra for the Earth has already signed up to Music Declares Emergency, in company with Opera North. He also showed what can actually be done, within the context of a touring orchestra, even to the extent of costing out how individual ticket buyers can offset any carbon costs by purchasing trees for a few pence. And Chiara Badiali, from Julie’s Bicycle, restated the principles of the Green Orchestras Guide, which was launched in 2010 and is just as relevant today.
What did I take from it all? Well, first of all, that it is necessary to embed attending to environmental impact in all aspects of cultural practice. It can’t be an add-on. It has to run through everything like the letters in the stick of seaside rock.
I was particularly struck by hearing that, tours by plane probably aside, the main carbon impact of an orchestral concert is that expended by people travelling to the event. Orchestras Live has consistently worked to develop orchestral activities within individual localities and for local communities. There are many good reasons for doing that, but here is another compelling one.
There is obviously great value in meetings such as the ABO conference where those who are actually doing the work on the ground can swap ideas, and recount their own experiences. Should we formalise that, and provide a structure in which we can tackle the burning questions of the impact of climate change, and our contribution to alleviating that? That could be an ABO initiative, or it might be good to join with the promoters and others in the sector so that we have a genuine, joined-up response to the challenge.
The Music Declares Emergency group has already issued its challenge that there can be “no music on a dead planet”. Perhaps the most significant thing to be learned from our session at the conference and a growing number of individual initiatives, is that there is a wide acceptance of the existence of a climate emergency, and a wish in all parts of society to do what we can about it. I have no doubt that the orchestral sector ‘gets it’. How can we now translate that into action?