Concerts are green

I’ve long been a big fan of Pliable’s blog, On an Overgrown Path, but I was saddened to read his post today- “How Green Was My Concert?” 

Pliable asks if 

“shouldn’t we be more concerned about the greenhouse gases that are produced by a season like the 2007 BBC Proms?”  

He makes a couple of valid points, particularly about the value of having touring orchestras stay in town for more than one concert at a time. Certainly, the opportunity to present a number of concerts by a visiting orchestra benefits the audience the touring orchestra and the musical community. Everyone gets to know each other better, whether it is the audience and critics learning the breadth of strengths of the visiting orchestra or the orchestra getting to know the acoustics of the venue. However, I do respectfully disagree with Pliable’s notion that we somehow ought to be limiting international orchestra touring in the name of limiting climate change. 

The fact is, the Proms is part of the solution to the world’s problems. It is one of the most powerful agents of cultural exchange and enlightenment in the world today, a place where musicians and music lovers from all over the world come together in a vibrant environment, and is the most important example of high art as a vital, popular and relevant part of society anywhere in the world. Whatever it’s flaws, there is no other music festival on earth, in fact, no other cultural event on earth, that offers the standard of excellence, the accessibility to people from all economic backgrounds, the breadth of repertoire or the sheer fun in high art that the Proms does. 

The lunacy of the US government’s position on global warming could only be sustained in a world where there is an insufficient amount of cultural exchange and a low level of public discourse. There was once a time, when great nations remembered enough of the horrors of the world wars, when cultural exchange and dialogue was considered a vital part of making a sane and safe world for our children. Orchestral touring was not considered a vanity project for millionaire managers and conductors, but a central part of an international effort to foster understanding among nations and peoples. 

It’s popular, even a national pastime, here in Britain among music lovers to complain about the Proms, but as someone who grew up in a much larger country that has never been able to create a cultural institution like the Proms, I find it singularly upsetting. All this kind of perennial bellyaching does is give more ammunition to the hatchet men who would defund the BBC’s cultural programming altogether. Look at how music criticism has just disappeared from the American newspaper in two weeks. These institutions, which affect the lives of millions, are vulnerable. Record companies disappear, newspapers cease to be relevant, orchestras fold, festivals stop.  Please, Proms-bashers, consider shutting up. Please. Don’t slit music’s throat. Leave the “I love you so much I have to kill you plot” for the opera, not the press. 

The fact is that the carbon emissions of all the traveling orchestras appearing at the Proms in any year is only the tiniest fraction of the emissions of the millions of tourists coming to London each summer to see the great city, and go to the Proms. The carbon footprint of all the Proms musicians and attendees is only the tiniest fraction of what a single major rock tour generates over a summer. How about the FA Cup, the NBA, the NFL? Cancel the Olympics first, and we’ll talk. 

Daniel Wolff, over at Renewable Music, writes in his concurring opinion that 

“it’s not about ending tours or guest conducting gigs, but rather limiting both to a reasonable, and artistically defensible number in a time when information can travel cheaply, but flying an orchestra is an extravagance.”  

I would contend that we are already at that limit. Universities are having fewer guest speakers and lecturers, chamber music series are folding or cutting back. Recitals are a rarity. Letting Tiger Woods fly to golf tournaments on a private jet is an extravagance. Sending the Boston Symphony to the Proms is important for Boston, important for London and important for the health and development of the music world.

If society is serious about global warming, the single biggest step all nations could take is to build rail networks that people can use. If Britain wants to be world leader in reducing climate change, it should triple the number of scheduled rail services and cut all rail fares by three-quarters. Global warming is a huge problem- governments need to go after the huge polluters, not demolish the tools of global enlightenment that could help us build a saner society. 

I would contend that we are already at that limit. Universities are having fewer guest speakers and lecturers, chamber music series are folding or cutting back. Recitals are a rarity. Letting Tiger Woods fly to golf tournaments on a private jet is an extravagance. Sending the Boston Symphony to the Proms is important for Boston, important for London and important for the health and development of the music world. 

If society is serious about global warming, the single biggest step all nations could take is to build rail networks that people can use. If Britain wants to be world leader in reducing climate change, it should triple the number of scheduled rail services and cut all rail fares by three-quarters. Global warming is a huge problem- governments need to go after the huge polluters, not demolish the tools of global enlightenment that could help us build a saner society.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Spread the word. Share this post!

About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

5 comments on “Concerts are green”

  1. Rebecca

    Excellent response. I too had trouble with the idea that decreasing the amount of international guests is the right idea. true, it would probably reduce the carbon footprint, but at the expense of the cultural footprint, as you point out. whiile i do believe few are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for real action on climate change, i don’t think this is one of those sacrifices and would only feed the climate change naysayers (many of whom have cultural obliteration on their agendas).

    ALL that said, I’m sure there are ways proms could be greener (or any festival, orchestra, etc. for that matter) and we should be promoting that. consolidating touring schedules is a great place to start. private transportation for soloists needs to be examined. the materials for publicity and programs need to be recycled/post-consumer. i’d advocate cutting down on excess in general. aren’t we there for the music in the first place?

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Rebecca-

    I agree with you that were we can be greener, we should be, but we need to keep an eye on the big picture.

    Thanks for reading

    Ken

  3. Kenneth Woods

    I should have mentioned that in Daniel Wolff’s post he makes some great points about the value of local performers and the roll of local organizations in fostering new music and innovative program. I just don’t want us to look at things as always being a zero sum game. DO read his post.

    KW

  4. Anna

    musicians must go where the work is. everyone suffers if they stay at home. Robin travels all over the world and we are very aware of the carbon footprint he is leaving. We do our best to counter balance that effect when he is home, recycle, walk instead of using the car when possible, etc. He also supports and provides publicity for the brazilian rainforest, all in an attempt to redress the balance.
    At the end of the day, he has to work, we need to eat, so you go where you need to. (maybe if the uk was more prepared to book home grown musicians he wouldn’t need to travel as much…)
    the benefits for society of seeing any concert and different musicians far outway any damage done to the environment. As you said, what about plane loads of football fans….

  5. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Anna

    You make a good point, which is that most musicians are pretty green by nature. We live in the center of town and I usually only use the car for gigs- shopping, going out for meals, all that is done on foot.
    Besides, I think most people will tend to act responsibly once they understand the issues. Our problem now is that not enough people do understand what’s going on in all sorts of ways. Dismantling tools of enlightenment doesn’t seem the way to improve that.
    So nice to hear from you. THanks for writing

    Ken

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *