How green is your orchestra?

How green is your orchestra?


norman lebrecht

January 05, 2011

The January issue of the German magazine Das Orchester is dedicated to environmental awareness. It reports healthy progress on many fronts.

The Schleswig Holstein Music Festival has introduced reusable lunch plates. The Leiszhalle in Hamburg has replaced its lighting system. The Grafenegg festival runs bus shuttles. 

Players in Daniel Barenboim’s Berlin Staaskepelle have set up a group called NaturTon to raise awareness among musicians and audiences of the damage they are doing to the planet.

The British music industry is praised for forging ahead with Julie’s Bicycle, a cross-arts initiative chaired by ex-EMI boss Tony Wadsworth on how to make the arts less pollutant.

There is, of course, an elephant in the room. It is called orchestral touring. If orchestras like the Staatskapelle stopped jumping on planes at the drop of a fat cheque, they would save large chunks of the ozone layer and be able to play with clean consciences. It’s not as if they tour for a living. Most orchestra players are paid salaries whether they play or not, fly or stay home. 
Flying orchestras is wasteful and wrong. Most musicians know that and many would like to do something about it.
Audiences can help. Support your local orchestra. Don’t buy tickets to orchestras on tour. Spread the word. Stop classical pollution.


  • AVI says:

    I guess the major counter to that is simply to ask if the result of orchestras ceasing to tour would be worse. IE would audiences tour instead, and would that mean more flights (etc.) to fill a hall in Berlin with a London audience, rather than bringing the Berlin Phil to London?
    You also start to allow ‘local’ orchestras to get set in their ways, and quality to start to dwindle; there would be less competition, and less awareness in an audience body as to what ‘their’ orchestra could be like… as quality falls off locally, audiences probably decrease, and it’s hard to get them back again. Having quality orchestras tour in even just for comparison helps keep the audience numbers up and keep them interested (“Hey, we could hear XXX playing YYY tonight!” rather than “oh, the usual lot are dragging their heels through YYY… again… tonight”) perhaps, and that is possibly worth it?
    Not to mention those orchestras which tour to the Middle East where there aren’t any (?) permanent orchestras of repute. These trips help subsidise orchestras over here, and introduce new audiences to the repertoire and orchestral concept, helping keep the whole thing alive. Is that good, or not good enough?
    The other way of orchestras being greener is simply to have fewer orchestras, particularly in towns and cities where there are several. But I can’t see that being a very popular move. . .

  • Gareth Davies says:

    How was your book tour of the US Norman?! Should we only be buying downloads of your books to save trees too 😉
    NL replies: Glad to see the point struck home, Gareth. Hope to see an improvement in LSO emissions (will check site for details). On my Why Mahler? book tours, I use trains where possible (as he did) – and I’m only one passenger, not 100.

  • Gerard Gibbs says:

    I wouldn’t feel so guilty about buying a ‘dead tree edition’ of anything if I were you.
    Just think of all the ‘dirty coal’ it takes to generate the electricty for uninterrupted hours of interenet browsing.
    One could always forsake it all and live naked in a cave eating cold mushrooms and beating rocks together. The ultimate NaturTon.

  • There are interesting points being made here and elsewhere in response to Norman’s piece that cover “local” orchestral playing being improved by exposure to touring major orchestras, as well as major orchestral playing becoming somehow homogenized and standardized, rendered less interesting and stimulating (albeit at a high standard) by the same process.
    However, the environmental argument is not as simple as implied in the article, is it? The argument that air travel at its current level has a damaging effect on the environment is not the same thing as saying that air travel at any level is always damaging to the environment. There would be a level of air travel that would be sustainable. So, the question surely has to be framed along the lines of: “who should be permitted to travel?”. This might ultimately be regulated by price, meaning that only the wealthy would be able to travel in this way. However, one might also legitimately ask whether cultural exchanges – including the touring of major artistic organizations from time to time – would not be a beneficial use of air travel for which society should make provision.
    The environmental argument is not all or nothing. It is not about stopping all air travel – indeed not about stopping all carbon-based travel. It’s about who gets to use these facilities, and how we measure the real value to us all of what use is made of them.

  • DaveB says:

    I hate to be difficult but depletion of the ozone layer is linked to the use of chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs), not to air travel.
    The pertinent argument is that burning fossil-derived fuels tends to make the atmosphere warmer. This is exacerbated in the case of air travel because the CO2 is – obviously – emitted high in the atmosphere. (Search for e.g. “Radiative Forcing Index”.)
    Don’t buy tickets to orchestras on tour. Spread the word.
    What misanthropic tosh.

  • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

    Have you read the classic interviews of Brodsky by Volkov? Every time Volkov got out of his league, Brodsky would start with “You know Solomon…”.
    Well you know, between snowball fights, may I suggest the following read to which I was a coordinator: Dr. Marcel Leroux, Dynamic Analysis of Weather and Climate Atmospheric Circulation, Perturbations, Climatic Evolution, Springer-Praxis books in Environmental Sciences, 2nd ed., 2010, 440 p., ISBN: 978-3-642-04679-7
    NL replies: I know when I’m beat…. but you would agree, surely, Dr Marc, that the less we fly the better it is for the universe?

  • At least the ‘tools of the trade’ are generally recycled, and emissions from normal work activities are less than harmful…that is unless you sit in front of the trumpet section.

  • M.Etzel says:

    The problem of our world is not going to be resolved by stopping touring orchestras from flying. The problem is overpopulation and nobody is doing anything about it.