Breaking ranks: Composer tells orchestras to stop flying

Breaking ranks: Composer tells orchestras to stop flying


norman lebrecht

October 02, 2021

Fabien Lévy, a French composer based in Berlin, has greatly enjoyed the carousel of world orchestras playing in the city.

But he has suddenly realised the cost to the planet. The flying has to stop.

Fabien writes in VAN magazine:

… I’m finding it less and less enjoyable to go and listen to Beethoven, Bruckner or Prokoviev interpreted by these internationally-touring orchestras when I realize that at least 80 people took a plane for a single concert; particularly when I know that I can listen to a similar interpretation of the same piece by a more local orchestra. I then measure the egoism of this pleasure–though I love to hear these pieces live!–against the future of my children, my students, and an entire generation that will face dramatic shifts and difficulties. I consider the tribulations of all those people around the world, from Bangladesh to Kenya to Florida, where people are already suffering acutely from climate change. Going to concerts by touring orchestras becomes a self-serving and irresponsible pleasure, like driving a SUV in the city, flying to Barcelona for the weekend (or rocketing into orbit on SpaceX), making money in non-sustainable industries, or buying non-fair-trade clothes and meat from carbon-intensive livestock farms: since I can pay, I can blindly enjoy.

Could there have been other possibilities to limit the extensive air travel of entire orchestras? Take the example of Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra. What if he had asked the original performer, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, to play Adámek’s piece again in Germany and Switzerland, instead of the LSO? What if the European tours of the LSO could be grouped together, eliminating the need for separate trips from London and back?…

Read on here. 




  • Nick says:

    “Climate change” (- modernized version from “climate warming”) is an unscientific fairy tale for morons, debunked by many serious and respectable scientists all over the world numerous times. The problem is that this political nonsense affects very negatively the development of the arts. And this is where the problem is. People are entitled to hear the best soloists, ensembles and orchestra all over the world and flying is by far the most convenient fast and practical way to deliver high quality art to interested people all over the world. Mr. Levy is a crazy, radical leftist who does not understand the importance of the high quality music made accessible to all interested parties.

    • John Borstlap says:

      If the planet dies, it is because of that mentality and ignorance.

    • George Neidorf says:

      You can call it what you will, the climate is changing. It’s hotter everywhere than it was 10 yrs. ago. The cause is debatable, the effect is not.

      • Hayne says:

        So THAT’S why around 30% of grapes in Bordeaux and 50% of grapes in Burgundy froze this spring.
        Good to know:)

        • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

          Well, the warming planet is going to disrupt the Atlantic gulf stream that keeps the British Isles from getting really, really cold in the winter, so there’ll be even more freezing soon

    • PeterB says:

      That’s not where the problem is. The problem is where you are: at the deadly crossroads of stupidity, ignorance and arrogance. Luckily the fast track to your total irrelevance is just around the corner.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      While I agree with your second and main point, Nick, climate change is a fact. Real scientists who study extracted ice cores from Antarctica – as well as those who study the many layers of strata to the earth’s crust – know that the world is constantly in a state of climate change. The debatable question is just how much pollution and other forms of interference from humans, accelerates that rate of change. Many of them have crunched what numbers they do have, and do believe that human intervention is contributing. Just how much so is difficult to pin down. Since some scientists like to deal with absolutes – the very antitheses to the scientific process itself – it’s easier for them to simply deny climate change. I believe those scientists are now the minority.

    • Another orchestral musician says:

      “Climate change is an unscientific fairy tale” LOL the nerve of some people.

  • Piano Lover says:

    Best is to listen to music on Youtube.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Apart from finding Adamek’s piece ‘wonderful’, the man is right, in general.

    The idea of orchestras ‘competing’ is, with all due respect, idiotic. It keeps the misunderstanding alive that the music is there for the performers and not the other way around. Orchestras are there to serve the music, to keep the tradition intact, to create uplifting experiences for audiences. So, touring should simply be cancelled, or reduced to an absolute minimum. Classical music should return to pre-plane: being very local and cultivating local character and connections with the communities around them.

    • Ed says:

      That´s ok for Amsterdam, Brussels or Parisd. Not so good for Buenos Aires.

    • Julien says:

      This is absurd. I very much enjoy hearing other orchestral sound than the one of my home town orchestras (Paris), as much as I enjoy eating food from other countries. Variety is the salt of life. It’s not a competition (which would be silly).
      Air travel contribution to climate change is minimal – and virtue is boring.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I can see his point but if I had not been exposed to visits from the Halle, CBSO, LSO as a child I probably would not have fallen for classical music or indeed worked in the industry as local bands were amateur to say the least.

  • Bratsche Brat says:

    He’s right.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Tell Daniel Harding to stop flying!

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Oh yes yes …. and the LSO tour is but the tip of the pleasure-seeking iceberg!

    How should we gauge Music Directors embarking on cruises from Chicago all the way into the Bermuda Triangle? Such a sybaritic jaunt is the exemplar of an irresponsible, guilty pleasure!


  • Matthew Vine says:

    Uncomfortable, radical thought. Has struck home especially as travel and touring are pretty much the best thing about being a musician, to this writer at least and I am sure many (though one assumes not all) will agree.

  • V. Lind says:

    What if they (the LSO) took the train?

  • MacroV says:

    Chances are a lot of the orchestras he hears in Berlin took the train. And flying orchestras are a drop in the bucket in terms of airplane greenhouse emissions.

  • John Borstlap says:

    What kind of music writes Lévy? He is a brilliant miniaturist:

    It sounds as a depiction of how ants spend most of their day.

    Lévy’s music asks to be listened to with childrens’ ears, I fully agree. Forget music, and listen to the sounds.

  • Fred Funk says:

    Go get some popcorn. Just sit back & relax as the viola players go through airport screening.

  • CGDA says:

    Many countries need to invest in culture and education because these same countries do not have orchestras.

    Secondly, a lot of orchestras should spend more time rehearsing than travelling. Orchestras like many of the London ones need to use stop using concerts as rehearsals!

  • George says:

    It’s easy to write this if you live in Berlin and have a big number of orchestras and opera houses to choose from. But not all of us are that lucky.
    Does he also want to stop all of us who are travelling to hear a great orchestra or opera perform some great music?
    The way to save our climate is not to forbid more and more but to develop new technologies.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    Who is Fabien Levy? Why should we care about his opinion about flying ?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Never look at the conveyed idea or argument, but look who the author is and try to find-out what his hidden political motive is (mostly it’s a bad one). Michel Foucault

  • Anon says:

    Mr. Levy is spot on. So glad he’s brought this up.

    My pet peeve was when Cleveland Orch decided to do a series of “residencies” outside of Cleveland a few years ago. Worst.Idea.Ever.

    1st city on their list was Miami. This is an area which has struggled to maintain a professional symphony orch. (New World Symph has filled in the gap, but as a training orch.) Cleveland flying into Miami to “reside” basically blitzed the hell out of any local prof. orchestra trying to make ends meet. Subscribers could just go hear Cleveland instead. Boo.

    And WTF was Cleveland doing with residencies in Europe? Vienna so that Franz Welser Most could spend some time in his native land? Europe has its own orchs. It doesn’t need some US orch flying in and “residing”. A tour once in a while, maybe. But a continuing residency? Welser Most should just get a music directorship in Austria if he wants to conduct there.

    So yes, I totally agree with Mr. Levy. Orchestras should serve their own communities.

  • MacroV says:

    So should rock bands stop traveling, too? When Queen (now + Adam Lambert) travels, the whole contingent is about 130 people and about seven trailers full of stage and equipment.

  • Anon says:

    I believe the LSO took coaches to all their European venues during their recent tour. And the train where it is possible. Live performances are the lifeblood of being a musician. YouTube, Arte, Medici shall never replace this, only during a pandemic!

    • The Original Anon says:

      But many of these orchs. are traveling to places where orchestras already exist and are already giving live performances!

      Do the LSO or Cleveland regard themselves in such high esteem that they think that THEIR live performances should eclipse those of local musicians who are also trying to make a living?

  • All Thing Considered says:

    Because this guy lives in Berlin.

  • Günther says:

    This type of change is enough to assuage individual conscience, but not enough to make an actual difference. Even if everyone was in agreement with this proposal, many other additional changes would be require to make it more than a token. The cumulative negative effect of our individual life choices far outweighs flying orchestras. How about you turn down your furnace, turn off your a.c., compost, recycle, stop charging your phone and ipad, buy local, use a bicycle exclusively, buy no imports, etc.

    I’ve seen many celebrities who have achieved success, now wanting to change the playing field, and in effect, making for a more difficult route for those who follow. My point being, if you want to increase the burden of others, give up all of what you’ve gained though a flawed system, and level yourself, before you force your reform, and subsequently more pain, on others.

  • christopher storey says:

    Perhaps he should have worried more about the planet when fathering 5 children !

  • Brian says:

    Can you please pass the Grey Poupon?

  • Alan Glick says:

    First it was global freezing. When that didn’t pan out it became global warming, then that had to be altered to climate change. What’s the next life exterminating bogey- man which demands expanded governmental powers to restrict the American economic engine and all non-woke lifestyles? Climate stasis?

  • Michael McGrath says:

    Levy (who?) joins Greta in desiring us to morph back to the pre-industrial age.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That age produced the bulk of the classical music repertoire which is still as meaningful, probably MORE meaningful today than in their own period; and all of the collections in the great museums like the Louvre, National Gallery, etc. are from pre-industrial times. All the beautiful cities in the world are pre-industrial. Nature behaved normally in pre-industrial times. So, it would not be a bad idea. Maybe we should take from modernity which is a real improvement and from the past the things which have been proven to be an improvement and move onward to a better world.

  • Matias says:

    Meanwhile, another week and another coal fuelled power station in China.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I think this ‘don’t fly’ campaign is one of the dumbest things I’ve encountered at SD. Are football teams, baseball teams, soccer, basketball, volleyball, Olympians, cheerleader competitions, spelling bees, etc. – are they all going to take the bus? Are you going to tell the entire world to take ships to Australia or New Zealand? No more family vacations via air travel – it’s superfluous! (?). If you want to do a real favor for the environment, I have two suggestions: get rid of ‘diamond lanes’ (carpool lanes) during peak traffic hours, and get rid of the watering, mowing and leaf-blowing of grassy berms that encircle every light industrial park on the entire planet. But even more to the point, why would a site that is supposed to be advocating the benefits of classical music for all, want to discourage the exchange of musical concepts in tonal production, timbre, phrasing, choice of instrument brand and model number, etc., etc.? I can think few other things that promote goodwill and an exchange of cultural concepts, more than guest orchestras from abroad. My life has been very much enriched by the imported performances of the Vienna Phil., Philadelphia Orchestra, Gewandhaus Leipzig, Orchestre de Paris; Saito Kinen Orchestra, etc. I’m sure the same is true for many other thousands of people. When you are begin telling jazz musicians that can’t travel in the air?

  • Anon says:

    If the LSO is so intent on traveling, why don’t they go to places which don’t have orchestras? Like Africa or Antarctica or something? Not just where they WANT to go, but someplace where they could actually make a difference.

    It makes no sense to me that they keep showing up in cities which already have several really fine full time professional orchestras. These cities don’t need the LSO to be there.