The world’s pioneering orchestras using classical music to respond to the climate crisis

21 October 2021, 17:31 | Updated: 10 November 2021, 12:42

Orchestra for the Earth
Orchestra for the Earth. Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

On the eve of COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, here are some of the orchestras around the world who are doing their bit to raise awareness of the climate crisis.

As the UK prepares to host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, we shine the spotlight on the brilliant musicians and classical ensembles around the world, who are using their voices and instruments to respond to the climate crisis.

  1. Orchester des Wandels

    Climate Protection? Music to our Ears!’ reads the Instagram bio of Orchester des Wandels, or in English, the Orchestra of Change.

    The orchestra is made up of musicians from leading professional German orchestras, and its aim is to “deal with the climate crisis in extraordinary concert formats, using music to reach and inspire people.”

    Recent events include the #17TARGET flash mob, where musicians and orchestras from 17 German cities took part in a simultaneous flashmob in city centres, performing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, to draw attention to the UN’s 17 goals for sustainable development.

    A new video on their YouTube Channel, a performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet played by members of the ensemble’s partner orchestra, the Bremer Philharmoniker, is dedicated “to all scientists and COP26 participants”.

  2. Orchestra for the Earth

    Originally formed at the University of Oxford, Orchestra for the Earth unites some of the finest young professional musicians and contemporary composers across the UK, with a commitment to “protecting the world their generation will inherit and using music to motivate others to do the same”.

    Last year the orchestra made headlines when they performed Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 at Delabole Wind Farm to mark Earth Overshoot Day.

    Read more: Orchestra performs Mozart under wind turbines to mark Earth Overshoot Day

  3. NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra

    In 2019, the musicians of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg adapted Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to create the first concert which translated climate data into music using algorithms.

    This data, gathered from research institutes, environmental agencies and universities, was used to illustrate the effects of climate change in the musical arrangement, such as weather extremes and the extinction of bird and insect species.

    For example, the movements Spring and Summer become intermixed with harmonic structure decays, and instrumental bird voices fall silent.

  4. Sydney Symphony Orchestra

    A similar project was developed two years later by media campaign companies AKQA and Jung von Matt, who brought together scientists and orchestras to reinterpret Vivaldi’s original score.

    The [Uncertain] Four Seasons has been released for every orchestra in the world, to predict what each country’s seasons will look like in 2050.

    Launching with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the start of 2021 in a piece with depicted Summer as an “anxiety-filled dream in a time where wildfires, food insecurity, and other disasters will become increasingly common”, some cities such as the piece created for Shanghai has no music written, as it is predicted the city will be under water by 2050.

  5. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

    In 2014, a surprise album about water and climate change topped the charts. The Drop That Contained the Sea is a classical crossover album written by the American composer Christopher Tin, and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Most noted for his art, film, and video game compositions, Tin’s work received its premiere at Carnegie Hall, and the album subsequently debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Classical Albums chart.

    The album, which is performed in 10 languages, is devoted to a droplet of water moving from snow to a mountain stream, to the ocean, and back to the clouds. Beautiful.

  6. Classical Trancelations

    You probably weren’t expecting this article to include a mention to Darude’s Sandstorm. Yes, that Sandstorm.

    With its unmistakable, repetitive four-note melody, it has become somewhat of a generational anthem, and this orchestra capitalised on that.

    Classical Trancelations is an orchestral group that combines the environment of raves, with classical music. The group collaborated with the original producer, and the climate group Smart & Clean, to create a full video relating the art of composing a symphony collaboratively, to solving the climate crisis, encouraging watchers to ‘Lead the Change – the stage is yours’.

    Nyt jos koskaan ne äänet päälle! / Sound on! Systemic change is possible and is already here. The fight against climate...

    Posted by Madventures on Thursday, April 8, 2021
  7. Multi-Story Orchestra

    Created by award-winning composer and Multi-Story Orchestra co-founder Kate Whitley, and poet and director Laura Attridge, Our Future In Your Hands premiered in September 2021.

    The piece was debuted by the London-based Multi-Story Orchestra with a choir of 100 local pupils from Peckham schools at Bold Tendencies multi-storey car park, and was the orchestra’s first large-scale performance in two years, due to the pandemic.

    The work was inspired by “the seismic global youth movement against climate change, championed by Greta Thunberg”.

    Read more: Greta Thunberg’s powerful words on climate change set to music by British composer

  8. Beethoven Orchestra Bonn

    Recognising the ‘power of music to break down barriers and to build bridges between communities’, the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn was named as the first Goodwill Ambassador of UN Climate Change in early 2021.

    The orchestra have been tasked with helping communicate the urgency of the climate crisis.

    “The work of the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn is testimony to the power of music to break down barriers and to build bridges between communities,” said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa on the appointment. “I am delighted that the Orchestra has committed to help us in our work towards creating a more peaceful, inclusive and united world.”

    Read more: An orchestra has been named as the first Goodwill Ambassador of UN Climate Change

  9. And a bonus... Elegy for the Arctic

    Whilst not an orchestra, Einaudi was persuaded by Greenpeace in 2016 to be part of its campaign to save the Arctic.

    In a video, the Italian composer plays his new composition Elegy for the Arctic on a specially built ‘iceberg’ within 100m of a crumbling glacier.

    Watch the memorable moment below.

    Read more: Einaudi plays piano on an iceberg as an Arctic glacier crumbles around him