A group of professional musicians in Germany are using their talent to save the earth. They've even drawn big-name stars on board, like Daniel Barenboim and Thomas Quasthoff.
The first snow of the season had just fallen when Joseph Haydn's "The Seasons" drew the audience into long lost world. Work in the fields, hunting trips, dalliances, and merry celebrations in an idyllic pre-industrial epoch are the themes of the oratorio.
It was the Berlin NaturTon foundation's third climate concert, performed by the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Upper Bavarian Neubeuern Choir and solo vocalists, conducted by Enoch zu Guttenberg.
"The Seasons" was written at the turn of the 19th century, a time when Haydn and his contemporaries lived in accord with nature. Even huge storms couldn't disturb the godly order in which people felt safe and secure.
Now the world looks different. With their benefit concerts, the musicians of the Staatskapelle hope to draw attention to just how urgent environmental protection is. Guttenberg has been personally active in ecological projects for a number of years, and warned the Berlin audience of the drastic consequences of excessive energy consumption and the eradication of entire species.
Horn player Markus Bruggaier and his fellow musicians Nico Hanjohr-Popa, Dominik Oelze, Sebastian Posch, Milan Ritsch, Fabian Schäfer and Simone van der Velde came up with the idea many years ago of combining their personal interests: ecology and music.
In partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), they launched the NaturTon foundation with their own resources. With their initiative "Orchestra of Change" they set up an Internet platform where like-minded musicians could network with each other.
The group not only convinced their colleagues in the Staatskappelle, but also world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim.
Wagner's magical forest
The proceeds from the Berlin concert will go entirely to a so-called Magic Forest Project in the eastern part of the city, where children are taught in a playful way to respect the environment. The project is supported, among others, by baritone Thomas Quasthoff.
To create the magic forest, gardeners and artists come together to form a playground that is partially inspired by the mythical works of composer Richard Wagner. Currently, the first sculpture - the dragon from Wagner's opera "Siegfried" - is being erected in the park with Asian, Islamic and European gardens.
Next year, stage designer and painter Achim Freyer plans to contribute more sculptures that reference Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung" opera cycle. The 2017 edition of the international garden exhibition IGA is planned at the location, which has already been honored with the British Green Flag Award.
At the first climate concert at the beginning of 2011, esteemed conductor Zubin Mehta performed and the proceeds when to a WWF sustainability project in the eastern Himalayas. In May, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja performed with the Staatskapelle to support the renaturation of the forests in her home country, Moldova.
"We've noticed that we've been able to draw very prominent artists for our benefit concerts," said Bruggaier, who is pleased with the success of the initiative. "And our colleagues in the Staatskapelle are proud that we are getting publicity for such a creative project.
The high-profile interest extends even beyond the music world: Well-known scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, recently joined the NaturTon foundation. And, as the horn player points out, members of smaller environmental groups like Wikiwoods and Stiftung Naturschutz can be found at the climate concerts.
He hopes that the cooperation between professional musicians and environmentalists will continue to flourish.