UN World Environment Day 2020 & Beethoven Pastoral Project. A Musical Commitment to the Future of our Planet

Time For Nature - UN Environment Day 2020 hosted by Colombia

On the 5th of June 2020 we celebrated the United Nations‘ World Environment Day 2020 hosted by Colombia with this year’s theme “Time for Nature” and focus on biodiversity. As this year coincides with the 250th anniversary of the birth of the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), known for nature to be his biggest love, a project has been inaugurated to carry this love further, recapture its significance and stimulate the celebration of our natural environment: The Beethoven Pastoral Project. The project was launched during the UN World Climate Conference (COP 23) on 15 November 2017 in Bonn, Germany. The idea was to provide Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, a piece which is dedicated to a cheerful human-nature relationship and represents its joyful unison. Under the claim “Beethoven loved nature – we love it, too” the aim is to make a globally unified musical statement on the issue of climate crisis. It is a call for more and just climate action and for the protection of our planet. The project invited artists from all over the world to make their own version of Beethoven’s symphony and deliver recordings of their digital performances as a project contribution. More than 250 musicians, bands and ensembles from 6 continents have joined and signed up for the pro-environment declaration so far as well. The list is still open so if you are an artist, join this very important movement to make your claim for a more sustainable and just future. One thing is certain: Artists want to be part of the solution, not the problem!

The project was launched by the Beethoven Jubilee Society, the Beethoven-Haus Bonn and the United Nations and largely supported by the UN Climate Change secretariat (located in Bonn), the ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media amongst many others. It beautifully shows how art can form a global network of various cultures, unite all voices to stand together for one message: the love for nature and the protection of our planet!

The cultural field has experienced a major shift in direction. More and more artists and institutions have realized that art, in fact, does go beyond itself; it is driver, communicator and social glue. Malte Boecker, Artistic Director of the Beethoven Jubilee Year and Beethoven-Haus emphasizes that

Art is not for art’s sake, art has a power for transformation.

Malte Boecker

Deutsche Welle produced a documentary named Sound of Nature which I highly recommend to watch (see below). It captures project contributors from India, Iceland, Australia, Ethiopia and Colombia that share their own musical answer and expression to inspiration drawn from nature, beautifully interwoven with the Sixth Symphony’s movements. It takes you through a joyful day out in nature — around the world. They all recognize their responsibility to carry across messages of human concern — environmental or societal — and claims for a better future. According to Brett Dean, a composer and conductor from Australia, “music and the arts in general can start a conversation removed from the toxic world of politics”. He continues that

Art can help us find a way back to nature as it takes us out of ourselves.

Brett Dean

What could he mean by that? Could it mean that art takes us out of personal concerns, desires and longings to be able to see the bigger picture? Maybe. Maybe it could as well mean that it takes us back to happy memories lived in nature, maybe as a child, or the memory of the overwhelming scent of a forest after rainfall. It could take us back to moments of deep connection with nature, moments highly dear to us. Can you imagine depriving your kids or grandchildren of such deep moments of joy?

The pandemic has brought us back to worship the taking of a deep and fresh breath. But not only that. Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director declares that “through Covid-19 the planet has delivered its strongest warning”. It’s time to listen to these warnings. I was aghast when I read through the 2020 results of the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) which serves as a monitoring tool of climate change performance and progress by individual countries (quite unsurprising the the US ranks last – no. 61). I will spare you the dampening details, but the bottom line take-home message is that the measures that governments have instigated since the 2015 Paris Agreement are simply not enough! In my text you won’t find scientific horror stories about climate change but rather examples, initiatives and projects, like the Beethoven Pastoral Project, that carry messages of hope because it is hope that gives us the power to become active, conscious and just.

Did you know that music is also absorbed by our skin? It resonates in our bodies and affects all of our senses to a degree that it can stimulate change. Ricky Kej, environmentalist and musician from India highlights that

Music can not only communicate a message, it enables the message to retain deep into the consciousness of the listener.

Ricky Kej

It’s time to get back on that piano that has been standing untouched in the corner for too long.

The Sound of Nature Documentary by Deutsche Welle

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