This morning I heard a report about scientists who have made a list of recommendations for touring musicians to cut back on carbon emissions. Amongst other things it recommended that musicians should use instruments or equipment ‘held by the venue’. Good luck with that, symphony orchestras!
When I had finished laughing at the phrase ‘artists must swap private jets for trains’ (I’ve never been anywhere near a private jet), I realised that of course the overall direction of the report is right. As usual, ‘music’ is assumed to be pop, but clearly all musicians must consider this issue. It makes sense to go by train, to minimise travel between concert locations, even to minimise touring itself in favour of cultivating a deeper relationship with the home audience.
And I might point out that pianists have long been ‘using instruments held by the venue’!
But most classical musicians – especially string players – strive mightily to get the particular instrument they want, and when they have it, they want to play it in every concert. There is probably no touring group – be it string quartet or full orchestra – who would agree to play a bunch of instruments they’d never seen before and over whose quality they had no control. Classical music is still an acoustic art. The sound of each instrument is crucial, and the blend of particular sounds is something we work hard to create.
But I do think there is room for classical musicians to think about touring, which indeed is often organised around dates which suit individual venues, rather than around a route which makes geographical common sense. And it’s true that many musicians [used to] fly out to play a single concert and come back the following day.
It’s not so long since most music-lovers only heard a visiting orchestra on rare occasions. When I was a child, my piano teacher arranged for her pupils to have discounted season tickets to the Friday night series of the Scottish National Orchestra. Every Friday in the Usher Hall we heard the same orchestra under the same conductor, Alexander Gibson. Concerto soloists varied, but the soloist was the only person who had made a long journey. I was perfectly happy with hearing the same orchestra every Friday – in fact I enjoyed seeing the same players each week. What changed every week was the programme, and for me that was the main thing because I was getting to know so much music.