Last summer, after a day at work, I arrived back home to discover a puzzling scene. My Leicestershire village looked like it had been on the receiving end of a bizarre practical joke. Branches of trees were liberally strewn across the streets and it appeared as though someone had deliberately upended buckets of ice with reckless abandon. The village had in fact been at the epicentre of a particularly vicious and strangely localised hailstorm during which stones the size of ping-pong balls had fallen, damaging houses, smashing glass and denting cars. The little stream at the bottom of my garden swelled from a benign trickle to a meter’s depth torrent which caused nearby houses and roads to flood. I wondered if this was just a freak weather event or a more ominous sign of disturbing changes in our climate.
The issue of climate change is so charged with polarised opinion, fear, misunderstanding and even denial that is hard to know where to begin talking about it. It seems so impenetrably large a subject to broach – let alone do anything really constructive about – that the tendency to bury one’s head in the sand is entirely understandable. For millions of years there have been many naturally occurring periods of global warming and cooling but what is happening now feels different; the rapidity of change in a relatively short space of time suggests that this latest increase in temperature is due, largely, to human impact such as industrial and agricultural processes, the burning of fossil fuels for energy production and deforestation on a never before seen scale.
Earthcycle is an innovative and timely project which finds a compelling way to engage with humanity’s most urgent threat. Through three initial performances, a recording and a film, Earthcycle contemplates our impact on Earth’s environment and the disruption of its natural rhythms. To celebrate the 300th anniversary of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons we have commissioned a new version from our Associate Artist, baroque/jazz musician and composer David Gordon which will be interspersed with traditional folk songs related to the theme of the seasons and performed by singer Jackie Oates. Enhanced by discreet lighting and specially created contextual footage Earthcycle highlights the 21st century’s greatest concern whilst celebrating nature and our place within it.
A quick search for Climate Change on the internet will throw up some apocalyptic headlines: CLIMATE ENDGAME; RISK OF HUMAN EXTINCTION; RAPID, SEVERE AND UNPRECEDENTED CATASTROPHIC RISK TO GLOBAL STABILITY, EXPERTS WARN. Headlines such as these, although designed to galvanise, inevitably end up instilling an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It seems inherent to our mindset that even the prospect of annihilation isn’t enough to provoke us to action. Perhaps part of the problem lies with the well-intentioned but relentlessly negative narrative around climate change; there are only so many times you can be told that you are doomed before you cease to listen. Earthcycle seeks to foster an appreciation of our extraordinary biosphere, a cognisance that we are temporary curators and that small, regular acts of responsible living can really make a difference. The stark headlines, I would suggest, are really aimed at governments and global businesses who have the real power to effect significant change.
We are lucky in this country – despite the perception of incessant dampness – to have a cycle of varied weather and seasons that are fairly clearly delineated. The summer of 2022, however, was unusually warm and we experienced an unprecedented (not hyperbole in this case) heatwave which witnessed the hottest day ever recorded in the UK. There were brush fires, melting rails, hosepipe bans, red warnings and disruption to everyday living. It is possible that the brutal hailstorm in my village and the resulting floods might become regular events – an accepted way of life. Ultimately, whether you accept that global warming is happening or not, what harm would it do to scale back consumption in line with what the natural world can cope with? Difficult decisions have to be made and lifestyles need to change. But we are nothing if not adaptable.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a perpetually engaging jumping off point for creative projects and composers remain attracted by its appealing structure and the way that it still speaks to audiences after 300 hundred years. The idea of combining a universal and consistently captivating theme with some of the most memorable and enduring music ever written was indeed a stroke of unwitting genius; I’m not sure Vivaldi could have guessed that three centuries later these four concerti would be more popular than ever.
It is a well-worn trope that we love talking about the weather in Britain, but actually I think that is the case the world over – particularly with the extremes we have been seeing recently. Earthcycle, despite giving us pause for thought about climate issues, focuses on the miracle of nature, its preservation and the idea that – if there is enough will to do so – we could mitigate disaster. Art is adept at describing utopias but is also highly effective at representing the world as it is and, most usefully, keeping the conversation going. It is also the role of art, I believe, to express hope, to challenge complacency, to educate, to dream, to convey the beauty of what we already have and, above all, to urge us not to take anything for granted.