How COVID-19 Made Germany’s Classical Music Industry More Sustainable | cultural | Report on arts, music and lifestyle in Germany | DW


The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the classical music industry in Germany and around the world – but there are lessons to be learned from the crisis. At least that is how Christian Höppner, General Secretary of the German Music Council, sees it: “We must now see the pandemic period as an opportunity and adapt cultural life to the future; also from a sustainability point of view. It is not only about protecting nature and the environment, but also about promoting young musicians sustainably, he added.

Germany’s financial assistance during the pandemic has been exemplary, according to Höppner. Nevertheless, many musicians abandoned their profession and sought more crisis-proof work. Some prospective students who had passed a notoriously difficult entrance exam even chose not to start studying music. “That would have been unthinkable before COVID-19. Then passing an entrance exam was like winning the lottery. Since then there has been a very strong reorientation,” says Höppner in an interview with DW.

Christian Höppner of the German Music Council says the pandemic has provided an opportunity for change

Durability from desk to orchestra

A number of German festivals and orchestras are leading the way in how they deal with both the environment and their artists. The entire staff of the Dresden Music Festival, for example, participates in the city’s “Culture for Future” pilot project on sustainability in cultural enterprises. “It starts with our attitude. We have to keep sustainability in mind in every planning process,” says art director Jan Vogler in an interview with DW. This is done in the office, in marketing initiatives, and even in concert design.

More and more tickets are being sent out digitally, as are newsletters, brochures, program booklets and the festival magazine. Buffets for artists offer regional cuisine, and glass bottles are used instead of plastic bottles. The festival also relies on electric vehicles to transport artists and their instruments. It’s still early in the process, Vogler says, but the team is excited about the new green steps.

 A portrait of Jan Vogler holding an instrument.

Jan Vogler leads classical music festivals and says it’s important to take action for sustainability

A reduced carbon footprint

When air traffic came to a near standstill globally in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, orchestras were forced to cancel their tours. The question arose as to whether the sets really needed to do so much jet-setting.

Understandably, following the easing of coronavirus restrictions, many people yearn to hear live music again, says Höppner. “But no one can avoid wondering how sustainable what we are doing is any longer,” he adds.

That the music touring industry needed a restart was evident before the pandemic, says Steven Walter, artistic director of Beethovenfest Bonn. He would like to avoid large orchestras going on tour and musicians traveling less and instead spending more time in destination – for example, staying at a festival for a week or two and leaving their mark. “For us, it’s also artistically interesting – developing specific projects and ideas for a unique profile for the festival,” says Walter.

Compensate for CO2 emissions

Yet avoiding air travel isn’t always possible for the Dresden Festival or the Rheingau Music Festival, which aim to bring international artists to audiences around the world. Nevertheless, it is possible to make artists’ trips more sustainable, says Jan Vogler, artistic director of the Dresden Music Festival. “We try to take advantage of the geographical location of Dresden: Berlin, Prague and even Vienna are nearby,” he adds.

Orchestras also organize tours so that distances between venues are as short as possible. Recently, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra toured Austria, Slovenia and Croatia, taking a bus between destinations. “Actually, artists also prefer that,” says Vogler, “Before, they were often sent mindlessly zigzagging around the world. As long as it was doable, nobody thought about the fact that it was often a hardship for them. to manage these travel itineraries and concerts.”

Paavo Järvi Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen was certified climate neutral in 2020

A forest for Bach

Offsetting CO2 emissions is a way to compensate for distances traveled and driven. The money goes to environmental protection projects. This allowed the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen to be certified climate neutral in 2020, even before the pandemic. Now the ensemble only travels by train within Germany.

The Leipzig Bach Festival, which before the pandemic attracted a large international audience of 73,000 visitors to Leipzig, has also made environmental commitments. Director Michael Maul raises funds to support the “Forest for Saxony” project and to have a “Johann Sebastian Bach Forest” planted near a former lignite mining area.

A person is playing guitar under a tree with light shining through the tree.

Many classical music festivals in Germany strive to be more sustainable

Music streaming as a solution?

Streaming and video conferencing have played a major role in the current digital transformation, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. Many industries, including the music industry, have turned to streaming. Together with the Thuringia Bach Festival and the Köthener Bach Festival, the Leipzig Bach Festival last year founded its own platform to present a selection of concert streams that will continue after the coronavirus pandemic.

In the longer term, however, streaming, with its high power consumption, is also not sustainable. Jan Vogler from the Dresden Festival tries to combine encounters and concerts. “It is almost inconceivable for me to leave directly after a concert in London or Paris. I usually stay an extra day and meet the partners we work with there.”

Berlin Philharmonic One Stage.

The Berliner Philharmonic also made an effort to tour less and be greener

Man as part of nature

COVID-19 restrictions in the arts industry have inevitably raised the question: What is the value of culture?

“Is the music business dominated by a few big stars making millions, or is culture really the bread and butter we need to live on?” If this is true, musical life has all the more reason to be supported by sustainable structures, says Christian Höppner. This is also done with regard to the training of musicians.

Currently, music lessons often replace short-term projects done at many schools, and funding for emerging artists also tends to trickle down to temporary projects that aren’t sustainable. The pandemic, however, has shown how quickly young talent is lost.

“As an organiser, you have a responsibility in terms of human resources to protect the artists”, says Steven Walter, director of Beethovenfest Bonn. This also applies to talent management. “You can’t wear them down and then let them down. It’s about investing in their careers in a sustainable way, even when things aren’t going so well right now.”

This article was originally written in German.

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