It wasn’t just the climate protests of the Fridays for Future movement and the campaigns led by the activist alliance Letzte Generation (Last Generation) that made it obvious: Something must change! Sustainability, reducing CO2 emissions and being environmentally friendly are matters that concern all of us, and everybody can do their bit! These are wishes and requests that have become more and more prominent within the classical music industry, and that are also increasingly addressed by orchestras and venues themselves.

The Bamberg Symphony
© Andreas Herzau

According to Annette Lux, the Bamberg Symphony is taking a pioneering role in terms of sustainability. Lux is the CEO of Lux Reisen and long-standing tour organiser for Bamberg as well as numerous other renowned orchestras and choirs worldwide. I speak to her about the orchestra’s aspirations of several years to make its travels environmentally friendly and reduce its carbon footprint. She accompanied the orchestra in previous tours to the US, Oman, Japan and through Europe, for example, and knows about the opportunities as well as the obstacles the orchestra faces.

In the past few years, many orchestras have been working on being more sustainable: “There was a small number of orchestras that approached us and asked: ‘What can we do?’ The Bamberg Symphony was one of them,” says Annette Lux. “Things really picked up pace until the beginning of 2020,” when the pandemic put everything on hold. Now, two years later and with travel restrictions largely lifted, the Bamberg Symphony puts its claim of “Resonating worldwide” back into action and brings its unique sound to the world once again with two tours to Spain and Asia.

Annette Lux
© Lux Reisen GmbH

The Bamberg Symphony is one of Germany’s orchestras most fond of travelling. As cultural ambassador of Bavaria and the whole of Germany, it has around 7,500 performances in more than 500 cities and 63 countries under its belt. The upcoming tours naturally raise questions about the integration of sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.

Unlike a private trip, there are additional aspects and dependencies to be aware of for a professional tour with so many people, as Lux explains: “When you plan a concert tour, you have to balance of course, because it’s not just about profit, but also about the artistic performance, which has to be a priority.” She raises the reasonable question: Can musicians who already have been travelling for ten or more hours in the daytime really give that top performance the audience expects in the evening? This is why she works out solutions together with the orchestra, because there are indeed alternatives for many scenarios.

The artistic performance of the orchestra, however, is only one of many aspects that need to be considered when planning a tour long-term: Others would be the number of concerts and overall duration of the tour that make a journey more worthwhile, thus more sustainable, as well as the costs for everyone involved. In addition, she needs to justify the extra costs that arise from choosing more environmentally friendly modes of transport as well as compensation. “In many cases, culture is dependent on subsidies, patrons and sponsors”, says Lux, “and orchestras, too, can only draw on a finite budget.”

Particularly those orchestras that are subsidised by public funds don’t have limitless finances. Environmentally friendly solutions often are more expensive, and yet on the one hand they are a worthwhile investment for Annette Lux: “I think this is a long-term process that requires a lot of rethinking now. But if you move in smaller yet safe steps, you can develop long-term standards, so compensation of flights for orchestral tours or the choice of certified hotels can become the norm.”

On the other hand, Lux mentions the ever-present problem of greenwashing. The hotel sector alone has over 50 certificates and seals around sustainability, but not all of them are useful and trustworthy. “Many have a certificate only because there is a certificate, but not because they’re ‘greener’ than others. It is really important to look at these things carefully.” Lux liaises with many service providers such as airlines, hotels, and coach businesses: “I collate a lot of information, develop concepts and have also brought in help externally in order to offer an even better guideline for orchestras.”

String players of the Bamberg Symphony
© Andreas Herzau

Thus, the first step the orchestra took was to forgo the aeroplane for routes that could be travelled by train just as well. This applies to national destinations in particular, but, depending on distance, also those in neighbouring countries. At the same time, Lux acknowledges: “Sometimes there is no alternative. A plane is all there is.” But even in those cases, Lux and the Bamberg Symphony don’t want to admit defeat, but have come up with compromises and compensations for flights and the purchase of so-called “sustainable aviation fuel”. This is made sustainably from non-fossil resources, produces lower carbon emissions, and is being considered for the upcoming tour to Spain. Instead of contenting herself with simple compensation solutions, Annette Lux regularly enlists experts, seeks advice, and attends conferences in order to always be up to date and move closer to the orchestra’s aspirations. In future, she will even be able to calculate exactly how much CO2 was saved during a journey, making the improvement even more palpable.

Yet for an orchestra with a cultural mandate, you can measure sustainability with factors other than carbon footprint. “Sustainability for me has several pillars. This is also about cultural exchange. Talking to one another is just as important, and music is a language everyone understands.” And this is why the Bamberg Symphony is planning to financially support projects in the destinations of their concert tours.

“It’s not just about the travelling, however, but also about living sustainably at home. What can I change at home?” she asks, and possible solutions range from energy efficient stage lighting to the food offered in the canteen. So, it isn’t just the big goals like reducing emissions on the road, but also the small changes in the orchestra’s very own concert hall that make a difference.

Woodwind players of the Bamberg Symphony
© Andreas Herzau

One impulse was given by the aims of the association “Orchester des Wandels e.V.” (English: orchestra(s) of change), whose members view protecting the environment as part of their cultural assignment and, in collaboration with experts and scientists, develop strategies to reduce carbon emissions as well as the “Green Touring Guide”. It is a guide initially conceived at the Popakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg with numerous suggestions for a “greener” tour plan. Inspired by it, Annette Lux worked with Bamberg to define the orchestra’s travel goals – because “Bamberg is definitely a trailblazer and indeed is more concerned than other orchestras,” Lux relates.

In collaboration with other orchestras there is a lively exchange, and you wonder: “Can we somehow team up and exchange information together? This isn’t about who’s the best, but about creating synergies. And everybody benefits when you really do get together with other orchestras who themselves are frontrunners for sustainability!”

“The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra has the advantage of being flexible and of not being bound, like many others, by broadcasting and tariff structures that limit their opportunities. Bamberg has the advantage of being able to independently create projects.” And this creative drive is obvious when you look at the orchestra’s current season entitled “Creation”, which is being put in the spotlight by director Marcus Axt: “Sustainability for us is doubly important, because the marks we leave as an orchestra ought to make a difference, musically and ecologically, and to contribute to actively shape our future.”

The term “sustainability” seems omnipresent, and yet it isn’t just about protecting the environment. The orchestra’s directors are aware of their responsibility as an employer, because “many members of the orchestra have families, have children, and are naturally concerned about sustainability, about safeguarding the future because of that. And they rightly demand this commitment from their employer too.”

The Bamberg Symphony
© Andreas Herzau

According to Annette Lux, “orchestras are role models, considering that there are about 2,000 visitors in the auditorium at every concert. When they realise that the orchestra has taken it upon itself to travel there by train or has compensated for flights, then the process of rethinking reaches the audience. And then you’ve ultimately achieved what you wanted to achieve!”

For the future, the Bamberg Symphony not only considers itself responsible within its cultural mission, but actively takes responsibility in terms of climate-friendly travel and sustainability. That way, it can resonate worldwide – not only with regards to an unparalleled concert experience, but also in its pioneering role as a sustainable, environmentally friendly touring orchestra.

This article was sponsored by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.
Translated from German by Hedy Muehleck.