“Speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues” — Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Peter Sculthorpe – String Quartet No. 18

Jeffrey Nytch – Song of the Lorax

Laura Schwendinger – Creature Quartet, Hymn for Lost Creatures

Christopher Cerrone – New work

Augusta Read Thomas – Renewable Energy

With this project we aim to commission and promote new music that brings issues of climate change into focus. For many of us, the destructive actions taken by human society for centuries have ramifications that we are beginning to see in our day-to-day lives. It is also a crisis of conscience for us who recognize how our own individual actions do little to curb the encroaching danger. A global conversation is beginning to take place that has the potential to galvanize our political, intellectual and scientific will in an effort to limit the damage we have done to our planet. As a modern string quartet committed to promoting new works, we would like to add to that conversation a meaningful emotional component.

Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe addresses climate change in his String Quartet No. 18, reflecting on the topic from the perspective of his homeland. The ingenious mixture of insect sounds and birdsong with indigenous melodies charts a course through nature from life to decay and a hopeful resolution of peace and reconciliation.

Jeffrey Nytch’s Song of the Lorax, inspired by the landmark work by Dr. Seuss, will take the audience on a journey of mourning, a reflection on happier times in the life of the forest, and an arresting finale depicting the destruction of the forest and its ultimate disappearance altogether.

Laura Schwendinger’s Creature Quartet, Hymn for Lost Creatures is dedicated to wildlife and depicts various endangered, extinct, or mythical creatures, like the Javan Rhino, Dodo, and Yeti. Accompanying the music are beautiful animations of each creature by visual artist Pauline Gagniarre.

Part 1: Commissions

The concept for our initial program will comprise three new pieces, each expounding upon a particular aspect of climate change. Taken together, the three pieces create a topical progression that not only highlights the damage we have done and how we feel about it, but also hopes to inspire a solution. Over time we hope to add additional new works in order to have a rich and varied collection of quartets that express the many personal points of view surrounding this topic.

At the start is Jeffrey Nytch’s Song of the Lorax, a haunting lament he is currently writing on the subject of deforestation and habitat loss. The conceit is a eulogy for a famous douglas fir tree on Vancouver Island known colloquially as Big Lonely Doug. The project is a collaboration between the University of Colorado at Boulder, along with the Altius, Orava, and Tesla Quartets, who will each premier the piece in different cities in the 2020-21 concert season. In addition to the musical work, Nytch is also overseeing a sound installation, lighting design, and educational discussion that make this a multidisciplinary experience from start to finish.

One of the lasting impacts of deforestation is the increasing concentration of carbon-dioxide in our atmosphere, a leading cause of global temperature rise and the increasingly inclement weather that has already done great damage to our civilization. A piece by Christopher Cerrone, meant to explore the anxiety and apprehension we experience in reflecting upon this uncanny weather, is among those we are commissioning for this project.

Our most important goal for the project, however, is to inspire within all of us a sense of optimism and hope for a future in which we can face the challenges of climate change on a societal level. Enter Augusta Read Thomas and her piece Renewable Energy. Across the composition’s 21-24-minute duration, the work will unfold a labyrinth of musical interrelationships and connections that showcases the musicians of the Tesla Quartet in a virtuosic display of rhythmic agility, counterpoint, skill, energy, dynamic range, clarity, and majesty. Throughout the kaleidoscopic journey, the work will pass through many lively and colorful episodes, painting the picture of water, wind and sunlight renewing their energy.

Part 2: Call for Scores

In addition to commissioning works specifically for the Tesla Quartet to premiere, we will be devoting our annual Call for Scores to the topic of Climate Change. Open to composers from all over the world, the project aims to provide performance opportunities to composers for either newly or previously written works for string quartet. Our evaluation process is blind, so we don’t know the winner until we’ve made our final selection. For the 2020 installment we ask composers to submit a work for string quartet that addresses climate change.