British composer Colin Riley has composed a new large-scale work, titled "Earth Voices," which takes climate change as its point of inspiration.
The work came about after Riley stumbled upon an online message from the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden — asking for public input on how they could contribute to efforts to slow global warming.
Riley approached the orchestra with a proposed commission, based on a past train journey between London and Helsingborg.
The trip, which would pass through five countries, felt topical for Riley, following Britain's departure from the European Union. According to Riley, undertaking the trip right after Brexit felt like both an act of rebellion and a way to show solidarity with the UK's European neighbors.
He also describes himself as an "ardent no-flyer," given the negative role that commercial air travel plays in climate change.
"I saw the landscape change outside the train window and heard the languages and voices inside the cabin change," Riley said. "It was a wonderful feeling to be immersed in the history that northern Europe shares. It felt invigorating."
The work also touches on the experience of isolation during the pandemic. Riley found that measures such as lockdowns gave people an opportunity to reflect on larger world issues, such as climate change.
"Corona has made many of us slow down and think about our everyday lives," he said. "And suddenly there were more people who went and thought about what I had been thinking about for so long. Greta Thunberg has put Sweden on the world map and I also wanted to do something to open people’s eyes to the climate issue. But I’m not an 'eco-warrior' and 'Earth Voices' is not a particularly political or even preaching work. It is hopefully more durable than that."
"Earth Voices" will be premiered by the Helsingborg Symphony with conductor Fredrik Burstedt on May 14, 2022. More information is available on Riley's website.