“We just feel powerless because of this idea that we’ve inherited all these problems and now it’s our responsibility to fix everything,” Leyh said, pointing to the importance of the chorus singing words its members have written themselves. “It’s like we’re being given a platform that we don’t usually have, literally, to say what we want to say in a way that we know is going to be heard.”
Making the Young People’s Chorus the voice of hope in “unEarth,” and ensuring that the audience would have to look at them “in the face,” as Wolfe put it, offered the composer something of a way through the dilemmas involved in creating explicitly political art, a challenge that climate-conscious composers are finding becomes more acute as catastrophes grow. Wolfe said that she was trying not to be too didactic, but that she was content with her solution in the final movement, “Fix It,” which lists a number of ways in which individuals can make a difference — Meatless Mondays, No Mow May — as well as broader policy concepts, like “reforestation” and “solarification.”
“I can be poetic, poetic, poetic,” Wolfe said, “but then at a certain point it’s like, what are we doing here?”
The Philharmonic commissioned “unEarth” after the success of “Fire in my mouth” four years ago, and is presenting it on the first of two programs that make up “Earth,” a climate mini-festival. The second program, next week, includes the belated local premiere of John Luther Adams’s “Become Desert,” which debuted in Seattle five years ago.
“In the end, music is about emotion,” said Deborah Borda, the president and chief executive of the Philharmonic, “and Julia is able to combine, in that way that we cannot quite explain, a combination of beauty and emotion. It carries an even stronger message as a result.”