World premier of The Hebrides Redacted played at Wilderness Festival to demonstrate impact of biodiversity loss

An adapted interpretation of Mendelssohn’s ‘Hebrides Overture’ will be performed at the Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire to demonstrate the impact of biodiversity loss on the world’s ecosystems. Inspired by his voyage to Fingal’s Cave in 1829, just before the introduction of mechanised industrial fishing, Mendelssohn’s music captures the beauty, power, and vitality of the sea. But since then, things have changed.

The Hebrides Redacted begins with Mendelssohn’s original score intact – as full and lively as the sea he travelled in 1829. But just like nature, the score is depleted over time. Churchill’s Dr Matthew Agarwala and Dr Ewan Campbell bind the music to the plight of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale.

Segmenting the musical score into ‘decades’, and beginning in 1830, the music is increasingly redacted as the orchestra plays forward through time to 2019. The proportion of the missing notes in each decade corresponds to scientific estimates of the whale population.

This world premiere will be performed by the 38-piece Wilderness Orchestra conducted by composer Dr Campbell, and narrated by Dr Agarwala, (of Churchill and the Bennett Institute for Public Policy). They call on the arts and sciences to work together to communicate the enormity of biodiversity loss, and on governments to take urgent action to restore nature’s soundscape to its full potential.

Says Agarwala, who leads the Bennett Institute’s Wealth Economy project, ‘I’ve wanted to do this for over a decade now, and it was only upon meeting Ewan’s musical imagination that this became a possibility.

‘The Bennett Institute is deliberately interdisciplinary and we’ve always been interested in novel ways to communicate hard data. Music is visceral and engaging. It can deliver messages in ways that research papers and powerpoint slides just can’t.’

Says Campbell, Conductor of the Wilderness Orchestra and Director of Music at Churchill and Murray Edwards Colleges in Cambridge: ‘We’re all seeing and feeling the impact of biodiversity loss – in the oceans, the sky and on land. Music can be an excellent metaphor for this. The musical eco-system of orchestral music is as dependent upon the melody as it is the bass and the accompaniment.

‘At its nadir, the score will be thin and fragmented, with isolated notes reaching for a tune that is only partially present. But even in the face of devastating destruction, nature is resilient and always beautiful, and so even when two-thirds of the music is absent there remains a modest and delicate beauty, though a pale imitation of its once dramatic glory.’

Agarwala and Campbell will deliver a pre-show talk at the Wilderness Festival on Friday 5 August 2022, followed by the live music performance on Sunday 7 August 2022, to a crowd of festival goers interested in music, the arts, food and wellbeing. Director and filmmaker Tom Besley will capture the narrative and performance of the music to ensure all policymakers can hear the urgent call to take action and make nature count.