Fanfare for a sustainable future – the arts weigh in

Singer Camille Hesketh and Ethos decided to create a “fanfare for sustainability” by commissioning a new work of music that they would perform at the VanDusen Visitor Centre. She explained that buildings like this are still rare and new, but like the pipeline debates, as more and more people become aware of this green technology they enter the discourse on the side of viable and sustainable alternatives.

Ethos plays VanDusen

In a city in which avaricious real-estate development is turning entire neighbourhoods into construction sites, VanDusen Gardens stands as an oasis set apart. The centrepiece of that serenity is its award-winning (and LEED Platinum certified) Visitor Centre & Discovery Hall. Built in 2011 by the Vancouver-based architectural firm, Fast & Epp, the Visitor Centre is designed in adherence with the highest standards of sustainability: it purifies its own water (without chemicals), obtains its energy from renewable sources, and its fluid orchid-like green roof appears in harmony and in tune with its surrounding landscape. And perhaps it’s these musical metaphors that inspired singer Camille Hesketh and the Ethos Collective (and Redshift Music Society) to set sustainability to music. I went to hear their recent concert as much for the music as to find out what part the arts could play as we shift to a lifestyle that’s more sustainable. 

VanDusen Gardens concert

Photo courtesy: Ethos Collective

Singer Camille Hesketh and Ethos decided to create a “fanfare for sustainability” by commissioning a new work of music which they would perform at the VanDusen Visitor Centre. Hesketh told me that she felt the role of the artist in this case is to help bring about greater awareness about these structures. The arts can provide ways for us to appreciate the building better by  “transposing it from architectural to personal”. She explained that buildings like this are still rare and new, but like the pipeline debates (such as Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion project), as more and more people become aware of this green technology they enter the discourse on the side of viable and sustainable alternatives. 

Camille Hesketh

Photo courtesy: Ethos Collective/ Camille Hesketh

A maze of choices

The event started out of doors with the musicians located in and about the Elizabeth Hedge Maze (located at the far end of the Gardens). The sun was still high in the sky as we entered the maze to a) find all the musicians therein hidden, and b) find our way out again. While works such as Jordan Nobles’ “Nocturne” and Thomas Albert’s “A Maze (with Grace)” were suitably pastoral and serene, a festive atmosphere of excited children and afternoon sunshine almost eclipsed the music. In truth, it felt a little like a PNE ride sponsored Canada Council. Eventually, the introspective music prevailed as the adults settled down on the steps overlooking the maze to listen to the combined sound of all the hidden musicians. 

Kate in the Maze

Photo courtesy: Ethos Collective

Into the hall

After that romp through the maze, we were invited indoors to fill our ears with the serious part of the evening.  The first two works, Garden Music and Touch Wood Sculptures, drew their inspiration from VanDusen’s lush surroundings. Both were entirely improvised on pre-arranged ideas the ensemble had concocted after visiting the botanical gardens at some earlier date. Like us, the music gradually moved indoors, although I found myself increasingly wishing for something more challenging from the improvisation. What passed as flowing improvisation out of doors, began to sound a little New Agey indoors when held up to the scrutiny of a concert. It was as if they could never quite break free from the tonal trap they’d set themselves in the maze. 

Concert in VanDusen

Photo courtesy: Ethos Collective/ Camille Hesketh

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