“The Lost Seasons”: musicians take on climate change in new Polish documentary

“The four seasons as we know them are disappearing” – Marcin Stoczkiewicz, ClientEarth.

ClientEarth has been running a campaign in Poland – called ‘#ico2dalej’ – to boost recognition of how climate change is affecting everyone in the country, in ways they may not have recognised – and making the link between climate change and heavy use of fossil fuels.

Ahead of the climate conference in Katowice last Christmas, as part of our campaign, composers Szymon Weiss and Szymon Sutor teamed up to find a new way to tell the story and to inspire people and leaders to take action.

Their joint creation, “The Lost Seasons”, reimagines Antonio Vivaldi’s original composition “The Four Seasons” – altered to reflect the changes the world is seeing as global temperatures rise.

The electro-classical piece debuted on stage at COP24, with a live orchestra, against a dystopian backdrop: drone footage in monochrome of Poland’s biggest coal plant, Belchatow, and the mine that surrounds it.

A new documentary has just aired, telling the story of how the collaboration and the piece came to be.

“Changing such a great piece of art is not easy”

Both artists agreed that the project was risky. Weiss describes how they approached the challenge of creating musical parallels to climate change, trying to represent “a change of seasons from four to five, or maybe to three, maybe to a chaos of seasons.” Weiss programmed “digital rain droplets”; Sutor wanted to take the instruments to the limits of their range – and maybe beyond.

The result is something completely original, and hard-hitting. The piece kicks off with the jaunty string motif of Vivaldi’s Spring movement. But it’s cut off almost as soon as it’s started, replaced by an eerie semi-electronic soundscape. Footage of the immense power plant crackles into life on the screen behind the orchestra and the composition tumbles into a journey through Vivaldi such as you’ve never heard him, complete with intense techno and interwoven strings and synth.

At an interview after the show, Sutor said: “I am glad that, together, we could do it how we feel it – Szymon [Weiss] through electronic music, while I had the opportunity to write a string part. We connected these two poles.”

Is Poland a major polluter?

Poland is still a major coal user, burning millions of tonnes every year, rivalled only by Germany in the EU. Mammoth plant Belchatow alone burns a tonne of coal every second and has an annual carbon footprint four times the size of Ryanair’s entire plane fleet.

In the documentary, Head of ClientEarth Central and Eastern Europe Marcin Stoczkiewicz says: “A grassroots opposition movement must emerge in Poland to oppose a coal-based economy – because coal destroys the climate the most of all.”

The pressure is on Poland’s government, and its state-owned and private utilities to find a way to move out of coal and into cheaper, cleaner alternatives. Domestic heating is already shifting away from solid fuels thank to court rulings made to protect the health of people living in inner cities. Meanwhile, many of the bigger suppliers in the energy sector are seeing more lucrative opportunities beyond coal.

Building the momentum for climate action

ClientEarth’s celebrity-backed #ico2dalej campaign is gaining traction – this collaboration with Weiss & Sutor has been an exciting development.

Radek Dudzic, director of digital agency OS3, which is supporting the campaign pro bono, said: “It’s important that people try to talk about climate change all the time. Politicians and scientists are doing this but they don’t always understand each other. We want to use the universal language of music.”

Sutor finished: “The most important thing for me is that this message and our vision have to move the conscience of our society, but also to make them change their decisions, turn their actions into something better.”

“The Lost Seasons” documentary was directed by Magdalena Zielinska (Papaya Films) and produced by Ewa Kurzawe. It premiered in Poland on April 4, 2019 and is available to watch online.

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Bartek Banaszak