Vital Signs of the Planet concert: meet internationally acclaimed conductor Emil de Cou
Published: November 2, 2021
Vital Signs of the Planet, on Tuesday 2 November, promises to be an epic evening of music at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. If you missed out you can watch the free online premiere of this powerful concert on Earth Day, 22 April 2022.
It will bring together a 100-strong symphony orchestra of young musicians from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and its Junior Conservatoire with internationally recognised conductor Emil de Cou and singer-songwriter Natasha Bedingfield to create a 90-minute live spectacular blend of sound and cinematic visuals.
The power of music, combined with new dramatic footage from NASA and National Geographic, will bring the impact of climate change over the last 20 years on planet earth to the forefront for this powerful live and cinematic event during COP26, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and delivered in partnership with Global Climate Uprising Festival.
Here, we catch up with the celebrated conductor Emil de Cou. For Vital Signs of the Planet tickets, visit the Royal Concert Hall website.
You’ll be conducting 100 young musicians from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and its Junior Conservatoire – what are you looking forward to about working with them?
I have enjoyed reading about the musicians of the Royal Conservatoire and Junior Conservatoire online and am so looking forward to working with them in person and hearing them perform this beautiful music in one of the world’s great concert halls.
Every musician started out as a young player and I still remember, all those years ago, how thrilling it was to perform music by Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Vaughan Williams, and Beethoven and how that excitement still stays with me today.
The impressions that you experience as a young player shape who you will eventually become so that concerts like this one have the potential to be life-changing events. It is sometimes difficult to keep that first flush of love for music as sometimes life’s troubles can dim them over years but I find if you keep an honest and true heart that you will always keep that pure joy of performing alive.
This is a special moment for global youth to speak for the planet. What are your thoughts on the importance of this concert?
This is a remarkable opportunity for the young musicians of the Royal Conservatorie to not only be a part of COP26, furthering the message and goal of protecting our fragile planet but to do so through their tremendous talents performing some of our most treasured composers. The problems we face are spotlighted by my generation but it will be to the generation of this orchestra to see that this Pale Blue Dot, as Carl Sagan called it, is saved for future generations.
Music has a powerful role to play in inspiring and motivating audiences – how vital are music and the arts in helping to create change?
In every great, joyful, fun, sad and tragic moment in life there is music and art to give it a voice.
When people live under despotic regimes it is then that music and art speak loudest. Imagine a great film, wedding, birthday celebration, love story, prayer without music and art. For me, it is in music where you see that glimmer of the divine in the human spirit. Music and art are the greatest gifts mankind has been given. As my teacher Leonard Bernstein said “we [as musicians] are all a part of this high priesthood” and there are no truer words.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the evening?
I hope that they will be moved by the beauty of the music we are performing. That this melding of music and stunning imagery will become one story of one shared humanity and it will inspire our audiences to see this cause to save our planet in a new and inspiring way.
You have so many interesting and unusual credits in your career. What are some of your highlights?
I have been fortunate to have had a life in music which, when I was a young student, seemed like the most impossible thing in the world. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s, I was obsessed with all things to do with space exploration (this was at the height of the space race) and would write to NASA to get photos of astronauts and rocket ships.
The television series Star Trek came on at the same time which I mostly saw later in reruns and I think by now I have memorized every one of those 79 episodes. So it was mind-blowing, to say the least, that when I was working with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center years later that I had the chance to not only collaborate with NASA in the first performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets with video imagery that they created for us but then to have as our narrator the great Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock. That concert and the audience exploding with screams when he flashed the famous Vulcan greeting are a treasured memory of the wonder when your childhood comes crashing through into your adult life.
Have you performed in Scotland previously?
I conducted the San Francisco Ballet in a week’s performance at the Edinburgh Festival some years ago.
We were lucky to have the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the pit and I also had a chance to reconnect with my old teacher Sir Charles Mackerras who was conducting at the festival as well.
I remember the generosity of the people here, the amazing natural beauty of the landscape, the highlands, Loch Lomond, the great food and drink (oh, and that one bite I had of black pudding which I had mistaken for chocolate).
It is just wonderful to be able to come back to work with these talented young musicians in a concert that will be a centerpiece of a world conference addressing one of the most important events in human history. I hope to be able to come back sometime soon.