Hot strings, icy mountains: Swiss Ice Fiddlers play glacier concert to address the threat posed to the glaciers’ ecosystems by global warming
On Saturday, October 13, 2018, 50 musicians and their audience will turn the stunning scenery of the Bernina Glaciers into the worlds’ literally coolest concert venue. The 50 students of the International Fiddle School founded by Danish star fiddler Harald Haugaard will perform an exclusive concert under the musical direction of Antti Järvelä (Baltic Crossing, Finland) and Kevin Henderson (Session A9 , The Nordic Fiddler’s Bloc, Shetland). The musicians will treat listeners to a selection of pieces rehearsed and performed during the Fiddle School, an annual workshop week taking place in Breklum, North-Frisia. The idea of the unique “ice gig” is to highlight the fact that the world’s glaciers are in danger of disappearing due to climate change.
The project Swiss Ice Fiddlers was initiated by Felix Keller. Keller is a glaciologist, the co-director of the European Tourism Institute Switzerland of the Academia Engiadina, and a passionate musician and long-term student of Haugaard’s Fiddle School. We asked him a few questions about the concert, the transformation of the glaciers and the ramifications of climate change for the glacier landscape.
Q: An unusually long, hot and most of all frighteningly dry summer has come to an end in the last few days. Many people wonder if such anomalies are signs of climate change or just “statistical outliers”. The answer is currently the subject of a heated debate in the media. What do you think?
A: We have had so many of these “outliers” in recent years that I find it hard to believe that that’s what they are. If they were, there would be the opposite extremes as well, but temperatures are in fact going up everywhere and in all seasons. Our children will probably not even ask if we did not realize that because it’s so obvious. But they’ll very likely ask what we did about it and if we thought about them and their future.
Q: As a glaciologist, you have the Bernina Glacier Range right in front of your eyes every day, so you would notice any changes. What has changed over the past decade? Are the Bernina Glaciers actually in danger of vanishing?
A: In recent years, I’ve literally seen our glaciers “crumble”. This doesn’t only mean that they dwindle in length and become “shorter”, but also that the surface is sinking in practically everywhere. Although not all glaciers will disappear in the next 50 years, today’s giants will be reduced to dwarfs.
Q: How was the idea for the project “Swiss Ice Fiddlers” born?
A: It is a few years old already. A very good fellow fiddler (who is also an enthusiastic Fiddle School student today) asked me way back on July 7, 2005, if I would like to be part of a new fiddle ensemble. We were out hiking together at the foot of Piz Palü. Knowing only too well that doomsday scenarios don’t exactly motivate folks to do anything about a situation and simultaneously full of enthusiasm for the tunes taught by Harald Haugaard which were new to me at the time, we developed a vision together: “Let’s take our music out there and melt hearts, not glaciers.”
Q: How did the collaboration with Haugaard’s Fiddle School come about?
A: Harald’s Fiddle School is unique to me. He spread the word we were playing in the ice from time to time around the Fiddle School. This sparked so much interest in the whole thing that my partner Luzia and I were invited to host a small workshop on the Ice Fiddlers-project during the 2017 edition of the Fiddle School. The openness and inclusiveness of the Fiddle School is a phenomenon for me. It’s a truly impressive thing. That is how this literally cool idea of inviting the Fiddle Schoolers up on the glacier for a concert was born. It actually came from a participant of that workshop.
Q: How can music, or culture in general, help raise awareness of environmental and social issues that affect us all?
A: Music and culture are universal languages which know no borders. They can transcend barriers, unite people and express everything that is best understood with the heart. In other words: when we experience the unique quality of life that results from immersing ourselves in the arts, we can do without a lot of the material things we think we need and which have turned out to wreak havoc on the world we live in.
Q: In case any of our readers would like to participate: What is the glacier hike going to be like? Is the concert location accessible for everyone who would like to come, or are there any physical or minimum fitness requirements? And how much does it cost to participate?
A: We actually have three concert venues: the summit station of the Diavolezza aerial cableway (at 2,920 meters) near Pontresina, the Pers glacier under the Piz Palü, and a meadow near the Morteratsch train station. The first and the last are accessible to all, including guests with disabilities. After the first concert on the Diavolezza viewing platform, the musicians and the audience descend to the glacier guided by experienced mountain guides. After the concert, we’re all in for a mind-blowing glacier hike across the Morteratsch Glacier which will take three and a half hours. There are no extraordinary fitness or mountaineering experience requirements, but some training for the 9 km descent spanning an altitude difference of 1,000 meters is definitely recommended. Our tip: Hop down a few stairs every day – it makes more of a difference than you think! And, of course, suitable gear is an absolute must. Make sure your mountain shoes are in good condition, and if they’ve been lying around for a while check if there’s any sign of the soles coming off – a frequent problem which has the potential to ruin your day if it happens en route.
The concert pass covers the ride on the funicular and the guided glacier hike. It costs CHF 99, CHF 44 without the glacier tour for those who prefer to return to the valley after the first concert. We also offer an attractive weekend flat rate of CHF 333 which includes accommodation, breakfast and supper at Hotel Morteratsch, a lunch box, the concert and the glacier tour.
Q: Are you planning any future events? Are the “Swiss Ice Fiddlers” a long-term project or a once-off?
A: Yes, it is my wish that events like this will become a more regular institution in the long run and that they will help to create a climate protection trend which we’ll enjoy – rather than feeling we have to give up something.
Q: How can tourism and climate or environmental protection be reconciled? What does sustainable tourism look like in the glacier area, and how can visitors experience this unique landscape without harming it?
A: For me, it is first and foremost a matter of respect. If we treat the glacier like our own lawn, then we won’t harm it. Sustainable tourism creates experiences, like the concert. They cause far less damage than structural, permanent installations.
Q: In your opinion, what are the most urgent steps to be taken to slow down global warming? What measures have to be taken by governments worldwide, and what can and should we as individuals do?
A: For me, the most important thing is that we find the courage to redefine our understanding of what quality of life is, and that we realize that we will profit rather than lose from changing our habits. We have so much to gain from demanding of our elected governments that they get to work and that they translate existing knowledge into action. I am firmly convinced that there is sufficient knowledge at this stage. It’s the lack of willingness to act on it that is the problem. Let’s allow music to inspire, fuel and motivate us. Music is one of the very few forces that are strong enough to move mountains.