Violist Mary Hammann, from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, surveys audience members packed into a room at Rudolf Steiner School on East 79th Street, where she and other orchestra musicians played a benefit concert Sunday for a group of youths suing the federal government over climate change inaction. Photo: Kevin Breuninger
Musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra help raise funds for a climate lawsuit
BY KEVIN BREUNINGER
Musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra played a familiar tune for an unusual reason in an unfamiliar setting on the Upper East Side over the weekend.
A crowd of about 100 gathered at the Rudolf Steiner School on East 79th Street to hear the pickup orchestra play Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” at a benefit concert for a nonprofit helping a group of youths suing the federal government over climate change.
The small concert hall on the second floor of the school held seating for about 80, meaning some parents had to hold their children on their laps for the performance.
The audience was enthusiastic about the rousing version of Prokofiev’s musical tale — no small feat, considering that the MET players had performed two operas the previous day, “La Traviata” and “Romeo et Juliette,” and didn’t reach final curtain until after 11:30 p.m.
“We have a very difficult schedule, and to come early on a Sunday to play, you have to be pretty motivated to do it,” violinist Elena Barere said.
Some MET musicians, such as clarinet player Jessica Phillips, liked the idea of bringing their music out of Lincoln Center and into the neighborhood.
“We’re looking to get out in the community and do broader outreach within New York City,” Phillips said. “We’re not political activists, but we also believe in children and their future.”
“We’ve done ‘Peter and the Wolf’ performances quite a few times,” said Mary Hammann, a MET violist who came up with the idea for the concert. “But in terms of an overt political act, if you can call it that, it would be the first time that I know of.”
In the wake of the presidential election, Hammann wanted to do something to combat climate change. “After November’s election, I thought, how can I use my skills, what I do for a living, what I love, to help?” Hammann said. “To me, global warming doesn’t seem like a political thing. It seems like, at the very least, quality of life.”
Hammann reached out to the environmental advocacy group Our Children’s Trust and her neighbor Robyn Watts, a parent at Rudolf Steiner, to organize the concert.
Watts said that ticket sales, along with baked goods and plants sold by fifth-grade students outside the auditorium, raised $1,757 in donations for the lawsuit. In addition, Alex Loznak, 20, a Columbia University student and a plaintiff in the court case, said an anonymous audience member donated $5,500.
Before the performance, Loznak updated the audience on the case.
The federal lawsuit was originally filed during the Obama administration by 21 plaintiffs from ages 9 to 20 through Our Children’s Trust. The Oregon-based group claimed that the federal government’s role in causing climate change violates Americans’ constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, broadly covered under the Ninth Amendment. He said the suit asks the court to order the government to reduce carbon emissions by about 3 percent per year, or roughly 80 percent by 2050.
“All of these constitutional rights apply to young people, they apply to children, they apply to future generations,” Loznak said. “I don’t want to be too dramatic, but it’s the survival of our country and the survival of the constitution itself.”
Loznak, along with 10 of the other plaintiffs, is an Oregon native. He said he got involved with Our Children’s Trust when his community spoke out against a proposal for a pipeline set to go through his hometown.
“The lawsuit challenges the aggregate actions of the federal government,” Loznak said, “but it also specifically challenges this pipeline.”
A judge rejected an Obama administration motion to dismiss the case in November, clearing the way for trial. Last week, the Trump administration filed another motion to overturn the lawsuit.
A number of people from Our Children’s Trust said Trump’s anti-environmental rhetoric heightened their concerns.
“I think one of the most concerning things about this rhetoric is the message it sends around the world – that we might potentially pull out of any agreement that we’ve reached on the international level,” said Coreal Riday-White, 38, an attorney for the organization. “This kind of rhetoric around denialism, it is a concerning development.”