Gavin Dixon writes about classical music in London. Here’s the opening of a review he wrote of a concert last October by the São Paulo Symphony:
This evening’s concert began with a protest, and very musical and well organised it was too. About five minutes before the start of the show, the audience sitting in the right wing of the choir stalls all stood up and began singing. Eventually a banner was unfurled, making clear that the protest was against Shell, who were sponsoring the event. The protesters sang well, they even included a verse in Portuguese (it might have been Spanish) for the benefit of our guests, and in the last verse they all filed out of the hall, creating a live fadeout effect as one by one they left. A twitter barrage after the event made clear that the singers were part of a campaign called “Shell out sounds”, campaigning against Shell’s sponsorship of the arts, “No sponsorship by oil companies in a time of climate change”. Does corporate sponsorship for a concert exacerbate climate change? I’d have thought flying a symphony orchestra from the other side of the world to perform would have a greater impact.
On October 25th, 2013, a few minutes before the concert (a Shell-sponsored event) began, the Shell Out Sounds choir — fifteen singers in purple and black with purple — began to sing a remake of the old spiritual, “Wade in the Water.”
‘Oil in the water’, was composed to highlight Shell’s injustices in the Arctic, the Niger Delta, and the Canadian Tar Sands. While past audiences have sometimes appeared uncertain about the group’s musical interventions, with many being unaware of Shell’s poor environmental record, this audience was very supportive, sometimes clapping along.
David Nice’s review acknowledges the power of the gesture:
We weren’t at first sure who the singers rising from their seats before the orchestra came on might be, only to acknowledge the resourceful protesters of Shell’s ongoing Southbank concert sponsorship by their death-banner. That’s the way to do it.
Here is Shell Out Sounds’ self-description:
SOS performances fuse indignation with celebration, and further blur the boundary between performance and protest. We use melody, harmony, poetry and rhythm to move hearts and expose Shell’s greenwash, ringing out the end of the oil age and ringing in an age of justice.
Shell Out Sounds has been a respectful but nonetheless uninvited guest during the South Bank’s 2013 Shell Classic International season. In October 2013, we performed in the Royal Festival Hall auditorium minutes before a concert in featuring ‘O King’, a musical tribute to Martin Luther King by composer Luciano Berio, for which we rewrote the spiritual (and civil rights anthem), ‘Wade in the Water’, rechristening it ‘Oil in the Water’, (thanks for the banner, Stig!) Having been prepared for heckles and boos, we were surprised and delighted when the audience applauded, with several even clapping along enthusiastically, (bad news for those who would like to claim that opposition to oil sponsorship is an extremist position.)
That’s the way to do it.