Dear Nature by John Newling is on May 24 in Brighton Dome Concert Hall, lasting approximately one hour and 40 minutes, with no interval – an appeal for a new state of mind for the future, rooted in hope, balance and respect.
The starting point were the 81 letters Nottingham-based John wrote over 81 consecutive days three years ago – letters that confront our ongoing relationship with nature; letters that question, confess and address.
Together they form a poetic manifesto for our relationship with the natural world. Part impassioned plea, part exercise in truth and reconciliation, they are written frankly and intimately as if to a loved-one, attempting to forge a closer, more fruitful relationship.
Now, in a thought-provoking co-commission by Brighton Festival, composers Sally Beamish and Lisa Heute have linked a selection of these letters using a series of pieces for solo cello.
“The letters were thoughts that had been building up in me, lots of questions, over a decade or so,” John explains.
“I sat down and wrote the first letter to nature about three years ago. I was really wanting to question our relationship to the natural world. I had often thought that if we disappeared as a species, the world would carry on quite happily indeed. I was interested in what that relationship was that we had with the world.
“I think what has happened is that we have got a bit smug. The very fact that we can have a drone flying over Mars is bizarre when you look at where we are with the earth at the moment. We have lost our relationship to where we are with our own planet at the moment which is actually a really amazing place. We have all got just too busy. I would say that the decline started 300 or 400 years ago or maybe even longer. It is a slow thing. It is not a blame game. We have just been splitting away from where we think we are and where we actually are with our world.
“I think it has been a movement away from the local to…well, to Mars. Going to Mars in some ways is a triumph but it is ironic when you look at the earth and see what we are responsible for.
“And so I wrote these letters every day for 81 days until it just came to an end. A lot of my work is to do with numbers. 81 is nine times nine. I use numbers a lot. I don’t know what the significance is.
“Some of the letters are quite funny. I don’t think of them as being angry letters at all. I tried to write them as simply as possible. Some of the letters are in just a few sentences, but some are longer, but even a letter of a few sentences could take me a day to write. It was a very intense period for me. The night before I would be thinking ‘I have written about this’ and ‘I have writ-ten about that’ and ‘I am going to be talking about this tomorrow.” I was living it, very immersed in it for that period of time.”
The pandemic, of course, puts a different perspective on things. With the first lockdown, the roads emptied and people started to walk the streets and get to know their own environments in ways they never had before. Parks became cherished spaces.
“And I do think quite a lot of that will be sustained now,” John says.