RSNO Releases Science-Inspired Recording: Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is set to release a recording of David Earl’s 2019 composition, Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony, a project developed in collaboration with the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) at Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Recorded at the RSNO Centre last year, Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony, was previously exclusively available to the DCO community and the nearly 300 international scientists who attended its Deep Carbon 2019 conference in Washington DC, from 24-26 October 2019. Simultaneously, Scotland’s National Orchestra was in the Glasgow studio recording David Earl’s composition, which was later gifted to conference delegates as an audio download.

Earl’s composition was inspired by the 2019 book, Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything written by DCO Executive Director, Robert Hazen, who is himself a musician and retired professional trumpet player. The book explores the elemental role of carbon in life on Earth as a symphony, with movements inspired by four classic elements of Greek mythology – earth, air, fire, and water.

Last year the Executive Committee of the Deep Carbon Observatory supported efforts by Hazen and Earl to record the Carbon Symphony, which led to the partnership with the RSNO and recording of the piece last autumn. Ben Gernon was brought in to conduct the symphony with the composer David Earl present at the RSNO centre to oversee the entire process.

This union between the scientific and arts communities also represents a segue from DCO’s efforts to synthesize a decade of its scientific research findings to its efforts to creatively engage the public. And, as observed by DCO staff, a surprisingly large number of DCO scientists are also musicians—at one level or another—and thus inherently appreciate fostering these connections between art and science.

RSNO Director of Concerts and Engagement, Bill Chandler, said: “It has been a fantastic privilege for the RSNO to be part of this recording at a time when we are all reflecting on the importance of looking after our planet and trying to better understand it.”

“This piece is inspired by science and research and I think it has a broad appeal to both orchestral music fans, but also to scientists around the world whose work can serve as inspiration to the music and arts community. The entire orchestra was thrilled to be a part of this project, and to have the opportunity to partner with the Deep Carbon Observatory. We thank the DCO, which provided significant financial support for the recording, and the Carnegie Institution for Science for its work in bringing us together.”

Composer David Earl said: “In 2018, I was sent a draft of Robert Hazen’s now published book Symphony in C – Carbon and the evolution of (almost) everything, and was inspired to create a traditional symphony in which evocations of earth, air, fire, and water would be counterparts to Hazen’s text. Symphony in C – a Carbon Symphony consists of four movements which follow the musical outline of the book, together with the elements themselves.

“Towards the end of summer 2019 I was fortunate in acquiring the commitment of the renowned Royal Scottish National Orchestra to record the Symphony. With notably impressive young conductor Ben Gernon at the helm, we enjoyed two days of sessions in which the piece came to life for the first time.”

Upon hearing the completed recording, Dr Robert Miller Hazen, a senior research scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Executive Director of the Deep Carbon Observatory stated: “This work and its marvellous performance by the RSNO beautifully captures the spirit of carbon—its many moods and implications, the sweep of the story from intimate details to grand soaring themes.

“David Earl, the composer, has distilled the dichotomy of carbon in the modern age—good servant and bad master, wrapped together. When I first saw the score I was touched by the use of the C-A-R-B theme--never too obvious, but a powerful motif in its own right, changing moods from aggressive to lyrical to sprightly to noble. And the use of brass is especially effective. It made me want to pick up the horn again, if only to blare out that first movement fanfare and join in the majestic finale.”

The Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) is a research program to investigate the quantities, movements, forms, and origins of carbon in Earth. The achievements of the DCO, including DCO’s support of the RSNO recording, were made possible through the significant funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 2009-2019. The RSNO thanks DCO for its generous support for the recording of Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony.

From 1 July Carbon Symphony will be available across all major digital download platforms.

Ben Gernon conducts the RSNO recording of Symphony in C A Carbon Symphony.