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Home > Orchestra : Orchestra

 

Das Philharmonische Tagebuch

Mon, 19. May 2003

 

The Importance of the Pernambuco Tree

A noteworthy benefit concert took place in the main auditorium of the Konzerthaus in Vienna on November 24, 2002, with the express purpose of raising funds for the preservation of the endangered pernambuco tree. Taking part in this endeavor were Heinrich Schiff, the pioneering chamber ensemble "Triology" (comprised of Aleksey Igudesman and Daisy Jopling, violins, and Tristan Schulze, cello), plus the Vienna Violin Quartet.

The pernambuco, the national tree of Brazil, grows solely in the rolling hills and plains of the subtropical rain forest region, Mata Atlantica. Subsequent to the discovery of South America, this tree was considered one of the most precious treasures coming out of the new world. The intensive reddish dye which could be obtained from its fiber was highly prized by cloth dyers who were otherwise dependant on just a very few expensive dyes such as Tyrian purple. By the middle of the 18th century, pernambuco wood was also being used in the making of bows for stringed instruments. The craftsmanship of François Tourte (1747-1835), known as the Stradivarius of the bow and unequaled to this day, gave rise to the supremacy of the use of this wood in the production of bows. Tourte, originally a watchmaker, produced nearly all of his masterpieces by bending pernambuco branches over a coal fire.  The acoustical, physical and mechanical properties of the wood, plus its durability, flexibility, and strength, which enable it to hold the arch, have proved themselves for almost a quarter of a century. Bow makers and musicians are in agreement that there is clearly no alternative to pernambuco wood for producing a fine bow.

Today it is estimated that the Mata Atlantica has been reduced to a mere 5 to10 percent of the surface area which it encompassed in the 16th century, meaning that the continued existence of the pernambuco tree, and by extension, the continued production of stringed instrument bows, is now greatly threatened. In light of this development, bow makers from some 18 countries have in the past two years united their efforts and joined with experts in forestry, agriculture and conservation to take concrete steps toward the preservation of this unique tree. Without pernambuco, not only would the already seldom art of bow making be threatened, but use of the bows already in existence could be dramatically complicated if the tree were to come under the protection of the endangered species program.  Recently, the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (I.P.C.I.) was formed, an association which currently boasts a membership of over 220 persons, and is supported by many international bow and violin makers. The idea that this small organization could contribute in some major way to a major conservation effort in the Brazilian rain forest was met with considerable skepticism at first, but this been largely quieted by the endeavor's notable successes.  Together with partners in Bahia, efforts to ensure the continued existence of the pernambuco now include, in addition to continued scientific research, a program to plant and care for 500,000 new saplings. The costs for this project are around €1,250,000, which means that €2.50 covers the sponsorship of one young tree.

Although the amount of wood needed by bow makers is only very small, this small group of craftsmen has started an initiative which goals and methods closely parallel those of major environmental organizations used in preservation of rain forests. In accordance with the UN Convention for Biological Diversity, the mistake of the practice of monoculture is avoided, which is an additional factor contributing to the destruction of the Mata Atlantica. In addition to large scale burning off of the forests to make way for grazing, the excessive planting of eucalyptus trees poses the greatest threat to the forests. The eucalyptus, so important for the paper and cosmetic industries (Brazil exports more than 5 million tons of cellulose annually!), leaves behind a tcompletely washed out, nutrient-poor soil after harvest. The partnership between the I.P.C.I. and the "Brazilian Center for Development and Cocoa" (CEPLAC) is based on retaining the traditional method of planting forest and cocoa together to achieve a double benefit: the tall forest ceiling affords the necessary shade for the cocoa plants while at the same time allowing various species, including the pernambuco tree, to be protected and flourish.

Until recently, the financing of this culturally and ecologically important I.P.C.I. project has been provided almost entirely by the various violin and bow makers associations, with some bow makers contributing by donating a specific percentage of their income. The initiative has now established itself firmly enough to be able to search for financial support from other sources. Thomas M. Gerbeth, President of the Austrian Violin and Bow Makers Association and the Austrian delegate to the I.P.C.I., organized the above-mentioned concert under the patronage of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and in addition, secured the support of the Vienna Philharmonic for a special type of patronage. By decision of the orchestra's administrative committee, two tickets for the 2003 New Year's Concert were donated for auction on the internet.  The proceeds from the auction, €4,100, will translate into the planting of 1,640 new pernambuco trees.

The Philharmonic's artistic contribution was the appearance of the Vienna Violin Quartet at the above-mentioned benefit concert at the Konzerthaus. The quartet's program included, in addition to works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Joseph Lanner, Johann Strauss (father and son) and Johannes Brahms, the world premiere of the "Pernambuco Waltz" op. 10, composed especially for the occasion by Günter Seifert, leader of the ensemble, who derived his inspiration for the piece in part from Niccolo Paganini.

Anyone interested in obtaining additional information about the goals and projects of the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative, should inquire at: I.P.C.I-Deutschland e.V.-Austria, z.H Thomas M. Gerbeth, Margaretenstrasse 79/2, A-1070 Wien; Tel.: 350 68 00; Fax: 350 68 01; E-mail: bogenbau@gerbeth.at.

 

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