Commissioner Norrlandsoperan, Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Tampere Philharmonic
Availibility Ask the composer
Category Orchestra
Year 2021-2022
Duration 20
Orchestration 2222-4231-2-strings 
Opus Number 81

Program note

Every year an average Swede will buy 13 kilograms of clothes and throw away about 7.5 kilograms of clothes. About 60 percent of the clothes that are thrown away are whole and clean, but only 3.8 kilograms of textiles per person are annually collected by charity organisations. At least 0.13 kilograms of clothes per person are sold second hand. In Finland the numbers are even higher. As much as 19 kilograms of clothes are bought and 13 kilograms are thrown away annually per person.  For producing one kilogram of cotton you will need 7 000 – 29 000 litres of water and 0.3 –1 litre of oil.  To produce one kilogram of cloth generates about 10-15 kilograms of  greenhouse gases.

In recent years second hand clothes have become increasingly popular in Scandinavia, and bringing your clothes to a collection is considered a way to “have a clean conscience”. But according to a report by the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle only around 20 percent of the collected clothes can be sold in shops in Scandinavia. Around 10 percent are burnt immediately and up to 70 percent are sent further to sorting units, usually situated in the Baltic countries or Germany. At this point a small part is used for upcycling, such as fillings for car seats. But most of the clothes are sent to some of the poorest countries in the world, like for instance Mozambique. The black market of cheap bad quality clothes disrupts these countries’ own textile industry. As a large part of the clothes are of too bad quality to wear anymore, they end up in landfills.

The first movement “Wear” is about how we use different clothes for different occasions, like for instance certain clothes for christmas parties, maybe other clothes for concerts and again something else when we are going out partying with friends. The clothes might be bought second hand and be used several times, but everything at an increasing tempo.

The second movement “Toss” is the journey the clothes make together with their owner to collection containers where they are tossed in, and from where they are collected by a lorry. The third movement “Sort” is a description of collection and sorting halls. The movement is like a slow “zoom out” during which you slowly begin to realise what a large amount of “Christmas- and party clothes” there are intended to be recycled: in Finland annually around 14 million kilograms and in Sweden around 38 million kilograms, an overwhelming amount.

The fourth movement “Burn” is about what happens to at least 80 percent of all textile waste: it is burned with mixed waste. In best case the waste burning can be used for generating new energy, but it is not a sustainable way to use resources.

The last movement “Flow” is about what we call “Greenwashing”, in other words marketing something as sustainable even though it actually isn’t. In an investigating article by Yle a factory plant of the Finnish firm Fortum is viewed in detail. The factory refines salts from environmentally hazardous APC ashes (APC = Air Pollution Control) from incineration waste. Then these salts are rinsed out together with the wastewater of the process, straight into the Baltic Sea, as there is “lack of proof that it would be harmful for the environment”. The regulations which state that ashes from incineration waste should not be used unrefined, due to environmental risks, are circumvented in this way. 

Wasteland is a shout out that recycling can’t be “one option of many”, as it has to be the only viable choice for our resources to be sufficient. The responsibility for recycling shouldn’t lie solely with consumers, but should also be mandatory for producers. With this piece, I want to make people understand that if we can “afford” to consume, we must also be able to afford to take care of the waste we are creating. This must be regulated by law so that the responsibility cannot be shifted to poorer and / or corrupt countries.



Cecilia Damström: Wasteland, Tampere Philharmonic conducted by Olari Elts – Listen on Yle Areena


Speaking of troubled times, Damström’s Wasteland presents us with an orchestral examination of textile overconsumption and its multi-layered ecological and societal ramifications.


Co-commissioned by the Tampere Philharmonic, the ca. twenty-minute score of Wasteland is cast in five movements on orchestral narrative, accounting the fates of clothes worn perhaps only a few times, which are then tossed away, sorted and eventually burned. The medium being the message, Damström’s musical material in itself is largely recycled from pre-existing sources such as Finnish seasonal hymns, Latin Mass, CarmenDie ZauberflöteRondo alla TurcaFür Elise, Toccata in D minor, The Moldau, a pop song by Maija Vilkkumaa and the State Anthem of the Soviet Union.


Woven together into evocative orchestral dramaturgy, the source material appears in manifold guises: sometimes only a fleeting references are heard as opposed to deliberately blatant, full-on renditions appearing in some of the crucial points within the storyline. Scored for a symphonic ensemble of duple winds with piccolo, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, timpani, two percussion and strings, Wasteland was given its world premiere performance in September 2022 by the Norrlandsoperan Orchestra, conducted by Ville Matvejeff.  


The opening movement, Wear, comes off as hyperactive Academic Festival Overture, as Damström presents us with a hectic party montage, featuring orchestral costume changes at increasing speed. In the course of the two ensuing movements, Toss and Sort, used clothes are transferred to large sorting halls via an Andante orchestral transportation. At the end of the ride, the ensemble pans out with piled layers of repetition, mounting to vast tutti canvases and gazing upon the sheer mass of waste. Furioso furnaces are lit in Burn, conjuring up symphonic auto-da-fe par excellence. In the concluding Flow the orchestra sails down the river of greenwashing, rendering its final parody before vanishing beyond the horizon.


Conceived with meme-like wittiness and inventive instrumental craft, Wasteland is both fun and serious, its musical designs being both accessible and thought-provoking, without succumbing to fast fashion takes on the Berio Sinfonia (1968-69). Performed with dedication and zeal by the Tampere Philharmonic under Elts, Wasteland was given a powerhouse Finnish premiere. 

Jari Juhani Kallio, Adventures in Music 14th of April 2024

The premiere of the Finnish-Swedish composer Cecilia Damström’s work Wasteland in five short movements was probably the work I was really looking forward to the most. The music was characterized by strong dynamics, shifting richness of colour and, not least, sharp contrasts. Here, the orchestral outfit is really used for a striking rhythm. With its themes around the clothing industry and greenwashing, the work also conveyed something as unusual as a sharp post in the ongoing climate debate. Norrlandsoper’s symphony orchestra really played at its peak and the conductor Ville Matvejeff’s way of leading the orchestra really celebrated triumphs. It also reminds me what a spectacular “instrument” the symphony orchestra is in capable hands. Sustained applause for the composer, who accepted the accolades.

Bengt Hultman, Västerbottens-Kuriren 2nd of September 2022

Now we got to enjoy a piece of very entertaining orchestral music, where Damström enhances as much sound effects as she can, supported in an exemplary manner by the conductor Ville Matvejeff. It becomes a patchwork of colorful contrasts where Damström weaves in quotes from “Den blomstertid nu kommer”, a snippet from “Carmen”, a couple of teasingly familiar schlager refrains, resounding trombone glissandos, clinks, thumps and plink-plonks from the percussionists, well, anything you can wish for. 

Gunnar Wiklund, Folkbladet 2nd of  September 2022



2022 September 1st – World Premiere by Norrlandsoperan Orchestra conducted by Ville Matvejeff – More info

2024 April 12th – Finnish Premiere by Tampere Philharmonic conducted by Olari EltsMore info