for solo flute and chamber orchestra
2019 | ca. 11 min
First performance: 20* & 21** February 2020, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage* & The Embassy of Canada**, Washington DC, The Catholic University of America Symphony Orchestra,
Troy Paolantonio, flute; Andrea Vela* & Nicola Colafelice**, conductors
Alert, for solo flute and chamber orchestra, is in a single movement. After its tentative beginning, the solo flute gradually gains energy and becomes more and more erratic and unpredictable. It soon reaches a frenzied state, which it maintains for an extended period of time. Eventually, the energy subsides and the solo flute returns to its more docile manner of the opening. Amidst an uneasy calm, the piccolo joins the flute, paraphrasing and echoing the soloist’s voice. No longer alone, the soloist now hovers, unresolved, with its newfound counterpart, as if to conserve its energy before the next, inevitable outburst.
The piece takes its name from the northernmost permanently inhabited location on earth in Nunavut, Canada. With a population of 62 (in 2016), the settlement of Alert is 800 km (500 miles) from the North Pole and functions as a federal centre for climate monitoring and research, and also serves as a Canadian Forces Station. Situated on the eastern edge of a federally designated Marine Protected Area, and extending deep into the Arctic Ocean, this area is known to the indigenous peoples as Tuvaijuittuq, which is Inuktut for “the place where the ice never melts.” But the ice is melting.
According to the government of Canada, “over the past three decades, the Arctic Ocean has lost an area of sea ice equivalent to the provinces of Manitoba and Quebec combined [or 2.3 million km2]” (Fisheries and Oceans Canada; visit dfo-mpo.gc.ca). For my American friends, that is approximately equivalent to the U.S. west coast, Washington, Oregon and California, plus Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, combined (approximately 880,000 m2).
I hope that this piece may serve as a reminder of the current state of our changing planet, one that is nothing less than a climate crisis.
R. A. Baker