Romantarctica
Heroes from the Past and Hopes for the Future

A musical expedition from the Arctic regions of the North and South. Commissioned by the Arctic Philharmonic and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the world's northernmost and southernmost professional symphonic orchestras. I am inspired by the romanticism inherent in the voyages of the great explorers Scott and Amundsen and the many adventurers who faced the unknown with an unquenchable thirst. I am also inspired by my musical heroes from the Romantic era to whom the great explorers were exposed growing up. Ports of Departures. The fact that I, the Artistic Director of the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, which is based in Tromsø, was tasked with this co-commission with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, which is based in Hobart, triggered my imagination beyond belief. Tromsø is the most important Arctic port from which Amundsen, Nansen and many more headed for the North, but it is also the first port Amundsen used before redirecting Nansen's Fram to the South Pole, reaching it right before Scott. And the last port of departure for both Scott and Amundsen was exactly Hobart, Tasmania. The idea for this commission, which was initiated by Simon Rogers, was born when I performed excerpts from my composition Equinox in Tasmania on the very day of Equinox. During long conversations with Simon in Tasmania and during his travels in Norway, the project matured through mind-boggling perspectives in highly unusual talks. Psychologically, I believe that the explorers in some ways were Romantics first and foremost. None of them had the training needed when they made their choices, but seemingly nothing could stop them. Even the tragic fates of Scott and his team, and the ones suffered similarly in the north by Amundsen later on have elements of Romanticism in their weave. They were willing to die for their beliefs and dreams, or to protect the romanticized images they had created of themselves. Scott heading for the South Pole with ponies and gramophone recordings conjures up a scenery of tragedy but also of courage, faith and grand deeds and actions. I am also inspired by my own dreams and hopes for the future. I believe that all the exploring we ultimately need to undertake for the future of humanity is best done with a Romantic creative spirit not limited to conventional scientific thinking alone, but instead it will require us to jump willingly into the unknown without having clear answers. In the Arctic and Antarctic regions you can find mammals, birds, and other living things both above and below the ice as well as in barren lands. The story of ROMANTARCTICA starts with a white landscape. Isn't there an arctic fox looking around curiously, soon becoming wary of some unexpected members of the two-legged species and all their seemingly irrelevant problems? In this piece we find ourselves present simultaneously both in the North and in the South and in different times of the past and future. We are there to share the hopes and dreams of Scott and Amundsen, Nansen and the other pioneers. We are invited to look at their innermost secrets and the wildest dreams in their hearts. I do not feel restricted to those matters on which biographers or historians focussed. The chase to be the first is depicted musically through canons, in which a theme chases after itself just an eight note apart. A funeral theme is re-occurring, and there are also some very gentle reminders of vital, but forgotten details that almost break through the surface to the mind. When did Scott understand that he would die in the desolation? The arctic temperature has inspired motifs and orchestrations standing in stark contrast to burning flames in the hearts even when tragedy can almost barely be suppressed anymore. But actually all of these and more are also just thoughts floating through my mind and inspiring me while I am composing. What I love and what drives my inner forces is when a funeral march or an amorous theme starts to live a life of its own, and the story stops being tied to actual words or events, but instead starts exploring a world beyond the reach of words.

ROMANTARCTICA is composed for flexible scoring and exists in multiple versions ranging from solo piano through multiple chamber formations up to the many combination for one or two soloists with classical and extended orchestra. The 2 soloists, one in a higher pitch like violin, flute, oboe, and another in a lower pitch like viola, cello, clarinet, bassoon etc. Versions for 2 violas or 2 clarinets are possible. The solo concerto version is with one soloist and the remaining solos are spread over multiple orchestral instruments. It appears more like a concerto for orchestra, and such a version even exists in which all solos are played from within the orchestra. The piano solo version can be modified for versions like trio, quintet and piano concerto. All of these versions were composed simultaneously with this in mind, every theme audiolized while composing at the piano to these multiple timbres of possibilities.

The first world premiere of the piece, in the version for flute, viola and string orchestra, took place in Tromsø, and was given by Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra on February 18, 2021.

The second premiere, for 2 soloists and string quintet, took place on February 27, 2021 at "Ose Kammerspel", a Norwegian festival.

The multiverse of ROMANTARCTICA exists in different times, multiple places, and the combinations of scorings add up due to the modular design from the start. I believe in this form of composing first started in my piece Victimae Paschali which started as a solo viola piece (with text) and exists all the way up to orchestra with choir and soloists. Though ROMANTARCTICA is the first piece where this design was present even before making the first improvisations, a year before the notation part of the composing started. In this period I condensed a vast number of ideas down to a selected few, and new rounds of improvisations after making hundreds of versions finally ended up with the roughly 20-minute piece ROMANTARCTICA. I have video-documented the entire process amounting to more than 900 hours of videos of improvisations (and double improvisations) with myself, and several hundreds of pdfs from the early sketches to the present full scores. The duration of this piece is likely from around 15 to 25 minutes, and ranges from rather free versions to tighter and more action-filled narrations or anything one can dream up most convincingly on one’s own. My philosophy for the notation is that these scores represent possible ways to play the piece. They can be a starting point for the musicians to explore. If you find ways to play the piece which rings truer to you, making your own voice and desires a part of this tale, inspiring your storytelling, I grant you the right to do this. But I also encourage you to do this with any piece whether granted or not, even in cases when explicitly denied by the composer, as I believe the way forward for classical music is by letting our truest voices be heard. Be true to yourself and the very moment in which you live in your present. For music of any versions please email hkragg@gmail.com.