Commissioner exclusivity applies

Tipping Points can be performed without the narrated text and is 25 minutes in that version.

  • vn + 2(II:pic).2(II:ca).2(II:bcl).2(II:cbn)/4.3.2+btbn.0/timp.2perc/hp/str
  • Violin, actor (optional)
  • 32 min 40 s

Programme Note

Tipping Points is a work for violin, text and orchestra. The piece is in six movements, and each is preceded by the spoken text of poems by Nick Drake giving a total of twelve episodes shared between words and music. The poems can be narrated live between movements, or a recorded version spoken by actress Grainne Dromgoole is available with the performance materials.

What are ‘Tipping Points’?


One dictionary definition reads: ‘a time during an activity or process when an important decision has to be made, or when a situation changes completely’. Historically, the phrase was first used in the 1950s in the United States to refer to the movement of ‘white flight’ out of neighbourhoods as they became racially and ethnically diverse… In science it means ‘a threshold in a system which, when reached, rapidly changes its state’. Current and recent meanings of ‘Tipping Points’ most commonly refer to the ‘critical thresholds which, when crossed, lead to significant, exponential and irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate and ecological systems’.


 A vivid red thread runs through all of these definitions; tipping points are points of no return


Which brings us to the heart of the story behind this work. The weather is becoming ever more alarmingly extreme. ‘Record-breaking’ heatwaves and bleached coral. Tornadoes, hurricanes and unbreathable air. Landslides, deforestation and desertification. Ocean levels rising, extreme storms and flooding. There is more flux, unpredictability and elemental violence in the great systems of Nature. And at the heart of this disruption lies a profound sense of loss.


From the start, Rachel Portman, Niklas Liepe and I imagined this project as a response to the climate emergency - we hoped to acknowledge its alarming, heart-breaking realities, but also to seek a way, with the powers of poetry and music, through this dark matter towards a sense of not just hope, but imaginative agency.


We began by thinking about something apparently different: the so-called classical elements as defined by Aristotle: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Many cultures, from Ancient Greece, Babylonia, Persia, Japan, China and India, and others, explain the nature, complexity and interconnectedness of the universe by referencing the four elements as its most fundamental forms. These are not fixed but perpetually metamorphose into each other; energetic change and transformation are written through them. It’s as if the fifth element is time itself - the dramatic medium of change. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is the most famous poem on this subject. It begins (in Allen Mandelbaum’s English translation):

‘My soul would sing of metamorphoses.

But since, o gods, you were the source of these

bodies becoming other bodies, breathe

your breath into my book of changes…

At the heart of the elemental scheme is a constant struggle to restore balance and harmony out of chaos, and to make sense of the processes and stories of change. But it also applies, metaphorically, at the lived, intimate, emotional level of the inner worlds of each one of us. For surely we have all experienced tipping points in our own lives. This is where we hope Tipping Points connects the ancient with the very modern, and the epic with the very personal.


The accelerating changes, transformations and transmutations of the climate emergency, caused by the exponential concentration of industrially-produced polluting greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, are wreaking havoc on ecosystems, the biosphere, the oceans, the polar regions, and vulnerable societies all around the world. Many, above all indigenous peoples, have already lived for decades in a changed world from the one they were born into.


Climates of fear and apocalyptic anxieties are of course, a recurrent anxiety in human culture and the human imagination. But at this point in the 21st century, we have a unique relationship to this planetary crisis, through realistic, scientifically-accurate scenarios that tell us clearly, and undeniably, how the crisis will likely play out on a planetary scale. We are hyper-aware of the imminent hazards and dangers of irreversible change, we know we are at multiple tipping points - and yet that knowledge is interwoven with an alarming, sometimes disabling, sense of powerlessness. It can feel overwhelming.


How can we respond? When things feel as if they’ve become catastrophically disconnected, how can we reconnect? How do we use the gift of our agency, singly and collectively? How do we come to terms with the unknown world of the future? How might we re-enchant nature, and what would that look like? How might we harness our imaginations - surely the human superpower we each possess - to make change happen?


Tipping Points was made out of such questions. We feel the loss and grief in our hearts. But we absolutely did not want to create a climate Jeremiad. We wanted to acknowledge and map out those painful, difficult things, but above all to recall and celebrate the powers and beauties of the natural world and the life-giving wonders of the elements. The spacious beauty of the music holds the darker matter of the poems in its harmonic world. The two have a necessary, symbiotic relationship. Ultimately, we hope the whole work embodies and inspires a sense of wonder, creative hope and imaginative agency in the listener.


The poems offer juxtapositions and possible balances; between grief and agency, fear and wonder, destruction and beauty, collapse and regeneration, what’s lost and what might yet be saved. I hope the listener experiences these emotionally, as a call to consider how we might all do whatever we can to make change happen.


The elements are in constant metamorphosis, an endless flux of dynamic change. Nothing is certain. Let’s remember, ‘tipping points’ can also be transformative in positive, creative ways. Change is the perpetual driver of life. Which is why ‘Invocation’, the first poem begins: ‘things change’ and why ‘Epilogue’, the final poem, ends with the simple inversion: ‘change things’.


‘Air’ is about the wonders of that element, from the first essential of our own breathing, to the atmosphere that holds us all.  It’s also about the pollution of that wonder.


‘Water’ considers the absolute necessity of the element to all growth - and the massive water problems the world is experiencing as the climate heats and becomes more and more extreme.


‘Fire’ commemorates the devastation of the Australian bush fires of 2019-20. But it could equally refer to the vast Canadian bush fires which turned the skies over NYC orange. Or the deliberate burning of irreplaceable rainforests around the world.


‘Earth’ takes in the catastrophic destructions wreaked by agribusiness exploitation but also celebrates the mysterious enchantments of nature. 


We hope Tipping Points - with the violin as the guiding ‘voice’ at the heart of the music - takes the listener on an emotional, imaginative journey, offering something each for the heart, the spirit, the body and the mind - our four human elements. 


 Poem: Invocation

I. Invocation: A Different Sound Sings Through Everything

Poem: Air

II. Air: Conjurer of Secret Atmospheres 

Poem: Water

III. Water: Simple Spell Conjuring a New Green World 

Poem: Fire

IV. Fire: We’re Losing the Family of Things

Poem: Earth

V. Earth: The Time is Now to Make Peace with the Earth

Poem: Epilogue

VI. Epilogue: Whisper the Forests until they Rise Again


Things change, always. A book of mutability
written in dream time. All mortals know the story

as we become it, and are transformed
like bright leaves on a generation tree

through air, water, fire, then home to earth –
everything becoming something else, 

a rock a tree, a child a bird, a wave 
a long-lost song…  But something’s wrong.

Rivers turn to stone. Air catches fire. 
Heatwaves have names. The birds have disappeared. 

Our spooked hearts beat now to a stranger drum.
A different sound sings through everything…



First breath, first cry. First song on the wing.
Conjurer of secret atmospheres, ghost

medium of light and shadows and dark.
Transmission of our signals and alerts, 

are you receiving me, over, over…?
Silence of clouds and cloud forests. 

A billion rush hour cars exhaust themselves,
gridlocked with music and the ceaseless news…

Some nights the air smells of chocolate.
Others of chemicals. It’s hard to breathe.

What we hold for now but not forever.
What we give away to set words free –



Simple spell conjuring a new green world.
Made of the mist. Rain forest’s dream. 

Clouds in their own time. Ice holding slow time.
The charm of snow, here and now and gone.

Sea’s ebb and flow. River’s ever-running mirror. 
The glass urn full. The necessary rain. 

The vanished rain. Lakes wasted to dust
and dead bikes. Parched parks. Death Valley flooded. 

An ice cube’s tiny arctic in your drink going,
going like the ancient shields of ice…

The enchantment of water still sings on
in its wavering wheel. In this planet’s perfect blue. 



Air catches fire. Dark descends. Red light. 
War music turned up beyond full volume. 

Lawns ignite. Houses explode. Trees
scream like firecrackers, like banshees.

Anthracite in no time, not millennia.
The forest a mass grave. A requiem

of silence mourning for the ruined green.
Habitat. Sanctuary. Arcadia. 

Family photos. Clothes. A place called home.
Past, present, future, all burned down. 

Nothing to see here for a long, long time. 
We’re losing the family of things. 



Light wind in the wildwood conjuring
myriad hidden voices. Rings of time

recorded in every tree. In each still lake. 
The secret wiring of mycelium

transmitting songs beneath the forest floor.
Old growth. Primeval. Taiga. Enchantment’s home

clear-cut to the geometry of mass-farms.
Plantations. Corporations. Extinctions. Blight. 

The tipping point of the heart is when it breaks -
and then the disenchanted light that dawns. 

Voices in the wildwood calling out: 
The time is now to make peace with the earth.



Change things. The book of mutability,
of time and mystery, is never-ending. 

Light a candle, let each bud of grief
illuminate the dark. But then look up. 

A sign in a shop reads: If you break it, 
you fix it. Sing the future’s story. 

Chant the oceans back to their deep pulse. 
Recall the broken rivers so they heal. 

Hum the chimneys of the power plants to sleep. 
Whisper the forests until they rise again. 

It’s now or never. Re-enchant the earth. 
Sing it back and forward. Raise your voice. 


  • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Celebrate the environmental consciousness of Wise Music Group composers as we explore the meeting of art and activism in compositions which echo the urgent call of our planet.


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