Efraín Amaya composed Polaris in 1987 while he was living in Houston, Texas. He was working on a master's degree in conducting at the time, and so the piece stands as a reflection over which direction his ultimate devotion to music would lead.
Polaris, then, is about the transformation, mutation, and metamorphosis of two themes, which are presented sequentially at the beginning of the piece. Each has a clear and complementary character: the first is a martial, active force; the second is spiritual, with a more lyrical energy. Through augmentation, diminution, and displacement the martial theme is enveloped in self-destruction. The lyrical theme evolves into solos for the oboe and high double bass. The trumpet announces the third section of the piece, where the two themes come together as one. This joyful encounter dissolves as each instrument of the ensemble fades away. The coda is a concluding confrontation, which leaves the outcome of the conflict undecided.
Polaris was written as a companion piece for a performance of Octandre, the 1923 masterpiece by Edgar Varèse; thus the instrumentation is the same: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, french horn, trombone, and double bass. The première of Polaris was in Pittsburgh, in 1993 by the Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Ensemble conducted by the composer.