Harry Stafylakis


Holocene Extinction
for orchestra (2017)
3(picc).3(corA).3.3(cbsn) / / timp + 1perc / hp / pno(cel) / strings
17 minutes

Commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Premiered by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Keri-Lynn Wilson conducting, on Jan. 12-13, 2018.

Score and parts available for rental (PDF or hard copy). Send an inquiry through the Contact page.

Program notes

The Holocene epoch, which spans the past 11,700 years, encompasses the totality of humanity’s written history. Our species’ staggering growth and development into Earth’s first global superpredator is unprecedented in the known history of the planet. An unintended consequence of this explosive rise is the pervasive impact humanity has had on the environment. Human predation’s effects on food webs, the destabilization of biodiverse habitats, industry’s role in climate change, overpopulation, and profligate consumption are among the principal causes of an increase in the extinction rate of plant and animal species to between 100–1,000 times higher than natural background rates.

The Earth has experienced five mass extinction events in its history, spread out over hundreds of millions of years. Humanity is the first species to have directly precipitated such a cataclysm – what has been termed the sixth mass extinction, or the Holocene extinction.

This work is a symphonic poem, a meditation on our unfortunate complicity in this ongoing mass extinction event. The narrative is set in four continuous movements.

The first, Eden, imagines an idyllic Earth before the growth of humanity. It seeks to capture the simplicity and balance of the world as depicted in our origin myths. Gradually, a sense of foreboding invades the dreamlike naivety of the opening.

In Arrival, humanity enters the scene. A frenetic increase in energy and aggression depicts our rapid proliferation and takeover of the ecosystem.

Threnody, from the Greek θρηνῳδία, or “wailing ode”, is an exercise in catharsis, a purely emotional response to this ongoing tragedy.

The finale, Hammerfall, evokes the massiveness and cold brutality of industry, an unstoppable force subjugating the musical landscape with mechanical implacability.