Harry Stafylakis


Sun Exhaling Light
for orchestra (2017)
3(picc).2(corA).2.3(cbsn) / / timp + 2perc / hp / strings
11 minutes

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

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



Perusal score

Program note

“[...] But let’s not start with tears,
or the flashing lights, the sirens, nor the faint voice over the cell phone when you heard ‘I love you ...’
for the very last time. No, let’s ease our way into this, let our first lines praise the plenitude of morning,
the sun exhaling light into the clouds. [...]”
—Richard Blanco, from “One Pulse – One Poem”

On June 12, 2016, a man shot and killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Richard Blanco’s “One Pulse – One Poem”, a stirring reaction to this atrocity, depicts the poet–observer trying to come to terms with the reality of the event. Inviting the reader to join him in calm commiseration, he counsels us to first take stock in our surroundings – in the quiet beauty of our natural and built environment – before joining him in attempting to find the words to express the horror that such an act of violence elicits.

Sun Exhaling Light takes this premise as its starting point. Solar wind is a stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun. It buffets our planet constantly, Earth’s magnetosphere our only protection against the intense radiation that would inflict severe damage on all life. One can imagine these competing forces as a metaphor for the conflict between the drive to aggression and the protective shield that is human civilization. The piece envisions scenarios in which our culturally constructed defences are eroded, bursts of violence tearing through, leaving us stunned and deeply mournful.

The title Sun Exhaling Light is taken from the poem "One Pulse – One Poem" by Richard Blanco, used with permission of the author. Excerpt from the poem reprinted with permission; ©2016, Richard Blanco.


"Sun Exhaling Light was one of the most impressive works the orchestra has premièred in recent years. ... And there was indeed a kind of terrible luminosity to the music, which was at times ferociously expressive. Though short, the work was richly varied and was orchestrated with flair."

—Kevin Bazzana on Sun Exhaling Light, Times Colonist, Victoria
full review

"The composer is no stranger to gritty subjects, including his earlier Holocene Extinction (2017) and last year’s Into Oblivion, which was given its world premiere by the WSO. In this latest work, he tackles the topic as an eloquent cry for change, with an early highlight becoming Caitlin Broms-Jacobs’s plaintive oboe solo, which floated over lugubrious lower sonic depths that bled into sweeps of strings and later, a compelling brass chorale.

At times, too many musical ideas risked weakening the cohesion of the piece, despite Stafylakis’s masterful orchestration including his calling card of extreme contrasts of range, timbre, and texture. Still, its final crescendo, which climaxes with a staccato spray of three tones like gunshot, further proved his ability to infuse his music with heart-stopping drama. This 2017 orchestral work resonated as an authentic and imaginative response to the unimaginable."

—Holly Harris on Sun Exhaling Light, Winnipeg Free Press
full review

The Poem

Below is Richard Blanco reading "One Pulse – One Poem", published June 27, 2016 on his YouTube channel. It is shared here out of respect for his work, and to provide some context behind Sun Exhaling Light. Visit Richard's website for more about the author.