invisible cites: Part 1

the invisible city: Michael Najjar  (link)

the invisible city: Michael Najjar (link)



String Quartet

Made Possible by the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, and by the Lucas Arts Residency Program at the Montalvo Arts Center.

Premiere: March 2014, Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA, Corigliano String Quartet.

Live Recording: Michael Jinsoo Lim, violin Emilie Choi, violin Melia Watras, viola Sonja Myklebust, cello


PURCHASE SCORE (publication pending)


In the summer of 2010, I began sketching a new work for string quartet. These sketches turned into a master plan to write a cycle of 11 string quartets, each containing five movements - a project that would last several years, perhaps decades. The plan involves the chapters of a novella called Invisible Cites by one of my favorite authors, Italo Calvino. Calvino’s book is a magical and fantastical tale about a fictional conversation between Marco Polo, the great Viennese explorer, and Kublai Kahn, the great emperor. Polo describes 55 imaginary cites to Khan, and they have some dialogue about whether he has actually visited these cities or is imagining them. The city descriptions themselves are beautiful, poetic and profound; they create a magical world of strange and mystical cities.

In its final form, these 55 movements for string quartet will be like an open book: available to perform in any number and any order, creating a world of “cities” for an adventurous string quartet to explore in the spirit of Marco Polo. 

Invisible Cities Part 1 is the first in this cycle string quartets, and takes as its inspiration 5 cities called Euphemia, Zoe, Zirma, Andria and Zobeide. It is not my intention to create a sonic “picture” of these cities, nor to make a kind of tone-poem that mirrors the wonderful texts. Instead, I tried to find a unique essence from each city-description, and used that essence as a conceptual starting point for the movement.

1. Euphemia - “The city where memory is traded…” 

2. Zoe  -“If existence in all its moments is all of itself, Zoe is the place of indivisible existence.” 

3. Zirma - “Memory is redundant: it repeats so that the city can begin to exist.” 

4. Andria - “The only city I know where it is best to remain  motionless in time.” 

5. Zobeide - “The white city…with streets wound about  themselves as in a skein.”