"Twelve years ago, I wrote an elegy for the Kurdish city of Hallabja, which was destroyed in the Iran-Iraq War. The piece, Silent City was a lament, but also a musical journey out of devastation into a community rebuilt. At an early performance, members of the audience approached me with tears in their eyes–they were from New Orleans, and it was just months after Hurricane Katrina. They had found hope for their city in our music. I recall this because, for me, it captures music's power to give hope to divided communities and broken cities everywhere."
— Kayhan Kalhor
Though Silent City was sparked by the destruction of Hallabjah, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, it serves as a universal testament to fallen cities and communities. Central to the piece is the idea that life always returns, sprouting anew out of an empty landscape. The musical narrative unfolds in reverse, beginning with a city laid waste. The opening scene is a whispered and sparse musical atmosphere, evoking a world of devastation. The echoes of distant voices return, slowly building in intensity toward an urgent climax. This substantial first portion of the piece is completely improvised, allowing us to work within the mode, crafting a visceral sense of that barren world.
Next, you hear a lamenting chant sing out from the kamancheh, based on a traditional melody from Turkey. This leads into a Kurdish melody that repeats above a densely shifting harmonic world, ultimately yielding to a joyful dance in 7/8 meter that vividly depicts the return of life.