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The sound of an imaginary city

“Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music,” Goethe famously observed. San Francisco composer Nathaniel Stookey (right) probably understands that line better than most. On Feb. 4, he joins the Las Vegas Philharmonic for a performance of his piece, “Yield to Total Elation,” which might be the closest you’ll ever come to hearing architecture expressed in sound.Composer Nathaniel Stookey with the love.

Stookey’s composition was inspired by an elaborate imaginary city of the same name conceived and illustrated by A.G. Rizzoli. Rizzoli was a competent but otherwise unremarkable architectural draftsman who worked in San Francisco for nearly 40 years. But after hours, the reclusive bachelor devoted himself obsessively to drawing fantastic, Beaux Arts-inspired buildings, many of which were part of “Yield to Total Elation,” his imaginary city of exalted architecture. Rizzoli’s trove of elaborate drawings weren’t discovered until after he died in 1981. He’s since been appreciated as a wildly imaginative “outsider” artist.

“He spent decades working on this imaginary city that almost no one ever saw,” says Stookey. “I was fascinated by what an isolated life he led, and how at the same time he was able to create this nirvana for himself.” In the course of his research, when Stookey read the name of Rizzoli’s fantasy city, it struck a chord: “I thought, ‘Yield to Total Elation’ is how I want music to feel.” Stookey’s composition aims to reflect the sense of optimism, wonder and aspiration in Rizzoli’s soaring spires and intricately detailed towers.

Of course,  such an unusual musical subject calls for an unusual instrument. In the philharmonic’s performance of “Yield To Total Elation,” Stookey will provide a harmonic background as he plays the oove, an electro-acoustic stringed instument designed by artist Oliver DiCicco; imagine an angular stand-up guitar that works by electromagnetism and you’re halfway there. It’s suited for the piece in more ways than one.

“The oove itself is very architectural — beautifully machined chrome that’s finely polished,” says Stookey. “And it has a very strange and exotic sound, a yearning sound. There’s an intensity and depth to it.” Its haunting, aching, searching tones just may give you a glimpse of a wondrous cityscape you’ve never heard before.

The Las Vegas Philarmonic performs Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, "Nhanderú" and “Yield to Total Elation” 7:30p Feb. 4 at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center, with a pre-concert conversation at 6:30p. Tickets $30-$109. Info:

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