All that’s missing from tonight’s presidential debate is some classical music. Wait – not any more.
Thanks to Stephen Colbert, the debate is getting a live accompaniment. The Late Show announced this afternoon that they will be streaming the debate on Facebook Live with supporting improvisations by the New York-based PUBLIQuartet – a piece that the Late Show is calling #RequiemforaDebate.
The announcement was made on the A.V. Club website, and given that the website was originally founded by the Onion, one wondered if the announcement was in fact a sophisticated spoof. Furthermore, the PUBLIQuartet’s Web profile is such a perfect encapsulation of today’s trends in chamber music as to be almost parodistic. They defy genres! They reach outside the classical music bubble! One of the violinists has her own band! Another one teaches jazz! The cellist writes film scores! They won an ASCAP award for adventurous programming!
But it’s not a spoof: it’s really happening.
“They’ve been broadcasting the debates with some kind of gimmick for each one,” explains Jannina Norpoth, one of the quartet’s violinists. “The first one was on the moon, the second one was kittens. They decided they wanted a string quartet. The producer Googled improvisatory string quartets, and found us.”
Improvisation is not normally a big part of a string quartet’s diet. The PUBLIQuartet does routinely include improvisation on its concerts. But never has it tried a 90-minute improvisation, on live TV, with only a few days’ notice.
“Ninety minutes is a long time to have to be on your game,” says Amanda Gookin, the group’s cellist. “Ninety minutes is your typical concert length.”
“We watched the last two debates, and we kind of know the basic gist of how it goes,” she adds. But “we’re going to be just as surprised tonight as everybody else is. We’re going to be totally on our toes. Even if we’d had the opportunity to prepare a ton, we still would have to be. We have no idea what questions will be asked.”
“We have a few prepared themes,” concedes Norpoth. “A few musical jokes will be thrown in, for sure.”
For those in the DC and New York area who would like to hear more of the quartet, or be able to concentrate on their music, tickets are available for their upcoming performances on November 3rd at Strathmore and November 5th at the Cloisters (the quartet is in residence this season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Called “New Baroque,” and inspired by the Cloisters — “this amazing monastery space tucked inside New York City,” Gookin says — the program includes improvisations on Bach, as well as works by composers inspired by the Baroque, including Alfred Schnittke and Eugen Birman. Birman’s quartet, included on the group’s latest album, came to them through their program “PUBLIQ Access,” through which they commission new work by emerging US-based composers.
Tonight’s performance may be a bit Baroque, as well, though not quite in the same sense.
“Awesome!” wrote one commenter on the Late Show’s page. “There’s nothing like adding a string quartet to make the end of life as we know it seem like it means something.”