Bursting with rockstar energy, PUBLIQuartet is changing the perception of string quartets with its creative programming and modern interpretation of chamber music. The Grammy-nominated ensemble comes to the Moss Arts Center on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. with “What Is American,” a performance that thoughtfully explores a selection of composers and diverse genres that make up America’s rich musical history.

The performance will be held in the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

“What Is American” includes works by Vijay Iyer and Rhiannon Giddens, the music of Ornette Coleman, and a reimagination of Dvořák’s “American Quartet,” where the composer’s original melodies meet PUBLIQuartet’s improvisations. The evening also features the ensemble’s take on music by Tina Turner, Betty Davis, Alice Coltrane, and Ida Cox.

The program explores the resonance between contemporary, blues, jazz, free, and rock-inflected music — all of which trace their roots back to the Black and Indigenous music that inspired Dvořák’s popular quartet. Interrogating these traditions of the country’s complex history, PUBLIQuartet  connects the dots, illuminating the past, present, and future of American concert music.

Woven throughout the program are several improvised interludes; each is inspired by Oliver Wendell Holmes’ rarely-heard, unofficial fifth verse to “The Star Spangled Banner,” which he penned in 1861. Recorded, edited, and mixed by PUBLIQuartet violist Nick Revel, these sonic vignettes lend added thematic context and atmosphere to the tracks around them.

PUBLIQuartet has been presented by the American Composers Orchestra, Virginia Arts Festival, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, and the Chautauqua Institution. Its 2020-2021 season highlights included performances at Onstage Ogden, Underground Classical, Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project, and a virtual performance with the Chautauqua Institution.

The quartet has collaborated with members of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), JACK Quartet, jazz tuba legend Bob Stewart, and innovative jazz clarinetist/composer Don Byron. The quartet has participated in residencies at the Juilliard String Quartet Institute, Robert Mann String Quartet Institute, the Shouse Institute (GLMF), and the Banff Centre.

Founded in 2010 and based in New York City, PUBLIQuartet presents contemporary works, original compositions, and improvisations expanding the role of the string quartet. In 2019 the group received its first Grammy nomination for its sophomore album, “Freedom & Faith,” cementing the ensemble as a premiere new music group.

This performance by PUBLIQuartet is co-sponsored by the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Community, Leadership and Social Change Residential College, Residential College at West Ambler Johnston, Honors Residential Commons, Cranwell International Center, and Mozaiko Living-Learning Community.

Related events

A pre-performance talk led by Christopher Campo-Bowen, assistant professor of musicology in the School of Performing Arts and scholar whose expertise bridges Dvořák, race and ethnicity, gender, empire, and music, will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. in the Cube. “Composing States” explores how composers embody, construct, and complicate notions of national identity through the quartet’s repertoire. The event is free, but registration is required.

During their visit to Blacksburg, members of PUBLIQuartet will lead seven engagement events, including music improvisation workshops, university class visits, and a school-day performance. Participants will include students in second through seventh grades from Floyd and Montgomery counties and Radford and Salem cities, as well as Virginia Tech students in numerous living-learning programs.

Ticket information

Tickets for the performance are $20-45 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

Paid parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Virginia Tech has also partnered with ParkMobile to provide a convenient, contactless electronic payment option for parking, which may be used at any parking meter, campus parking space, or lot with standard F/S, C/G, or R parking.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Jamie Wiggert at least 10 days prior to the event at 540-231-5300 or email wiggertj@vt.edu during regular business hours.

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