Listen: Pianist Improvises a Debate Between Obama and Romney

Monday, November 05, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Gabriela Montero, a classical pianist known for her signature improvisations on themes suggested by audience members, dramatizes a debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in a new recording posted on YouTube.

"Try and guess who is who," the Venezuelan-born pianist calls out to the audience at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall at Northwestern University on Oct. 18. The six-minute improv pits a bluesy, boogie-woogie-style theme against a somber chorale-like melody. The two themes grow more angular and charged, often entangling in the manner of a Charles Ives montage.

Listen to this audio clip and tell us which theme corresponds to the given candidate: 

Montero, who played at Obama's inauguration ceremony in 2009, has become campaigner for political change in her home country, and recently wrote ExPatria, a barbed response to Hugo Chavez's reelection.

Of course, composers have dramatized elections and political campaigns in the past, notably Ives, who, in 1896, wrote a campaign song for William McKinley called "William Will." A marine band performed the song at McKinley’s inauguration, giving the composer some of the most visible exposure of his career. Ives re-entered the political fray 25 years later, when, as a staunch supporter of Woodrow Wilson, he wrote An Election for chorus and orchestra, about the cynical election of Warren G. Harding in 1920.

Other famous expressions of political elections include "President Garfield's Inauguration March" by John Philips Sousa; Of Thee I Sing, the Gershwin Brothers's spoof of elections (it concerns the president choosing a First Lady via beauty contest); and Irving Berlin's “I Like Ike,” from 1952.

Tune in to WQXR on Tuesday for more election-inspired works.

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Comments [3]

Barry Owen Furrer

Thank you, Mr. Wise for referencing John Philip Sousa in your piece. While director of the Marine Band, Sousa served under five presidents and besides the aforementioned "Inaugural March," Sousa would come to pen the dirge "In Memoriam" just months later. When Chester Arthur learned the tune of "Hail To The Chief" was a Scottish melody, he requested that Sousa change it and responded with the "Presidential Polonaise" to be rendered at indoor affairs at the White House. His "Semper Fidelis" march was the first piece of music to be officially recognized by the government. My reason for mentioning all this is tomorrow happens to be Sousa's birthday as well as election day.

Nov. 05 2012 10:58 PM
Mary Garmshausen from So California

Gabriela Montero is not only genius, but fearless and beautiful. She can take any topic, tune, story, or feeling and make the most beautiful music on the spot. You really have to experience it, to appreciate her gift. She truly gives classical music a whole new lift because her music transends all music genres. Thanks

Nov. 05 2012 10:02 PM
barry lewis

Absolute genius!!!! She just makes it up, composes it right there in front of the audience!! She never splutters for a second, just builds this incredible story and these two very different characters. I didn't know anyone could do that any more! Imagine what they could do with her in Hollywood!!!! Please play more of her music, NPR!! Thanks!

Nov. 05 2012 02:14 PM

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