CIMF, Concert 21: “Blue Poles”. At the James O. Fairfax Theater, May 8. Reviewed by LEN POWER.
WHEN the National Gallery bought American artist Jackson Pollock’s painting ‘Blue Poles’ in 1973 for A$1.3 million, it caused a major outcry.
To many observers, it looked like paint had just flowed and been tossed onto a canvas without thinking and its purchase was certainly not considered a prudent use of taxpayers’ money.
Today, the painting remains one of Australia’s most treasured and priceless works of art.
The “Blue Poles” concert honored the artist and painting with three musical works. It all started with a short video from 2019 made by Alison Chernick to refresh our memory on the painting, its purchase and its notoriety.
Because Native American art caught Pollock’s attention and remained an inspiration in his work, it was an inspired idea that the musical portion of the concert begin and end with Matthew Doyle playing the didgeridoo.
His expert playing created an Indigenous Australian bond and set the scene for the rest of the gig.
The Alma Moodie String Quartet composed of Kristian Winther (violin), Anna Da Silva Chen (violin), Alexina Hawkins (viola) and Thomas Marlin (cello) then took the stage for three works – one inspired by Pollock’s painting, one that has drawn controversy and that recalls the painting and its time.
The first piece, “Andante for Strings”, by American Ruth Crawford-Seeger was composed in 1931 and is arguably her best-known work. The piece’s long melodic line that moves from instrument to instrument gives it a distinctive rise and fall that builds into a dramatic crescendo. It has been described as “a very slow drip”. The quartet gave him a great performance.
The second element, the work of John Cage, 4’33”, is no stranger to controversy. It is written for any instrument or combination of instruments. It has three movements totaling four minutes and thirty-three seconds and the score instructs performers not to play their instruments for the duration. As polarizing as Pollock’s “Blue Poles,” this was the perfect gig for that. Whether it’s a joke or a serious piece of art is up to the listener.
The third work was a world premiere by Brian Howard entitled “Blue Poles, String Quartet No 5”.
The work is abstract, dramatic, intense and unpredictable, just like Pollock’s painting. There is a feeling of randomness and controlled chaos and it creates a pleasant springboard for the imagination. It was superbly played by the quartet.
It was a great concert that provided further insight into a well-known and often misunderstood painting from an ever-growing artist.
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Ian Meikle, editor