Michael Alec Rose Composes Music to Intervene in the Museum

The string quartet “Three Interventions” responds to three artworks in the Blanton Museum of Art


Yes, Michael Alec Rose composed “Three Interventions” as a musical response to three works of art in Blanton Museum. And yes, Rose intended the three movements to be performed in the museum by a string quartet seated in the vicinity of the works of art themselves.

But the Nashville-based composer also devised some else: processionals for the musicians to play as they lead museum-goers from one artwork to the next.

“They’re fun and raucous — even kind of obnoxious,” says Rose in an email. “They’re meant to get folks’ attention in the museum in the first place, and then to carry folks from one artwork to the next.”

Such literal choreography within a chamber music piece is at the heart of what music can be, says Rose. “(It’s speaks to) how music can take part in the world, how it can draw connections between art and reality, and present the overwhelming and consequential reality of art.”

“Three Interventions” was commissioned by Austin Camerata as part of its “Reinventions” series. Rose’s piece will premiere May 17 at the Blanton during the museum’s Third Thursday monthly evening of free programs. The performance begins at 5:30 p.m.

On May 15, Rose will speak about his work at the New Music Mixer, the monthly meet-up sponsored by Sightlines and KMFA, 89.5. The free event is 5 to 7 p.m. at Friends & Allies Brewing, 979 Springdale Road.

Rose chose artworks that to him represent interventions of one sort or another.


“Esther and Ahasuerus”, c 1565-70, Luca Cambiaso, Suida-Manning Collection, Blanton Museum of Art

In Jacopo Bassano’s “The Sacrifice of Isaac” from 1577, an angel intervenes stopping Abraham from fulfilling God’s command to sacrifice his own son.  Luca Cambiaso’s “Esther and Ahaseurus” depicts Queen Esther intercession with the Persian king to save her own Jewish people.

For the third artwork, Rose went beyond Biblical stories and 16th-century Mannerism to Sonya Clark’s 2008 celebration of Madam C.J. Walker.

Born in 1867 to former slaves, Madam C.J. Walker is said to be first self-made female millionaire in the United States, her fortune made in hair care and beauty products specifically for African American women. Her business model employed thousands of Black women. Clark’s 10-foot tall portrait of Walker is made of 3,840 fine-tooth pocket combs.

“In all these stories, I guess I’m interested in the power of a single soul to transform the history of an entire people,” says Rose. “I’m fascinated by the ways in which faith can work, very darkly (after all, Abraham was going to kill Isaac), or with resolute courage (Esther’s predicament), or with endless resourcefulness (Madam Walker’s pragmatic heroism).”

Rose arranged the three movements of “Three Interventions” in a very intentional sequence.

“I’ve ordered the artworks to move from the realm of patriarchal power (Abraham and Isaac), through the difficult region of a woman challenging male authority (Esther vs. the Persian king), to one of the great instances of a woman taking agency for her destiny, and for positively affecting the destinies of so many others.”

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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