arnica quartet

Arnica Quartet performed at March Music Moderne.

Arnica Quartet performed at March Music Moderne.

By JEFF WINSLOW

If the Arnica Quartet‘s March 14 overview of British 20th century master Benjamin Britten’s three string quartets at Portland’s Community Music Center was any indication, their April 5 reprise of his last quartet, largely written in Venice, seems likely to be a vital if somewhat poignant addition to the Portland Art Museum’s ongoing Venice exhibition – provided they can soak up a little of the Adriatic warmth emanating from the masterworks on display.

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Northwest New Music performs at Portland State University

Sometime during the second movement Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, performed Tuesday night at Portland State University’s cozy Lincoln Recital Hall by a splendid team of Oregon classical musicians, I began to realize that I was in the middle of something special.

It wasn’t just the spine-tingling performance of Messiaen’s 20th century masterpiece, plus other works by Debussy and the great 20th century Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. I also realized that this was fourth concert in as many weeks starring local musicians performing relatively contemporary music. Those other concerts also featured mostly original music written in the 21st century by Oregonians, so with the most recent work being Takemitsu’s 1981 “Toward the Sea,” Tuesday night’s Northwest New Music concert — which in most other cities would be one of the few “modern” music concerts of the season — almost counted as classical fare here in Portland.

And all of this has been happening before the classical music “season,” whatever that means anymore, has really even started! This coming weekend (see below) offers still more new music treats, as does almost every weekend for the rest of the year. NWNM and other new music groups are springing up (and cooperating — the pianist Tuesday was the superb Susan Smith of Third Angle New Music Ensemble, and she and the new 3A violist are performing this weekend with still another group), while the city’s other alt.classical groups going strong and even pushing into the mainstream; two of them, Electric Opera Company and Opera Theater Oregon, even participated in old-line Portland Opera’s street party last weekend.

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