Arena provides welcome stage for contemporary music

  • 2004-10-20
  • By Tim Ochser
RIGA - Riga has a proud tradition when it comes to classical music, but it has to be said it's hardly at the forefront of contemporary music. All the major concert halls routinely perform the same crowd-pleasing works by the same crowd-pleasing composers. So the Arena New Music Festival is starting to become something of a welcome musical surprise each fall.

The festival is now in its third year and was established precisely because there is such a lack of quality contemporary classical music being performed in Riga. Arena allows some of the best Latvian musicians to come together and get their teeth into something other than Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" for a change, as well as providing a welcome opportunity for Latvian composers to have their works performed.

In keeping with the previous two festivals, a major international composer will be the focal point of the festival. In 2002 it was Arvo Part and in 2003 it was Gavin Braiar. This year the legendary American composer Steve Reich is the guest of honor.

Reich was recently called the "most original musical voice of our time" by the New Yorker and "among the greatest composers of the century" by

The New York Times. His music, which is a groundbreaking blend of traditional and contemporary

musical forms, should be a real experience for many people, as there really is nothing even close to Reich's unique musical style in Latvia.

At midday on Oct. 29 Reich will also be taking questions from an audience in a public interview at the Latvian Academy of Music.

Other major composers that will be performed include Alfred Shnittke, Henryk Gorecki, John Adams, Charles Ives, Erik Bergman, Maurice Ohana and Mats Larsson-Gothe, along with several other notable figures. It will also be the premier of Latvian composers Nic Gotham's "Light Music" on Oct. 28 at Riga's Great Guild and Peteris Butans' "Lux Aeterna" on Oct. 30 at St. John's Church.

It's good to see that young people are being involved as well, with a special afternoon concert devoted to new compositions by students from all three Baltic music academies on Oct. 29 at the Latvian Academy of Music.

The program for this year's festival really is enticing with a selection of works that embraces the vast, eclectic spectrum of contemporary classical music. And I, for one, would rather see the sort of music being featured in this festival as a regular part of concert hall life rather than exotic festival fodder. o

Arena New Music Festival

Oct. 22 - Nov. 12

For more info visit