Eastman ensemble showcases little-heard compositions

06:16 AM, Dec 01, 2013

Ossia, a student-run new-music ensemble, performs on Monday at Eastman School of Music. (John Schlia/ / Photo provided by Ossia)/


Written By Daniel J. Kushner

If you go

What: Ossia performs a new music concert featuring works by Gy├Ârgy Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Eastman student Daniel Pesca, among others.
When: 8 p.m. Monday.
Where: Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.
Cost: Free.
For information: ossianewmusic.org.

Members of the Eastman School of Music community have always given listeners the opportunity to hear mainstays of the classical music repertoire. Student-run new-music ensemble Ossia, now in its 17th year, tries to pick the future mainstays in the world of composition, encompassing everything from seminal avant-garde works of the 20th century to freshly inked premieres written by Eastman students.

What I feel our job is is to put on great music in Eastman that isn’t otherwise heard around the school, so this concert represents that,” says Matt Evans, a saxophonist and current Ossia president.

Ossia recruits all of its musicians and selects programs independently of Eastman. On Monday, the group’s concert will include works by modern titans Karlheinz Stockhausen and György Ligeti alongside the premiere of “Examples of Confusion” by Eastman graduate and composer-pianist Daniel Pesca.

The instrumentation in Pesca’s work showcases a kind of wind ensemble-in-microcosm, and with hints of jazz, it explores instruments with higher ranges.

The piece has a kind of agile quality, sometimes a rather jesting quality, too,” says Pesca, who named it after a series of short stories by Lydia Davis.

Mikrophonie I” by Karlheinz Stockhausen won’t give the listener conventional melodies or harmonies. Instead, this visceral work for two percussionists playing a large tam-tam, or gong, focuses on the various textures and tones that make up the vast environment of sound.

It’s also interesting that in one way, this is a very simple piece,” says percussionist Andrew Worden. “It’s one instrument, it’s a bunch of implements that we use to play the tam-tam, and it’s like some electronics that manipulate the sound, but it’s all coming from this giant metal plate, which is capable of an infinite amount of sounds.”

For example, at one point, the composer’s instructions are to wet the rim of a wine glass and drag it across the surface of the gong, Worden says.

Part of the variety of musical possibilities comes from how Stockhausen scored the music, which is much more visual and intuitive than much of traditional classical music notation.

Notation can be prescriptive — telling you how to do something — or descriptive, and it can give you an idea of how it’s going to sound, and a lot of traditional notation is both,” says composer and electronic musician Christopher Chandler. “It tells you how to do something, and it tells you a little bit of what it’s going to sound like. With (“Mikrophonie I”), it tells you very much how to do things, but the overall result — I’m sure there are going to be lots of surprises for us, because it can be different every time.”

Worden says he hopes listeners will come to the concert with a curious mind — “curious about sounds and about composers and their intentions, and maybe to leave any prescribed notions of what they’re expecting at the door.”