Early 20th century audiences met many of Stravinsky’s works with nervousness and jeers. Today, the Russian composer’s music has a large body of admirers who consider it brilliant. Audiences in the 19th century would have been even less receptive to Stravinsky, listening halfheartedly and yearning to return to the joyous melodies of Haydn with which they were comfortable.

History has that pesky way of repeating itself ? musicians today are encountering the same problems that they did centuries ago. While the typical classical music lover will go to hear a Beethoven symphony with rapture, it’s almost like pulling teeth to convince others to listen to new music.

People want reassurance ? they want the stuff that they know is 100 percent guaranteed to be good. Their philosophy seems to be that if the composer isn’t dead and rotting, they’re staying at home to watch Wheel of Fortune.

Progressive citizens see the error in society’s ways, desiring to see a change in the way our society views what is different. Luckily for the Rochester area, change is right around the corner.

What is even more inspiring is that a group of students is leading this enlightenment.

Taking its name from a score marking that indicates an alternative, Ossia (pronounced osseea) is an entirely student-run organization that sets out to produce outstanding concerts of new music and to help students learn the skills to produce these concerts. Imagine ? Ossia is not just encouraging a call for new music, but providing the know-how to sell this music to an audience successfully. In other words, Ossia is supplying the skills to think, not just to do.

Judging by their concert on Valentine’s Day, Ossia has far surpassed their aspirations. Decked out in attractive shades of red, pink, orange and white, Eastman students proved that the the world of music is heading somewhere innovative and fascinating.

The program included three world premieres. Each piece held a quiet confidence in doing what had never been done before ? the audience heard a set of variations for timpani, piano and two electric violins entitled “Free Variation” by Dan Iannantuono, a viola concerto with a moving soloist called “Elegy for Viola and Chamber Orchestra” by Payton MacDonald and a lively convolution of swing tunes ? “Convolution” by Stefan Freund.

Another aspect of Ossia that makes it a driving force is the sense of open-mindedness and community that it presents. Out of the four pieces in the program last Thursday, three were composed by present and former Eastman students. Ossia is always advertising and encouraging the Eastman community to share their ideas with the group. One of their considerations in selecting a proposal is artistic merit.

When looking for proposals, they often appeal with this message: “Ossia prefers projects that are unique and artistically appealing; we also encourage projects that present music that would not otherwise be performed at Eastman. We emphasize under-represented styles, genres and composers, and are particularly interested in performances that incorporate elements beyond those in traditional concert music.”

The other considerations include student commitment and performance quality. Ossia wants a combined package of creativity, responsibility and ability.

Margaret Meade wisely stated “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has!”

While Ossia may never proclaim itself to be a group on the forefront of changing music, no less the world, they undoubtedly are helping to mold what music is inevitably becoming ? a blank canvas to which any product can be applied.

With the passion, commitment and innovation that I saw on stage on Thursday night, Ossia is changing history, one note at a time.

Swanson can be reached at kswanson@campustimes.org.



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Editor’s Note (5/4/24): This article is no longer being updated. For our most up to date coverage, look for articles…