S.E.M. Ensemble Plays Cage, Wolff, Kotik in New York

Morton Feldman
Cover of Morton Feldman

From the S.E.M. Ensemble:

The S.E.M. Ensemble presents the American Premiere of Christian Wolff’s For 6 or 7 Players (Music for Merce Cunningham)

December 21, 2010 at 8 PM @ Paula Cooper Gallery, NYC
Music by Morton Feldman, Petr Kotik, Christian Wolff and J. S. Bach

The S.E.M. Ensemble, founded and directed by Petr Kotik, will present its yearly Christmas concert at the Paula Cooper Gallery’s main space in Chelsea on Tuesday, December 21 (8 pm). The concert’s highlight is the American premiere of Christian Wolff’s For 6 or 7 Players (For Merce Cunningham), composed in 1958, arranged and scored by John Cage, and recently found in Kotik’s archive. The concert will also feature Morton Feldman’s trio Why Patterns? (1978), Petr Kotik’s String Quartet No. 1 (2007-10), and Christian Wolff’s Small Preludes (2009-10). Since the first SEM Christmas concert at Paula Cooper Gallery in 1984, it has become a tradition to perform an early music piece, and the December 21 program will include J. S. Bach’s Fugue in 6 Voices from A Musical Offering (1747).

The S.E.M. Ensemble includes Joseph Kubera (Piano), Chris Nappi (Percussion), Petr Kotik (Flutes), Tom Verchot (Trumpet), William Lang (Trombone), Conrad Harris (Violin), Pauline Kim (Violin), Liuh-Wen Ting (Viola), Greg Hesselink (Cello), and Troy Rinker (Contrabass).
Paula Cooper Gallery is located at 534 West 21st Street, New York. Tickets are $15, Students and Seniors $10. For information and reservations, call (718) 488-7659 or email pksem@semensemble.org

Christian Wolff’s For 6 or 7 Players (for trumpet, trombone, piano, violin, viola, double bass, and optional flute, hence 6 or 7) was originally written for Merce Cunningham’s dance “Rune” in 1958, while Wolff served in the U.S. Army. Wolff sent the piece to Cage, not retaining a copy for himself and the original was lost. Finding the manuscript somewhat ambiguous, Cage painstakingly re-notated the piece into a precise score. For 6 or 7 Players was due to be performed at Warsaw Autumn in 1964, as part of a Cunningham Dance Company event, by the Czech ensemble Musica viva pragensis, led by Petr Kotik. The music proved to be too demanding to be performed on such short notice, and Cage left the score and parts with Kotik for future performances. The piece was recently re-discovered by Kotik in his archive and performed recently in Europe by Ostravská banda, under Kotik’s direction.
Morton Feldman composed Why Patterns? in 1978 for the Creative Associates’ European tour, where he performed the piano part along with Eberhard Blum (flute), and Jan Williams (percussion). It is one of his last “uncoordinated” scores – a technique Feldman invented in the early 1950s. Feldman composed three trios for the same instrumentation (Crippled Symmetry & For Philip Guston), all of which have been performed by SEM numerous times.

For Philip Guston was released in 1992 by SEM on the label Dog w/a Bone (Paula Cooper Gallery).
The concert will also include String Quartet No. 1 – Erinnerungen an Jan (2007-10) by Petr Kotik in a newly revised version, as well as Christian Wolff’s recent composition, Small Preludes (2009-10).

J.S. Bach’s Fugue in 6 Voices from A Musical Offering (1747) will be performed as an example of an early avant-garde composition (Bach’s music only started to be appreciated by wider audiences 100 years after his death). The complexity of the 6-voice fugue from A Musical Offering rivals works by such contemporaries as Ligeti or Xenakis.

Christian Wolff (1934, Nice, France; since 1941 in USA) holds a Ph. D in Classics from Harvard University, where he taught until 1970. Afterwards, until 2000 he was the Strauss Professor of Music at Dartmouth College, where he also taught classics. As a composer Wolff is basically self-taught, although his association in the early 1950s with John Cage, David Tudor and Morton Feldman provided a musical environment unmatched by any formal education. Wolff’s association with Petr Kotik dates to 1972. Nearly all of Wolff’s orchestral compositions were written for Kotik to conduct in Europe and New York. Kotik’s commissions include works for three orchestras: Ordinary Matter (2001) and Rhapsody (2009), as well as numerous other pieces, orchestral and chamber works.

Morton Feldman (1926, New York – 1987, Buffalo, NY). After ending his residency in Berlin as a DAAD fellow in 1971, Morton Feldman accepted an offer to join the faculty at the State University of New York in Buffalo as the Varèse Professor of Composition. In the early 1970s, Feldman became the Director of the Buffalo-based Center of the Creative and Performing Arts. During the 1970s, Feldman associated with Kotik and SEM, then based in Buffalo, composing Instruments I in 1973 upon Kotik’s commission.

Petr Kotik (b. 1942, Prague) graduate of the Prague Conservatory and Vienna Academy, left for the U.S. in 1969. In 1970 he founded the S.E.M. Ensemble, which in 1992 expanded into The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble. Among Kotik’s best-known compositions are Many Many Women (1976-78) on a text by Gertrude Stein and Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1978-81) on texts by R. Buckminster Fuller, as well as recent orchestral works Music in Two Movements (1998-2002) and Variations for 3 Orchestras (2005). In 2001, Kotik founded Ostrava Days, a biannual summer event for new music in the Czech Republic. He is also the founder and director of the international chamber orchestra Ostravská banda (2005).

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