The S.E.M. Ensemble Performs Music As Situation, December 18

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The S.E.M. Ensemble Performs Music As Situation, December 18

The S.E.M. Ensemble (SEM), led by Petr Kotik, returns to Paula Cooper Gallery for its annual holiday concert on Wednesday, December 18, at 8 p.m. The program highlights music spanning over 50 years and exemplifying the compositional shift from the narrative classical form to the exploration of a "situation" - a compositional concept, best described by Morton Feldman as "getting deeper and deeper into one thought." Featured works include John Cage's 1969 Cheap Imitation in its rarely heard flute version (1982); Kotik's string quartet, Torso (2012) and the world premiere of his new work forssolo tuba,
Tubamirum (2019); and three premieres by the youngest generation of composers who participated in the Ostrava Days 2019 Festival - Judith Berkson, Ian Davis, and Sean Kiley.

Unable to get permission from the publisher to write a four-hands piano version of Eric Satie's Socrate, John Cage wrote Cheap Imitation, based on the composer's music. Over the years, the piece was re-worked from its original form as a piano solo (1969) to an orchestral piece (early 1970s), a violin solo upon the request of violinist Paul Zukofsky (1975), and a flute solo upon Petr Kotik's suggestion (1982). Kotik, a seasoned flutist, performed the work in the early 80s in the U.S. and Europe and recorded it in 1983 at the West German Radio, Cologne, Germany. The flute version hasn't been heard since the 80s, and Kotik will perform the first movement for this concert.

The program will feature two compositions by Kotik - the world premiere of Tubamirum (2019) for solo tuba, and Torso (String Quartet No. 2) (2012). Torso employs overlapping material - a forward-moving sequence and a slow chorale based partly on German Protestant chorales and partly on harmonies created by the fast sequences. The music, as with most of Kotik's compositions, interchanges between intuition and the use of a Markov-chain process of probabilities. A coda asks musicians to change their seating, which affects their playing as a quartet. Torso was premiered by the FLUX Quartet in 2012, as part of the Beyond Cage Festival, which commemorated the centennial of John Cage.

The evening will also feature the work of three young New York-based composers. They all participated as residents in the Ostrava Days 2019 Festival.

Composer/performer Judith Berkson will present the U.S. premiere of Partial Memories Part III (2019), part of a larger group of works exploring harmonies which have existed, exist and will be existing in our physical or metaphysical worlds. Berkson currently focuses on microtonal writing for acoustic instruments and voice, and her piece is scored for voice, accordion, and piano.

Composer/pianist/guitarist Ian Davis will present the world premiere of Three Movements for Ensemble (2019), a work he describes as "an attempt to narrow the scope of focus, establish and break order, and honor the merit of completing a simple, solitary task in a complex environment." It is scored for flute, bassoon, tuba, viola, and cello.

Composer Sean Kiley's ancient cascades (2019) is an open score for any instruments that can "glissando," plus piano. Players have a set of instructions and the same single page of music: they choose where to start and are also given optional pathways to move through the piece and explore harmonies. It will be performed by a string quartet and piano.

Paula Cooper Gallery is located at 524 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001
Tickets: $15 General. Door: $20 General / $10 Students.
To order tickets, visit:

Ian Davis: Three Movements for Ensemble (2019) (World Premiere)
Petr Kotik: Tubamirum (2019) (World Premiere)
Judith Berkson: Partial Memories Part III (2019) (U.S. Premiere)
John Cage: Cheap Imitation ( 1969)
Sean Kiley: ancient cascades (2019) (U.S. Premiere)
Petr Kotik: Torso (String Quartet No. 2) (2012)

S.E.M. Ensemble, Petr Kotik, Director

Judith Berkson, voice
Petr Kotik, flute & conductor
Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon
John Altieri, tuba
Lucie Vítkova, accordion
Ian Davis, piano
Chris Nappi, percussion
Leah Asher, violin
Mioi Takeda, violin
Liuh-Wen Ting, viola
Meaghan Burke, cello

Composer/performer Judith Berkson uses voice along with digital and analog keyboards to create pieces that cross the boundaries of classical, electronic, and experimental music. She has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, City Opera, Laurie Anderson and has premiered vocal works by Enno Poppe, Mick Barr, Chaya Czernowin, Joe Maneri, Rick Burkhardt, Gerard Pape, Julia Wentz and Aleksandra Vrebalov. She is also a cantor and has collaborated on Yiddish folk music with Theodore Bikel. Her chamber opera The Vienna Rite was about the 19th century collaboration between Franz Schubert and Viennese cantor Salomon Sulzer. She has presented work at Picasso Museum Malaga and Roulette, and has participated in Banff's 2018 (R)evolution Resonant Bodies Festival and at Ostrava Days 2019. A solo album of her compositions Oylam was released on ECM Records.

Petr Kotik (b. 1942, Prague, Czech Republic) is a composer, conductor, and flutist. He is a graduate of the Prague Conservatory and the academies in Vienna and Prague (1969). Upon his arrival in the U.S., he founded the S.E.M. Ensemble in 1970, which expanded into The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble in 1992. Since the mid-1990s, Kotik has been regularly returning to the Czech Republic to perform in and organize various projects, such as the biennial Institute and Festival Ostrava Days (2001-present), the international chamber orchestra Ostravská banda (founded in 2005), and the New Opera Days Ostrava festival (2012-present),together with Jiří Nekvasil.

John Cage (born 1912, Los Angeles; died August 13, 1992, in New York) studied composition with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schönberg. Cage has received numerous commissions and awards from musical organizations around the world and was elected to the National Institute of Arts & Letters. It would be impossible to calculate the catalytic effect and ramifications that John Cage's work has had on 20th century music and art. The musical developments of our time cannot be understood without considering his music and ideas. Cage's invention of the prepared piano and his work with percussion instruments led him to imagine and explore many unique and fascinating ways of structuring the temporal dimension of music. He is universally recognized as the generative and leading figure in the field of indeterminate composition by means of chance operations. This brief sketch is perhaps appropriately concluded by a remark of Arnold Schönberg who said of Cage that he was an "inventor of genius."

Ian Davis is a composer and guitarist based in New York City. He holds an MA in music composition from Wesleyan University and works as a Teaching Artist with the New York Philharmonic's Very Young Composers program. His work is informed by folk music, canon, counterpoint, works by children, graph notation, low-fidelity, and seemingly simple and transparent structural devices.

Sean Kiley has earned degrees in composition and sound recording technology from DePaul University. He holds a Masters of Music in Composition from the University of Victoria. He is originally from Hempstead, New York. Sean also studies classical guitar. He is an active improviser on saxophone and guitar. He enjoys record producing and engineering as a freelancer. Sean is mainly interested in open forms of notation, music psychology/phenomenology, and electronic mediums.

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