S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik, Artistic Director

Composer, conductor, and flutist Petr Kotik (born 1942 in Prague, Czech Republic) studied flute at the Conservatory and Music Academy in Prague (1956-62; 1966-69) and composition privately in Prague with Valdimír Šrámek and Jan Rychlík (1960-64) and at the Music Academy in Vienna, Austria with Karl Schiske, Hans Jelinek, and Friedrich Cerha (1963-66). In 1961, he founded the new music ensemble Musica viva pragensis, and in 1966, after returning from Vienna, the QUaX Ensemble, both based in Prague. In late 1969, Kotik relocated to the U.S. being invited by Lejaren Hiller and Lukas Foss to join the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY/Buffalo. In 1970, a few months after his arrival, he formed the S.E.M. Ensemble, which expanded into The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble in 1992. The SEM Orchestra’s debut concert was at Carnegie Hall, where Kotik conducted the premiere of the complete Atlas Eclipticalis by John Cage, with an orchestra of 89 musicians. In 1999, Kotik founded the Ostrava Center for New Music, which in 2001 began to produce the biennial Ostrava Days Institute and Festival. In 2005, Kotik founded the international chamber orchestra Ostravská banda as the resident chamber orchestra at Ostrava Days. The success of Ostravská banda let to performances beyond Ostrava Days, including among others, in New York, Paris, Berlin, Utrecht, Cologne, and Akademie der Künste Berlin,.

Although Kotik studied both privately and at the Vienna Academy, as a composer, he is largely self-taught. His compositional method can be described as a process in which chance and intuitive steps alternate in a game-like fashion, one influencing the other. Strategies and limitations are at the core of the method, which has the objective of triggering processes that are unpredictable yet correspond to the envisioned result. The struggle in working toward this almost unattainable ideal constitutes what Kotik regards as composition. Kotik has developed his present method since his earliest pieces in the 1960s. Two sets of tools are used: graphic material, either created by Kotik, especially in the early years, or graphs already in existence by scientific or other means; and an editing process, which includes, since the early 1980s, a computer-generated chain of events based on Markov’s probability sequences. Improvisation has not been part of Kotik’s compositional strategies. His scores have always been exactly notated.

Among Kotik’s best known compositions are Music for 3, in Memoriam Jan Rychlik (1964) and Spontano (1964) for piano and ensemble, electronic music composition Kontrabandt (1967), commissioned by WDR Cologne, There Is Singularly Nothing (1971-73) and the 6-hour Many Many Women (1975-78), both on texts by Gertrude Stein, and the 4-hour Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1978-1982), on texts by R. Buckminster Fuller. In this period, Kotik stopped using general scores; the works consist instead of independently composed parts/sections that can be superimposed and combined, forming various densities, from solo to full ensembles, Letters to Olga (1988-91) for 2 narrators and ensemble on a text by Vaclav Havel, large orchestra works, the hour-long Music in Two Movements (1998-2002) and Variations for 3 Orchestras (2003-05), String Quartet No. 1: Erinnerungen an Jan (2007-09), String Quartet No. No. 2: Torso (2011-13), In Four Parts: 3, 6, & 11 for John Cage for 3 percussionists (2009), Nine +1 (2013), commissioned for the “Ensemble Europa” series at WDR Cologne, and the one-act opera Master-Pieces (Almost a Lecture) (2014), commissioned by the NODO 2014 festival.

Kotik’s past fellowships include his tenure as a Creative Associate at the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo (1969 - 1972) and composition grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1975), Foundation for Contemporary Arts (1997) and Individual Artists Grant from NYSCA (2014). In 2004, Kotik had a 3-month residency in Berlin on a DAAD grant.

Kotik’s discography as a composer includes First Record (Cramps, 1977); Many Many Women 5-LP set (Labor, 1981; Reissued on Dog W/A Bone, 2000); S.E.M. Ensemble and Virtuosity with Purpose, containing Wilsie Bridge, Solos and Incidental Harmonies, Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (excerpt) and Integrated Solos III (Ear-Rational Records, 1989); In Four Parts (3, 6 and & 11 for John Cage) (Mutable Music, 2011).  His discography as a conductor includes John Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis and Concert for Piano and Orchestra (with pianist Joseph Kubera) on Wergo (Mainz, Germany; WER 6216-2); John Cage’s 103 and Atlas Eclipticalis (with David Tudor, recorded live at the Konzerhaus in Berlin), on a 4-CD set by Asphodel, Ltd, San Francisco, CA.; The Turfan Fragments and For Samuel Beckett, by Morton Feldman, on Dog W/A Bone (2001, New York, NY); and Music of Somei Satoh with Thomas Buckner, baritone, and the Janacek Philharmonic (2006 release on Mode Records NYC). Other important releases include Many Many Women by Kotik (3-CD set on Dog W/A Bone, 2000, New York, NY), The Entire Musical Work of Marcel Duchamp (with John Cage reading Sculpture Musicale) on Dog W/A Bone (1999, New York, NY), among others. Another release should be mentioned: Treatise by Cornelius Cardew, a 2-hour live performance by the QUaX Ensemble in Prague in 1967 on Mode Records (2-CD set, 2009, New York, NY).