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S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik, Artistic Director


Composer, conductor, and flutist Petr Kotik (b. 1942) studied music at the Prague Conservatory and Academy of Music, and in Vienna at the Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst.

Kotik is an independent composer and musician and has been all his life. He performs his own works as well as music by other composers with whom he shares artistic orientation. Kotik’s activities have always been guided by issues of today’s music. From the beginning, his abilities and skill as a performer have enabled him to realize projects and events often thought to be unrealistic. His past and present association with musicians of high caliber is one of the reasons for the endurance and often success of his endeavors.

While still a student at the Prague Conservatory, he founded the ensemble Musica viva pragensis in 1961, which he directed until 1964, together with Rudolf Komorous. After returning to Prague from Vienna in 1966, Kotik founded and directed the QUaX Ensemble. Among the members of QUaX were Václav Zahradník, Josef Vejvoda, Jiří Stivín, and Jan Hynčica. Upon his arrival to the U.S. in 1970 he founded the S.E.M. Ensemble. Among the founding members of SEM were Julius Eastman, Jan Williams, and Garret List. In 1992, SEM expanded into the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble. In 1997, Kotik initiated the festival Music of Extended Duration at the Prague Castle, organized by the office of President Václav Havel. In the closing concert of the festival, Kotik conducted the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava in a four-hour program that included “103” by John Cage and premieres by Vlastislav Matoušek and Pauline Oliveros (with Oliveros performing as soloist). In 1999, Kotik organized a concert at the Prague Spring festival entitled “Music in Space. Compositions for Three Orchestras.” Kotik was one of the conductors in the program, which included Gruppen by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Modules I, II, III by Earle Brown, Diamonds by Alvin Lucier and three Sacrae Symphoniae (1597) by Giovanni Gabrieli. This project inspired Kotik to initiate the biennial Ostrava Days Institute and Festival (the first of which took place in 2001). It also led to a project of music for three orchestras, with commissions for three–orchestra compositions by Christian Wolff, Petr Kotik, Alvin Lucier, and Phill Niblock among others. In 2005, Kotik founded the international chamber orchestra Ostravská banda. Together with the director of the National Moravian-Silesian Theater, Jiří Nekvasil, he founded the opera festival NODO (New Opera Days Ostrava) in 2012.

It could be said that Kotik is a self-taught composer although he did study composition – first privately in Prague with Vladimír Šrámek and Jan Rychlík (1960-63) and later at the Akademie in Vienna with Karl Schiske and Hanns Jelinek (1963-66). Ideas and concepts of John Cage and later R. Buckminster Fuller influenced Kotik from his early stages. However, those (and other) influences never led to replications of ideas. Kotik regards composing “in the style of ” as imitation that has nothing to do with real influence.

Among Kotik’s best known compositions are Music for 3 In Memoriam Jan Rychlík (1964), Spontano for Piano and 10 instruments (1964), There is Singularly Nothing for instruments and voice(s) on text by Gertrude Stein (1971-73), Many Many Women on text by Gertrude Stein (1975-78), Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking for voices on text by R. Buckminster Fuller (1978-80), Letters to Olga for narrators and instruments with text by Václav Havel (1989-91), Music in Two Parts for orchestra (1999-2002), Variations for 3 Orchestras (2003-05), String Quartets No. 1 (2007-09) and No. 2 (2011-2012), and Nine+1 for 10 instruments (2013-14). Kotik composed two operas: Master-Pieces (2014-15) on his own libretto based on texts by Gertrude Stein, and the dance opera William William inspired by Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and also using short excerpts by Nathalie Babel.

Petr Kotik lives and works in New York and Ostrava.