S.E.M. Ensemble

DOX: April 7th

Essential Feldman

Sat. April 7, 2018, 7PM

- at -

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art
Dox+, Poupětova 3, Prague 7, Czech Republic


Petr Kotik conducted The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra on April 7th at DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague. The concert was the first European performance dedicated entirely to Morton Feldman's large-scale orchestral compositions. 


Morton Feldman - Piano and Orchestra (1975)

Morton Feldman - Structures (1960-62)

Morton FeldmanViolin and Orchestra (1979)

Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra

Petr Kotik, Conductor

Conrad Harris, Violin

Daan Vandewalle, Piano

MaerzMusik: March 25

The Long Now

MaerzMusik Festival, Berlin

Sat. March 25, 2018, 11:30 AM - 4:30 PM

- at -

Kraftwerk Berlin
Köpenicker Str. 70, 10179 Berlin, Germany

Tickets Here

Chris Nappi, Joe Kubera, and Petr Kotik at the first SEM performance of For Philip Guston. Paula Cooper Gallery, 1988.

SEM will be performing Morton Feldman's five-hour long masterpiece For Philip Guston at the MaerzMusik Festival in Berlin on March 25. This performance is part of "The Long Now," the festival's 30-hour closing concert. "The Long Now" highlights music of extreme duration - For Philip Guston will fit right in!


Morton Feldman - For Philip Guston

S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik, Director

Petr Kotik (flute); Joe Kubera (piano); Chris Nappi (percussion)

Willow Place Auditorium: March 10

The Depth of Simplicity

Morton Feldman's For Philip Guston

Sat. March 10, 2018, 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM

- at -
Willow Place Auditorium, 26 Willow Pl., Brooklyn Heights

Petr Kotik, Joe Kubera, and Chris Nappi performing Feldman's Why Patterns? in 2010 at Paula Cooper Gallery.


In the lead-up to our performance at MaerzMusik in Berlin on March 25, the S.E.M. Ensemble performed Morton Feldman's five-hour long masterpiece For Philip Guston at Willow Place Auditorium on March 10th. For Philip Guston is rarely performed live due to its extreme duration (the last US performance by SEM was in 2000).


Morton Feldman - For Philip Guston

S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik, Director

Petr Kotik (flute); Joe Kubera (piano); Chris Nappi (percussion)

Emerging Composers Workshop 2018

Emerging Composers Workshop 2018

Tues. February 13, 2018, 8:30 pm
- at -
Willow Place Auditorium, 26 Willow Pl., Brooklyn Heights

Petr Kotik conducts during the 2017 Workshop concert.

The S.E.M. Ensemble’s Reading of New Compositions was initiated in 1997 and has continued, every season, to the present. During the four-day workshop each composer is provided with time and space to work directly with the conductor and musicians. The workshop culminates in a reading-performance, open to the public. This year’s reading includes works by an international group of composers: Jay (Yair) Vilnai, Joel Kirk, Peter Kramer, Pauline Kim Harris, Jack Callahan, James Falzone, and Dongryul Lee.


Order T.B.A.

Jay (Yair) Vilnai - E.P.

Joel Kirk - reflection of light is either specular or diffuse

Peter Kramer - Unfinished Bridge

Pauline Kim Harris - dongmae

Jack Callahan - 106 Kerri Chandler Chords

James Falzone - Normal Deviate

Dongryul Lee - quasi una macchina

The Kitchen: January 25, 2018

Julius Eastman: Joy Boy (1974)

S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik, Director


A New Work (2017)

Tracie Morris + Hprizm


Julius Eastman: Femenine (1974)

S.E.M. Ensemble

Voices: Kamala Sankaram, Jeffrey Gavett, Nathan Repasz

Petr  Kotik (Flute); Sara Schoenbeck (Bassoon); Christopher McIntyre (Trombone / Synthesizer); David Miller (Vibraphone / Marimbaphone); Robert Boston (Piano); Pauline Kim Harris (Violin); Conrad Harris (Viola)


Paula Cooper Gallery: December 7, 2017

Cage, Kotik, and Eastman:

1972 / 2017


John Cage: Song Books I, II (1970)

Petr Kotik: There is Singularly Nothing (1971-72)

Julius Eastman: Macle (1971-72)


Voices: Kamala Sankaram, Jeffrey Gavett, Jake Ingbar, Adrian Rosas, Nathan Repasz;

 Petr Kotik (flute, voice); Christopher McIntyre (trombone, voice); Will Lang (trombone, voice); Matilda Sakamoto (movement)


December 7, 2017, 8:00 p.m. @ Paula Cooper Gallery (543 W. 21st St., Manhattan)

Check out the New York Times review of our preview for this concert

SEM performs at Sacrum Profanum Festival, Kraków, Poland, Sept. 2017


This program, originally presented 45 years ago – Song Books I, IIThere is Singularly Nothing; and Macle – demonstrates the vitality of the forward-looking programming of SEM, guided by Petr Kotik, and the intrepid attitude of the musicians that have worked together under the name S.E.M. Ensemble.

The program was conceived for SEM’s first European tour in January and February of 1972, with concerts at WDR Cologne Funkhaus, the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, the Gemeindesaal in Düren, as well as concerts in Aachen and Geneva.

SEM started to study and perform Song Books in 1971, when Petr Kotik received a copy of the piece from John Cage, at that time still in manuscript form. There is Singularly Nothing is the first composition that Kotik wrote for SEM. It was the first time that Kotik composed music for voice, writing specifically for Julius Eastman’s three-octave voice range. It took some time for Kotik to find a suitable text and he decided on Gertrude Stein, whose texts he used for each of his compositions until 1978. Julius Eastman composed Macle for Petr Kotik and the S.E.M. Ensemble’s 1972 first European tour.



Petr Kotik and John Cage, Paula Cooper Gallery, NYC, 1989

Notes by Petr Kotik:

Toward the end of the 1960s, John Cage became increasingly concerned with politics. The Vietnam War radicalized Americans and Cage was not an exception. At that time, he started to dress in denim work clothes, even when he performed. His increasing concern for public affairs (politics) never really entered his music in any significant way as it did in the case of Cornelius Cardew or Frederic Rzewski. Song Books I, II may be a rare exception of a major piece with an underlying political message (even here, it is not an obvious statement and one has to have some knowledge about the piece to understand what is it about).

In 1982, S.E.M. Ensemble gave, to my knowledge, the only complete performance of Song Books – all 90 Solos for Voice performed over three hours with an ensemble of twelve. The performances were at the Whitney Museum in New York and at the Witten Opera House in Germany, with Cage in attendance at the performance and rehearsal. He also wrote a short program note, in which he emphasized the thrust of the content: Henry David Thoreau’s “Essay on Civil Disobedience.” Thoreau’s quote, used in Solo for Voice 35, is really quite central to understanding the piece: “The best form of government is no government at all and that is what we’ll have when we are ready for it.”

Song Books I, II symbolizes Cage’s concept of anarchy – in an artistic, social, and personal way – marked by an idea of noninterference of one individual to another, personal independence, and mutual respect among all involved. This is the kind of politics Cage followed all his life, a utopian, unattainable idea that he was striving for.

In the summer of 1970, eight months after moving from Czechoslovakia to the United States, I traveled with my wife Charlotta and our one-year-old son Thomas throughout the northeast. When we came to New York, I called Cage to get together, as I always did on my previous visits (we lived in Buffalo, NY then). To my surprise, this time Cage could not meet with me. He was fully occupied, explaining that he was working on a deadline. My English at that time was rudimentary at best – eight months before, I couldn’t speak English at all. I hadn’t heard the word “deadline” yet and I assumed that this must have been something to do with war trenches in Vietnam. I was wondering what on earth Cage was doing. When I returned to New York a few months later, Song Books was almost finished and parts of the score were scattered all over his loft on Bank Street. By then I had learned the meaning of the word deadline and realized that he was working on finishing Song Books. I was interested in the piece from the first time I looked at the music. We talked at length about various ways to do various solos. He made sure that I understood his idea – no rehearsals, no influence of one performer on another one, only at the performance should the musicians find out what the others are doing. Everyone does their thing with total independence. The piece was to demonstrate the harmony of this anarchistic situation. The piece was composed for dedicated to Cathy Berberian and Simone Rist.

Cage was planning to perform Song Books with them at the Carnegie Recital Hall (now the Weill Recital Hall). But there was a problem: the singers wanted to rehearse. “If they insist on rehearsing, I will cancel the performance” he said resolutely. And indeed, the performance never took place. For me, at that time, Cage’s directives were beyond reproach. We continued to perform Song Books in various versions with a changing list of performers but one performance was memorable. It was in 1974 in Albany, NY. Among the performers, Julius was the most successful. Months later, when I met David Tudor, he still talked, with admiration, about Julius’ Song Books. When Morton Feldman invited SEM to perform Song Books at the June in Buffalo 1975 festival, I was convinced that one of the main reasons was having Eastman performing it again. Julius already left the group, but I came back to him, and asked to perform it with us. He agreed. The SEM performance of Song Books at June in Buffalo is well known. Julius either misunderstood or sabotaged the piece and it caused a huge scandal. The next day, Cage changed his lecture and instead talked about the performance, screaming and pounding his fist on the lid of the classroom piano.

None of us at SEM, of course, had any idea what was coming during the performance, as we had never rehearsed the piece beforehand. Cage stormed the stage after the performance, coming directly to me, saying, “What was this supposed to mean?” I had no idea, I replied, reminding him that there were no rehearsals and no one had any idea about what is coming. “But you are the director, you are responsible!” he said resolutely into my face.

I was in shock and it took me some time to come to terms with what he said. In the end, I agreed with him. And as a performer, since this fateful moment, I have never been the same. Namely, as a director, conductor, or a leading member of an ensemble, I have to bear the full responsibility for the performance’s outcome. No excuses! Silly ideas by the composer about such things as “no rehearsals” must never stop me from rehearsing if I deem it necessary, ideas about an orchestra performance without a conductor must ever stop me from conducting if I deem it necessary. If I put my name on the program as the one responsible for the performance, I have to bear all the responsibility and act accordingly. This incident helped me to attain independence for the rest of my life. More than five years later, when SEM performed Song Books again, I agreed only under the condition that Cage come to some of the rehearsals. He agreed and this is what happened in 1982.



Petr Kotik at Sacrum Profanum Festival Concert, Krakoów, Poland - Sept. 2017


There is Singularly Nothing is a composition that consists of independent solo pieces that can be combined into ensembles or performed alone. The concept calls for any combination of any instruments, each solo transposed to suit a particular instrument or voice. The form is open; the piece does not have a distinct beginning or end. The duration is variable as well. This sounds like a chaotic jumble, but it is not. There are aspects to the composition, besides the above-mentioned basic instructions, that give the music a distinct character, easily recognizable despite all the variables. The most important is the musical style, and that is not free to individual interpretation, it is given. Next is the steady pulse among all performers that makes it possible to combine various parts into a cohesive ensemble.

My composition process is guided by intuition. In the case of my early works, there is very little that predicts or suggests the way and means of interpretation and only now, more than 40 years later, I can say that we finally know what this music is and how to perform it.

There is Singularly Nothing consists of 22 parts, 10 for voices and 12 for instruments. This material was composed without the idea that it would ever be performed in its entirety (although this is not out of question). Therefore, it offers a wide range of possibilities. This was nothing new and there are other pieces that make possible the same kind of excerpt performances, Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra being perhaps best known. This is where the similarity to Cage starts and ends. A lot of improvised musical decision-making is being done on the spot during the performance, although everything is precisely notated and there are no possibilities to deviate from the score. Musicians listen to the whole and decide when to enter with their parts, stopping and start again, although the singers perform their parts without interruptions. The texts are excerpts from Gertrude Stein's 1926 lecture she gave at Oxford University entitled "Composition as Explanation." The lecture starts with the following words:


 "There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning and in the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking.  By this I mean so simply that anybody knows it that composition is the difference which makes each and all of them then different from other generations and this is what makes everything different otherwise they are all alike and everybody knows it because everybody says it."




S.E.M. Ensemble, promotional photo, 1973


Julius Eastman composed Macle toward the end of 1971 (with minor changes made in January 1972) to be performed by 4 voices – not necessarily trained vocalists, although there is no reason to exclude real singers. The group that performed the piece then, and for whom it was composed, consisted of only one true vocalist – Eastman himself. The other performers were Petr Kotik (flutist), Jan Williams (percussionist), and Roberto Laneri (clarinetist).


A few words about Julius Eastman:

I met Julius Eastman shortly after my arrival in the U.S. in late 1969. It was at the SUNY Music Department’s building. He was standing by the wall in the corridor, reading some announcements. I didn’t know who he was, but I noticed him immediately—a very interesting looking person in an oversized English trench coat.

Shortly afterwards, I organized a small group of Creative Associates of the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, of which I was a member. This is how the S.E.M. Ensemble started. Julius’ first performance with SEM was in April 1970, singing as a guest performer one part of Rudolf Komorous’ opera Lady Blanka Rosa. A few months later, he became a regular member of SEM and what followed was five years of very close collaboration between us. In those years, Julius and I were inseparable. Not only did we share ideas about music, performance, and composition, but living near each other made it possible to develop a close personal relationship. Julius’ house was just a short walk from ours, where I lived with my wife, Charlotta, and our children Thomas (b. 1969) and Jan (b. 1972). Julius was almost like another family member, frequently stopping by. His visits were mostly personal. When we rehearsed, it was at his house where he had a workspace in his large living room.

Our friendship was personal, but what really tied Julius and me were our performances and the music we composed. Both of us distanced ourselves from the prevailing post-Webern, Darmstadt-driven new music scene that was the norm in the U.S. at the time (this was the main reason for creating SEM). Arriving from then-Czechoslovakia, I found myself in a double world. On one hand, the musical environment I joined was practically the same as the one I left behind in Prague. From day one, my interactions with colleagues at the Center were no different than what I was used to back home or in my travels to Warsaw, Cologne, Vienna, etc. In this respect, my relocation to the U.S. was seamless and I was able to start working immediately. On the other hand, personally, I arrived in a country with a culture that I knew very little about and mostly didn’t understand. Even the language was a barrier, as I didn’t speak a word of English. Without the soprano Gwendolyn Sims, another Creative Associate who spoke German perfectly, I would have been completely lost.

Meeting Julius Eastman at this point was like coming home. My association with him was not unlike the one I maintained with my friends back in Europe. Julius returned to tonality with a new sensibility and approach. When we started to get to know each other and Julius played recordings of his music for me, I was impressed immediately. I will never forget listening to his piece for (I believe) five trumpets – this score, like most of Julius’ compositions, was lost. It was as inspiring as when I first heard, back in 1964, the Quartet with Accompaniment by Michael von Biel (for myself, this piece is still among the most significant of the 60s). As a composer, there was no one in Buffalo with whom I could have associated myself other than Julius Eastman, and I am sure he would say the same thing. We both struggled on the fringe of the new music scene and neither of us derived from our relationship anything else than mutual encouragement and inspiration. 

S.E.M. Ensemble’s initial success in Europe was in part the residual interest in my earlier activities behind the Iron Curtain in Prague. We both benefited from it, using Europe to get a foothold in America and vice versa. Philip Glass describes his beginnings the same way. In the early 70s, Frederic Rzewski suggested that we all live in Iceland, right between the two continents. Artistically, this is probably what happened anyway.


 Petr Kotik, Prague, October 30, 2017

SEM Looks back : September 18, 2017

Willow Place Auditorium

SEM Looks Back: Eastman, Cage, Kotik

Monday 9/18 at 8:00 pm
- at -
Willow Place Auditorium, 26 Willow Pl., Brooklyn Height

Julius Eastman, Roberto Lanieri, Jan Williams, and Petr Kotik ca. 1971, photo by Jim Tuttle, SUNY Buffalo 


S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik, Artistic Director

Petr Kotik - flute, voice

Christopher McIntyre - trombone, voice

Joseph Kubera - piano, voice

Jeffrey Gavett, Charlotte Mundy, Nathan Repasz - voice


Ahead of its September 27th performance at the Sacrum Profanum Festival in Krakow, Poland, SEM presents a free preview concert nearly identical to those from the ensemble’s early days in the 1970s, when founding members Petr Kotik, Julius Eastman, and Jan Williams presented avant-garde performances in Buffalo, Albany, and later New York and began collaborating extensively with John Cage. Included in this program is Cage’s Song Books (1970), the first extended ensemble performance of which was realized by SEM. 



John Cage ---------- Song Books I, II (1970)

Petr Kotik ---------- There is Singularly Nothing (1971 -72)

I n t e r m i s s i o n

Julius Eastman ----- Joy Boy (1972)

Julius Eastman ----- Macle (1971 -72)

Julius Eastman ----- Our Father (1989)


Kotik and Cage, 1979

(le) poisson rouge: JUNE 21, 2017


Nothing / Everything Changes: Petr Kotik @ 75 

with special guests Philip Glass, George Lewis, and Alex Mincek

(Le) Poisson Rouge

158 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012

Wednesday, June 21, 6:30 pm

The S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik, conductor


Momenta Quartet

and soloist

Jacqueline Leclair, oboe


(le) poisson rouge commemorates the birthday of Petr Kotik along with friends Philip Glass, George Lewis, and Alex Mincek in conversation and a retrospective performance of Kotik’s iconic works, along with early music by Glass and an improvisation by Lewis and Mincek. A screening of the new film Untamable Kotik, produced by Czech Television will precede the concert. The performance will run 90 minutes without intermission and will be moderated by Pauline Kim Harris.


Petr Kotik and Philip Glass in conversation, Prague, November 2016



6:30pm - Untamable Kotik 

A new film by Czech Television (the national public television network), Untamable Kotik documents Kotik’s performances, rehearsals, travel, and personal life. Switching back and forth between New York, Prague, and Ostrava, it was filmed in the period between 2015 and 2016. It includes musicians from both continents in rehearsals, performances, and conversations. The film features music by Kotik, Phill Niblock, and John Cage. It is in English and Czech w/ English subtitles. Philip Glass, George Lewis, Alex Mincek, and Petr Kotik will be present throughout the evening to comment.


7:30pm - Music and talk

Featuring Jacqueline Leclair, oboe, S.E.M. Ensemble, and Momenta Quartet


Petr Kotik - Etude 7 for Oboe (1962)
Philip Glass - Two Pages (1968)
Petr Kotik - There is Singularly Nothing (1972)
Petr Kotik - Many Many Women (1975-78)
George Lewis - Interactive Trio  – short improvisation for trombone, saxophone, and computer-controlled Disklavier
Petr Kotik - Torso – 2nd String quartet (2013)

Voices and instruments: JUNE 20, 2017

Voices and Instruments

The Music of Petr Kotik and Friends

Tues. June 20, 2017, 7 pm
- at -
Willow Place Auditorium, 26 Willow Pl., Brooklyn Heights

SEM performs Many Many Women at Paula Cooper Gallery, 2013


S.E.M. Ensemble

Petr Kotik - Artistic Director
Roberta Michel, Petr Kotik - Flute
Jacqueline Leclair - Oboe
William Lang, James Rogers - Trombone
Robert Boston - Keyboard
Kamala Sankaram, Vivian Yau - Soprano
Jacob Ingbar, Jeffrey Gavett - Baritone


Petr Kotik - Etude 7 for Oboe (1962)
Philip Glass - Two Pages (1968)
Petr Kotik - There is Singularly Nothing (1972)
Petr Kotik - Many Many Women (1975-78) [excerpt]