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The S.E.M. Ensemble: Music by Cage, Kotik and Eastman – 1972-2017
December 7, 2017 @ 8:00 pm - 10:30 pm| $15 - $20
John Cage: Song Books I, II (1970)
Petr Kotik: There is Singularly Nothing (1971-72)
Julius Eastman: Macle (1971-72)
PERFORMERS: Kamala Sankaram, Jeffrey Gavett, Jake Ingbar, Adrian Rosas, Nathan Repasz (voice soloists); Petr Kotik (flute, voice); Christopher McIntyre (trombone, voice); Will Lang (trombone, voice)
In a tradition which began in 1984, the S.E.M. Ensemble (SEM) led by artistic director Petr Kotik returns to Paula Cooper Gallery for its annual holiday concert. The evening will repeat the program conceived by SEM for its first European tour in 1972, demonstrating the lasting vitality of these compositions 45 years later and SEM’s unwavering innovative programming.
The featured works are particularly relevant to the history of SEM. The ensemble began performing John Cage’s Song Books (1970) in 1971, when Kotik received a copy of the manuscript from Cage. Song Books I, II is one of Cage’s rare works with an underlying political message – presenting a utopian concept of anarchy which is based on personal independence, mutual respect and non-interference among individuals. SEM performed Song Books in its entirety in 1982 at the Whitney Museum (NYC) and the Witten Opera House (Germany). For this occasion, Cage wrote a short program note in which he quoted Thoreau as central to the entire work: “The best form of government is no government at all and that is what we’ll have when we are ready for it.” The piece was originally composed for and dedicated to Cathy Berberian and Simone Rist.
Julius Eastman’s Macle (1971-72) was composed for Petr Kotik and SEM’s first European tour in 1972. Kotik met Eastman in 1969 at SUNY/Buffalo, where they were both part of the University’s “Creative Associate” program. SEM began performing Eastman’s music as early as 1970, and a few months later, Eastman became a regular member of the ensemble and a close friend and collaborator of Kotik. What tied them together, as composers, was their rejection of the prevailing post-Webern, Darmstadt-driven new music that was the norm in the U.S. at the time. Macle was not meant to be performed by trained vocalists, and the premiere featured Eastman (the only trained vocalist), along with Kotik, Jan Williams, and Roberto Laneri.
There is Singularly Nothing (1971-72) is the first composition Petr Kotik wrote after founding SEM, and the first piece ever he composed which called for the use of voice. Eastman was at the time the most prominent member of SEM, and the piece was composed for his three-octave range. There is Singularly Nothing also marks the first time the composer set to music Gertrude Stein’s text, which he continued to use until 1978. There is Singularly Nothing consists of 22 independently composed parts (10 for voice and 12 for instruments), that can be combined into various ensembles or performed alone as solos. The form is open and the duration variable. Despite all the variabilities, the piece has a distinct musical style that is not open to individual interpretation. A common, steady pulse also combines various parts into a cohesive whole. The texts are excerpts from Stein’s 1926 lecture she gave at Oxford University, “Composition as Explanation.”
For more information on SEM and the composers, go to: http://semensemble.org/.