Česká centra, Czech Centres

Česká centra / Czech centres - logo


Apr 1, 2020 8:00 PM


An online concert on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the ensemble, led by the Czech composer Petr Kotík, accompanied by commentaries by prominent personalities from the world of concert music.

April 1, 2020


 “For me, music – meaning concert music – is the way to meditate.”

Petr Kotík


Photo Credit: Martin Popelář (Ostrava)

S.E.M. Ensemble, founded by Czech composer Petr Kotík, is one of the leading ensembles of contemporary classical music in the world. April marks an incredible 50 years since its inception, making it is the oldest ensemble for new music in the United States. On this occasion, the Czech Center New York at the Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan was preparing a special concert of S.E.M. Ensemble. Given the current situation, it will take place online instead and you can watch it here.

The program of the concert features several world premieres and other works showcasing the wide artistic outlook of the Ensemble. Petr Kotík and his SEM regularly go on world tours. In New York City, it performs at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Roulette, Paula Cooper Gallery, among others.

“I never related to music that tried to amuse the audience and sort of tried to entertain. For me, music – meaning concert music – is the way to meditate. It is, to some extent, a way to achieve “ecstasy.” The word ecstasis in Ancient Greek means a state in which one steps out of oneself. Suddenly, one encounters something deeper than the daily reality. An ecstasy of something that is authentic and true!” Petr Kotík

In the past, S.E.M. Ensemble has presented very successful concerts in the Bohemian National Hall, sometimes despite dramatic circumstances. At the time of the great blizzard after Hurricane Sandy, which totally paralyzed New York, SEM played the music of John Cage and other world-famous avant-garde composers at the Beyond Cage festival. One of the important concerts of this festival took place in the Bohemian National Hall. The concert was very well attended, even though it was held only on the third day after the disaster that paralyzed the city for several weeks. Even now, in these difficult times when New York City has come to a complete standstill, we invite you to listen to the music of exceptional artists – artists who will not be stopped and who continue to inspire and bring hope through their art.

“This path, of course, is not easy and there are many obstacles and misunderstandings from all sides. One must not, however, get discouraged or intimidated. The work and its results will take care of everything,”explains Petr Kotík. 

SEM was founded in 1970, when the Czech composer and flautist Petr Kotík organized a group of musicians under the name S.E.M. Ensemble as part of The Center for Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It was only four months after Petr Kotík had arrived in USA from Prague. He founded the S.E.M. Ensemble with the intention to continue to make concerts he had been organizing in Prague since 1961, with his groups Musica viva pragensis and the QUaX Ensemble. Today, S.E.M. Ensemble is one of the leading ensembles of contemporary classical music in the world.

The program of the concert will be accompanied by a visual presentation of documentary images – both of the ensemble and composers working in collaboration with Petr Kotík and his musicians. In addition, you will hear a commentary of Petr Kotík and Christian Wolff (the last living member of the New York School), and remarks by Miya Masaoka and Thomas Buckner, who will mention his many years of collaboration with Robert Ashley. The American composer George Lewis, the chairman of the Composition Department at Columbia University, will also share his thoughts about the S.E.M. Ensemble from the perspective of its fifty-year existence. George Lewis has been following SEM for almost its entire existence. Already in the 1970s, as the director of The Kitchen, he had invited Kotík and his group for performing concerts there.


Christian Wolff Small Orchestra Piece (2019) (world premiere)
Ostravská banda, Petr Kotík, conductor
August 26, 2019 at Ostrava Days 2019 Festival

Robert Ashley The Mystery of the River (1991)
Thomas Buckner, baritone; Tom Hamilton, electronics
September 11, 2014 at Roulette Intermedium, NY

Miya Masaoka States of Being, States of Becoming (2018) (world premiere)
S.E.M. Ensemble, Petr Kotík, conductor
December 19, 2018 at Paula Cooper Gallery, NY

Julius Eastman Joy Boy (1972)
S.E.M. Ensemble
September 26, 2017 at Studio 1 of Czech Radio Ostrava

Petr Kotik Wednesdays at RW on Spring St (2019-20) (world premiere, first version)
Ostravská banda, Hana Kotková, violin; Petr Kotík, conductor
August 30, 2019 at Ostrava Days 2019 Festival


The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble at Carnegie Hall (B&W): Wolfgang Träger (New York)


The original event information is below.
The event was originaly scheduled for April 1st, 8PM at the Bohemian National Hall. Original event is canceled due to circumstances beyond our control. 


Miya Masaoka
The River Is Dark and Deep, Swim Across With Me (2020, world premiere)

Robert Ashley
The Mystery of the River (2014)

Excerpt from the opera Atalanta (Acts of God) (1991)

Christian Wolff
Small Piece for Orchestra (2019, American premiere)

Julius Eastman
Joy Boy (1972)

Petr Kotik
Wednesdays at RW on Spring Street (2019-20, American premiere)

With Hana Kotkova, Violin (Lugano); Thomas Buckner, Voice; Tom Hamilton, Electronics; Petr Kotik, Conductor

“No one makes programs like Petr Kotik.” – The New York Times

In April 1970, co-founding members Julius Eastman, Petr Kotik, Roberto Laneri and Jan Williams – all part of The Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Buffalo, NY – convened at the Domus Theater (Buffalo) to perform works by John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, Rudolf Komorous and others. The program was so radical for the time that out of an initial audience of 100, only 17 remained until the end. Far from being discouraged, the ensemble followed this performance with a European tour and more U.S. performances, steadily growing into one of the most important American ensembles dedicated to the performance of contemporary classical music.

The concert will kick off with the world premiere of composer/sound artist Miya Masaoka’s The River is Dark and Deep, Swim Across With Me (2020). Especially composed for this program, the work is concerned with locating a sound that is neither static nor changing, leading the listeners to question its affect.

Baritone Thomas Buckner will perform Robert Ashley’s The Mystery of the River – an excerpt from the pioneering opera Atalanta, Acts of God (1991), which explores themes of collective memory, architecture and genealogy. Buckner will be accompanied by a recorded electronic orchestra arranged by Ashley’s longtime music director, Tom Hamilton.

The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble will present the American premiere of Christian Wolff’s Small Orchestra Piece, composed for Petr Kotik and the Ostrava Days 2019 festival, where it premiered last August. The score calls for wood winds, brass and strings with an optional percussion part. The version to be performed on April 1st will feature passages with conductor and others without, as well as a section where Kotik joins the orchestra on piccolo.

A founding member of the S.E.M. Ensemble, Julius Eastman composed Joy Boy for SEM in 1972. The composition combines spontaneous, almost improvised, ideas combined with a rigorous structure.

For the program’s finale, the Orchestra of  the S.E.M. Ensemble will perform the American premiere of Petr Kotik’s Wednesdays at RW on Spring Street (2019-2020). Written for virtuoso Czech violinist Hana Kotková, the composition works with independent layers and simultaneities of different material, used in many different ways and making the piece’s final outcome undetermined.

About the Composers:

Christian Wolff (1934) studied piano with Grete Sultan and composition, briefly, with John Cage. Though he is mostly self-taught as a composer, the works of John Cage, Morton Feldman, David Tudor, and Earle Brown have been important to him, along with long associations with Cornelius Cardew and Frederic Rzewski. His work has been especially concerned with allowing performers various degrees of freedom in the performance process. Wolff is also active as a performer and improviser (collaborating with, among others, Takehisa Kosugi and Larry Polansky). He has taught at Harvard and at Dartmouth College and received awards and grants from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Deutschen Akademischen Austauschdienstes (DAAD) Berlin.

Petr Kotik (1942, Prague) has been an independent composer and musician throughout his professional life. A flautist and conductor, he performs both his own music and works by composers whom he regards as relevant to his own musical concerns. Kotik has founded and directed many music groups (Musica viva Pragensis and QUaX Ensemble in Prague, the S.E.M. Ensemble and Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble in New York, Ostravská banda and ONO Orchestra in Ostrava), and numerous projects (The festival of “Music of Extended Duration” in Prague, Ostrava Days, New Opera Days Ostrava, and Beyond Cage Festival in New York). Although Kotik can be identified as a self-taught composer, he studied composition privately in Prague with Vladimír Šrámek and mainly with Jan Rychlík (1960– 1963), and later studied at the Akademie für Musik in Vienna with Karl Schiske and Hanns Jelinek (1963–1966). Since the early stages of his career, Kotík has been influenced by the ideas and concepts of John Cage and later by the texts of Gertrude Stein, R. Buckminster Fuller, and Ezra Pound. His work spans symphonic compositions, chamber works and opera. Kotík is the artistic director of Ostrava Center for New Music and lives and works in New York City and Ostrava.

Miya Masaoka is a classically trained composer and artist based in New York City. Her works have been performed by The BBC Scottish Symphony and Choir, Bang On a Can, Either/Or, So Percussion, Del Sol, La Jolla Symphony, and members of the Gugak National Orchestra, among others. They have been presented at the ICA, Philadelphia, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Contemporary Art Museum at Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Venice Biennale, MoMA PS1, Darmstadt, Bonn Kunstmuseum. Masaoka received the Doris Duke Award, Alpert Award, The MAP Fund, The Fulbright, NEA. She is a 2019 Park Avenue Armory Studio Artist, and an Associate Professor and the director of the Sound Art Program at Columbia University. www.miyamasaoka.com

Robert Ashley (1930–2014), one of the leading American composers of the post-Cage generation, is particularly known for his work in new forms of opera. In the 1960s, during his tenure as its director, the ONCE Festival of New Music in Ann Arbor presented most of the decade’s pioneers of the performing arts. With the legendary ONCE Group, he developed his first large-scale operas. Along with David Behrman, Alvin Lucier, and Gordon Mumma, he formed the Sonic Arts Union, a group that turned conceptualism toward electronics. Throughout the 1970s, he directed the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, and produced his first opera for television, the 14-hour Music with Roots in the Aether, based on the work and ideas of seven influential American composers. In the early 1980s the Kitchen commissioned Ashley’s Perfect Lives, the opera for television that is widely considered the precursor of “music-television”.

The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble was founded in 1992 by Petr Kotik as an extension of the chamber music group, S.E.M. Ensemble. The Orchestra's debut at Carnegie Hall in October, 1992 turned into an internationally celebrated event, with audiences and critics from across the United States, Europe, and Japan. Joined by David Tudor, the SEM Orchestra, under Kotik performed a two-hour version of John Cage's Atlas Eclipticalis with Winter Music. Since then, the SEM Orchestra gained international recognition as one of the foremost, large-scale ensembles dedicated to the performance of new music. Its repertoire concentrates on works by composers such as Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Alvin Lucier, Edgard Varèse, Pauline Oliveros, Jon Gibson, Roscoe Mitchell, Maria de Alvear, George Lewis, Petr Kotik, Wadada Leo Smith, among others.




Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street
NY 10021 New York
United States


Apr 1, 2020 8:00 PM


Czech Center is a coorganizer of the event

Remind me
This event has already started.