The S.E.M. Ensemble — founded and directed by Petr Kotik and celebrating its 40th anniversary season this year — will give the world premiere of Tokyo-based composer Somei Satoh’s The Passion (2009) this coming Tuesday, March 16 at Paula Cooper Gallery (534 West 21st Street, New York). Thomas Buckner (baritone) and Gregory Purnhagen (baritone) will be be the soloists, along with a chorus and an ensemble led by Kotik. The program will also feature Kotik’s There is Singularly Nothing (1971-73) for voices and instruments with text by Getrude Stein, as well as Iannis Xenakis’s Mikka “S” — a short and challenging solo violin piece, exploring the use of glissandos and performed by Conrad Harris. The evening is a co-production of SEM and Mutable Music Interpretations 21 series.
About Somei Satoh’s The Passion.
Somei Satoh — considered one of Japan’s most internationally celebrated composers — began his career with “Tone Field,” an experimental, mixed media group based in Tokyo. In 1981, he placed eight speakers approximately one kilometer apart on mountaintops overlooking a huge valley. The sound from the speakers combined with laser beams to move the clouds into various formations. The Passion — composed in 2009 and to be premiered by the Orchestra of the S.E.M. on March 16 at Paula Cooper Gallery — is one of the rare examples of an Asian approach to the story of Christ and Crucifixion (Satoh’s music is actually deeply anchored in the philosophies of Shinto and Zen Buddhist beliefs). The composer traveled to New York in February to work with SEM for this premiere, in which each character is represented by a different vocal style including Syomyo and Biwa song, Nagauta from Japan, traditional Western singing and Gregorian chant style singing. The work was commissioned by Mutable Music Productions and is dedicated to Thomas Buckner.
From Petr Kotik:
In 1969, I landed at JFK on my way from Prague to Buffalo, NY, to complete a fellowship at the Center for the Creative and Performing at SUNY/Buffalo, upon the invitation of directors Lejaren Hiller and Lucas Foss. My decision to relocate permanently in the U.S. was brought about by the 1968 invasion and occupation of my native Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union, making it impossible for me to continue working there. Shortly after my arrival, I started to compose series of works, based on medical graphs, which I got from Dr. Jan Kucera. There is Singularly Nothing is the first composition in this series (the most well known being Many Many Women). All the works use voices on texts by Getrude Stein and later by R. Buckminster Fuller and are based on the concept of Open Form (no distinct beginning or ending) and the absence of a general score. In other words, they exist as individual parts that can be combined into various solos and ensembles and are unified into a cohesive ensemble by a common pulse. For the March 16 concert, I created a set of directives regarding entrances, silences, and ensemble overlaps so that There is Singularly Nothing now contains 22 parts, 11 instrumental and 10 for voice. The vocal parts are divided among 3 singers, who will sing them as solos, duos and trios.