Petr Kotik

Since 1984, the SEM Ensemble, directed by Petr Kotik, has given annual Christmas concerts. But these are not your usual holiday fare! The programs mix works from the New York School, other pieces in the avant-garde/experimental tradition, and early music.

On Tuesday evening December 21 at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea, SEM will present J. S. Bach’s Fugue in 6 Voices from A Musical Offering (1747), Kotik’s 1st String Quartet (2007-’10), Why Patterns? (1978) by Morton Feldman, and two works by Christian Wolff: Small Preludes (2009-’10) and, incredibly, the American premiere of a work dating from 1958: For Six or Seven Players (for Merce Cunningham).

Petr Kotik and Christian Wolff were kind enough to share some remarks on For 6 or 7 Players and Small Preludes.

Christian Wolff – For 6 or 7 Players

Christian Wolff’s For 6 or 7 Players (for trumpet, trombone, piano, violin, viola, double bass, and optional flute, hence 6 or 7) was originally written for Merce Cunningham’s dance “Rune” in 1958, while Wolff served in the U.S. Army. Wolff sent the piece to Cage, not retaining a copy for himself and the original was lost. Finding the manuscript somewhat ambiguous, Cage painstakingly re-notated the piece into a precise score.

In 1964, during rehearsals with John Cage in Warsaw for the performance with the Merce Cunningham Dance Co. at the Warsaw Autumn festival, Cage brought a piece by Christian Wolff: For 6 or 7 Players (Music for Merce Cunningham). The piece was hand-copied by Cage, bearing his typical manuscript signature. The musicians were the Czech ensemble from Prague, Musica viva pragensis, which I founded few years back. Cage intended to perform the piece few days later, but it proved to be far too complicated to be ready in one or two rehearsals, so he gave up on the idea and left the material – the score and parts – with me. Going through my music archive last summer, I discovered the material and decided to perform the piece. Christian Wolff and I met to go through the score to resolve a few questions, and the performances are result of this effort. —Petr Kotik

The written music of “For 6 or 7 players” (1959) indicates, on a score, time spaces (brackets) anywhere within which a specified number of pitches, to be selected by the players from a given collection, are to be played. Dynamics and modes of playing are also variously specified or left free. That the music was made to go with a dance (Merce Cunningham’s “Rune”) encouraged me to allow for plenty of silence.–Christian Wolff

Christian Wolff — Small Preludes

The arrangements of “Small Preludes” (2010) were made to offer something more recent. There were 20 small preludes for solo piano (2009), of which 8 are arranged for the instrumentation of “For 6 or 7 Players” (the optional seventh player is a flutist) and a ninth is left as is, a piano solo. The original piano music was written on two staves but without specification of clef, so in playing and making instrumental versions, a considerable variety of different pitch readings are possible (in this instrumentation these choices are made by the composer). — Christian Wolff

Concert Details

December 21, 2010 at 8 PM @ Paula Cooper Gallery, NYC

Paula Cooper Gallery is located at 534 West 21st Street, New York. Tickets are $15, Students and Seniors $10.  For information and reservations, call (718) 488-7659 or email