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Bohemian National Hall

321 East 73rd Street

New York, NY 10021

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Master-Pieces composed and conducted by Petr Kotík.

US premiere of opera on libretto by Getrude Stein, staged by Jiří Nekvasil, director, David Bazika, stage design. Soloists and musicians from The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble.

“There may have been two masterpieces among the five works presented [at the NODO 2014 festival]. Kotik's was certainly one, proving that he could craft a light and thoroughly entertaining work from Stein's texts while staying true to his rigid sensibilities.” --THE WIRE

Composer Petr Kotik’s chamber opera, Master-Pieces (2014-2015) will receive its first staged performance in the U.S. at Bohemian National Hall (NYC) on Saturday, April 28, 2018 (8:30 pm). The 70-minute work was commissioned by the new opera festival NODO (Czech Republic), which premiered it in 2014. The revised and final version was performed at the Ostrava Days 2015 festival, and directed by Jiří Nekvasil, who will stage the New York performance.

Master-Pieces is a meditation on the nature of creative process and works that we identify as masterpieces. Kotik’s libretto uses text from Gertrude Stein’s 1936 lecture, “What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them.” The piece combines conversation among the singers with a quasi lecture, interrupted by three narrators whose text comes from another Stein source, “The Wars I Have Seen,” the diary she wrote from 1943 to 1944. The diary refers to situations Stein experienced during WWII and places the opera in a certain time and space.

Gertrude Stein states, “the masterpiece has nothing to do with human nature or with identity, it has to do with the human mind and entity. It is a thing in itself and not in relation.” The opera develops this idea by asking – when we do something, is it about ourselves (identity), or about the work itself (entity)? A focus on oneself diminishes the chance of doing something extraordinary: if it is that, it will not be a masterpiece. This is why a masterpiece is timeless and cannot be identified with its author or time, while, simultaneously, it is tied to the author and is an expression of its time.

Kotik’s Master-Pieces goes beyond the spectacle of musical performance, investigating a meaningful subject within a theatrical setting. The piece’s energy comes from the very questions raised by Stein, as she continuously veers away from her subject to contemplate and investigate issues of creative processes and the relationship between individuals and their creations. The words – sometimes sung and sometimes spoken – strive to retain the poetry of Stein’s language while opening various layers of meaning.

Bios:
Composer, conductor, and flutist
Petr Kotik (b. 1942, Prague, Czech Republic) studied at the Conservatory and Music Academy in Prague (1956-62; 1966-69) and the Academy in Vienna, Austria (1963-66). He founded Musica viva pragensis in 1961, and the QUaX Ensemble in 1966, both based in Prague. In 1969, Kotik relocated to the U.S., first in Buffalo, NY, then in New York City. In 1970, he founded the S.E.M. Ensemble, which expanded into The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble in 1992. The SEM Orchestra made its debut concert at Carnegie Hall with the premiere of John Cage’s complete Atlas Eclipticalis. In 1999, Kotik founded the Ostrava Center for New Music, which, in 2001, began producing the biennial Ostrava Days Institute and Festival. In 2005, he founded the international chamber orchestra Ostravská banda.

Although he studied privately in Prague and at the Vienna Academy, Kotik developed his own compositional method early on and is largely self-taught as a composer. Among Kotik’s best known compositions are
Music for 3, in Memoriam Jan Rychlik (1964); Kontrabandt (1967), commissioned by WDR Cologne; the 6-hour setting of Gertrud Stein’s text, Many Many Women (1975-78); the 4-hour piece Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1978-1980) on texts by R. Buckminster Fuller; Letters to Olga (1988-91) on text by Vaclav Havel; the large orchestra works Music in Two Movements (1998-2002) and Variations for 3 Orchestras (2003-05); and his most recent works, String Quartets No. 1: Erinnerungen an Jan (2007-09) and S.Q.No. 2: Torso (2011-13). His most recent piece, Nine +1 (2013) was commissioned for the Ensemble Europa series at WDR Cologne.

Hailed by The New York Times as “the best of what is left of the experimental tradition,” S.E.M. Ensemble was founded in 1970 when Petr Kotik gathered a group of musicians from the fellows at the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, SUNY/Buffalo. Since then, S.E.M. Ensemble has established itself as one of the most distinguished ensembles for new music in the U.S., maintaining a continuous schedule of concerts in New York, touring annually in Europe, and also performing in South America and Japan. SEM has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and Merkin Hall. Recent recordings, all on the Dog w/a Bone label (New York), include Morton Feldman’s For Philip Guston (4-CD set), Petr Kotik’s Many Many Women (3-CD set), Music by Marcel Duchamp (1 CD) and Spoken Music —a live performance recording with John Cage, Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low and others. Recent recordings of The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble are also available on Asphodel Ltd. (San Francisco) and Wergo (Mainz).

Jiří Nekvasil (1962) studied opera directing at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. In 1988 he founded an experimental opera studio, Opera Furore, together with the stage designer Daniel Dvořák. Two years later they became directors of Chamber Opera Prague, which they re-organized into Opera Mozart. From 1998 to 2002, he was Artistic Director at the State Opera Prague. Between 2002 and 2006 he directed operas at the National Theatre in Prague. Since 2010, he has been the director of the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre. Nekvasil has directed almost a hundred productions, mainly opera, at prominent Czech scenes and abroad. In spite of a broad style that spans the staged repertoire, his long-term focus is on the music of the 20th century and contemporary works. He has also worked as an author on a number of projects. He has shot a number of documentary music films on topics such as Alois Hába, Jan Klusák, Opera after Josef Berg, the opera magician Václav Kašlík, Gustav Mahler, two films devoted to Bohuslav Martinů (Return from Exile, Martinů and America) and a musical film dedicated to Ervin Schulhoff (My Teeth Rattle to the Beat of the Shimmy).

New York-based soprano
Christina Kay is a versatile singer of early and contemporary music. In 2017, she was the Soprano Vocal Fellow in the Carmel Bach Festival Virginia Best Adams Masterclass, and placed second in the 2016 Handel Aria Competition. On the opera stage, Christina has enjoyed collaborations with Wisconsin’s Fresco Opera Theatre, a company with a fresh and untraditional approach to opera. In 2016, she premiered the role of Young Clara in a new dramatic production about Clara Schumann, featuring the music of the Schumann's and Brahms. She also appeared with Fresco as Gretel in an outreach of Hansel and Gretel and as a Mermaid-Alien in a Star Wars-themed Rinaldo. Other roles include Dalinda in Ariodante, Second Woman and First Witch in Dido and Aeneas, First Spirit in Die Zauberflöte, and Mrs. Segstrom in A Little Night Music. An active soloist and chorister, Christina has sung with the American Classical Orchestra, the American Bach Soloists Academy, and The Salvatones, and enjoys her weekly position as soprano at The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Originally from Pennsylvania, she holds a B.A. in Music from Gettysburg College/Sunderman Conservatory, and an M.M. in Vocal Performance from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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