MUSIC FOR THREE ORCHESTRAS
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra
Petr Kotik, Zsolt Nagy, Petr Vronsky, Conductors
Petr Kotik: Variations
for Three Orchestras (2003/04)
Olga Neuwirth: locus…dublure…solus
for Three Orchestras (2003/04)
Christian Wolff: Ordinary Matterr for Three Orchestras (2001/04)
Phill Niblock: Three Orchids for Three Orchestras (2003)
Ostrava's Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra is among the five leading symphony orchestras of the Czech Republic. Many conductors have contributed to the orchestra's artistic development, among them Serge Baudo, Roberto Benzi, Zdenek Macal, Charles Mackerras, Vaslav Neumann, Libor Pesek, and Christian Arming, to name a few. The orchestra's current Chief Conductor is Petr Vronský Throughout its 50-year existence, JPO has been a strong advocate of contemporary music. Since 1997, it regularly performs under Petr Kotik, including large-scale new music events, such as the 4-hour concert at the festival of Music of Extended Duration in Prague in 1997 which included 103 by John Cage and Four Meditations by Paulione Oliveros with Oliveros as the soloist. Since 1999, JPO has participated in a project of "Music in Space - Compositions for 3 Orchestras." Under the batons of Christian Arming, Petr Kotik, Zsolt Nagy and Petr Vronský, JPO performed five such events. The first concerts of music for 3-Orchestras were given at the the Prague Spring 1999 and Warsaw Autumn 2000 festivals. It included Guppen by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Diamonds, by Alvin Lucier, Modules 1, 2, 3, by Earle Brown, and Nešť by Martin Smolka. Composers with whom JPO has worked include Somei Satoh, Chrisitan Wolff, Petr Kotik, Tristan Murail, Maria de Alvear, and Roscoe Mitchell. Recently, under Petr Kotik, Zsolt Nagy and Christian Arming JPO performed, to critical acclaim, large-scale works by Edgard Varese, Tristan Murail and Morton Feldman's Coptic Light and Violin and Orchestra with the renown Czech-Swiss violinist Hana Kotková. JPO new music CD releases include 103 by John Cage on Asphodel label, (San Francisco), Orchestra works by Somei Satoh and Phill Niblock Disseminate, both on Mode Records (New York).
Petr Kotik (b. 1942) entered the Prague Conservatory to study the flute in 1956 at the age of 14. Four years later, he began to compose. The same year, while still a student at the Conservatory, he founded his first new music group, Musica viva pragensis. Since then, he has concentrated equally on composing and performing. In addition to Musica viva pragensis, he founded and directed the QUAX Ensemble (1966-69, also in Prague) and shortly after his 1969 arrival in the U.S., the S.E.M. Ensemble, which expanded in 1992 into The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble.
Although Kotik became a musician at an early age, his lack of interest in and difficulty understanding harmony delayed his compositional efforts until well into his 18th year of age. Kotik's disregard for classical harmony, balanced by a keen sense of counterpoint and linear thinking, is shared with other composers, as he later discovered, such as Christian Wolff and John Cage, among others. Although Kotik studied fundamentals of composition, both privately in Prague and later at the Vienna ACADEMY of Music, his technique is self-made and has very little to do with commonly used methods.
Kotik's compositional system can be compared to a game in which the use of controlled chance is balanced by conscious decision-making. The two alternate in a game-like fashion, one influencing the other. The purpose of such a method is to trigger unpredictable processes, while progressing in the work's envisioned direction. The strategies and limitations Kotik imposes on chance are at the root of his method.
Among Kotik's best known compostions are Spontano (1964) for piano and ensemble (composed for Frederic Rzewski); Kontrabandt (1967) - live electronic work commissioned by the WDR Electronic Music Studio; Many Many Women (1975-78) on text by Gertrude Stein; Letters to Olga (1988-91) on text by Vaclav Havel; and his recent orchestra pieces, Quiescent Form (1994-96); and the one-hour long Music in Two Movements (1998-2002).
As a performer, Kotik has been active, all his life as a chamber musician and soloist, without the slightest interest in the orchestra. The sound of the conventional orchestra as applied to contemporary music -- its phrasing, pretentious expressiveness and the mindless use of vibrato, -- had confined Kotik's focuss on chamber music. In 1992, when he conducted Atlas Eclipticalis by John Cage his attitude completely changed. Standing for two hours in front of the 86-piece Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble in Carnegie Hall and conducting such a performance convinced Kotik of the importance of working with large-scale ensembles. Since then, Kotik has been organizing orchestra concerts and encouraging other composers to created works for orchestra. It was a turning point in his career as a performer and composer. Tonight's program is the result of these efforts.
In May1993, the Carnegie Hall concert was repeated at the Konzerthaus Berlin, this time in a two-and-a-half-hour version. For this tour, an additional concert was scheduled at the Akademie der Kunste with a program, which included some of the most complex scores of the 20th century orchestra repertoire-Déserts, by Varese, and The Turfan Fragments, by Morton Feldman. Kotik's in-depth knowledge of the music and his lifelong experience as a chamber musician helped him to overcome his lack of conducting experience. In a sense, it worked to his advantage, especially in the The Turfan Fragments as the standard technique does not prepare a conductor for such a score and made necessary for Kotik to invent his own gestures. The success of his concert catapulted Kotik toward a new career as a conductor. Since then, he has conducted, to critical acclaim, music by major composers of our time, in programs occasionally interspersed with historical works, such as Monteverdi, Handel, Bach and Rameau, as well as Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Josef Suk.
Kotik's academic career can be summed up by two equally important events. The first was an invitation extended to him in 1969 by the State University of New York and its Center for the Creative and Performing Arts to become a fellow at the Center. This opportunity enabled Kotik to leave Czechoslovakia where, after the Soviet military invasion of 1968, he could no longer continue his work. The second was in 1976, when Kotik was dismissed by the same university. This was equally important for Kotik's career; it enabled him to pursue his independent activities full-time, without which his later achievements would have been unthinkable.
Petr Kotik on Variations:
In late 1990s, I proposed to the Prague Spring Festival a 3-Orchestra program based on Stockhausen's Grupen. I envisioned placing Gruppen in the context of other compositions for 3-orchestras. Such a program, which also included music by Earle Brown, Alvin Lucier and the Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli was performed at the Prague Spring 1999. Following this event I started to build a 3-orchestra repertoire, asking various composers to contribute their own works. Besides Alvin Lucier, they included Martin Smolka, Christian Wolff, Phill Niblock, Olga Neuwirth and my own Variations. Such an undertaking has only been possible thanks to the continuous performance possibilities, at Warsaw Autumn 2000, Ostrava Days 2001, Ostrava Days 2003 and the present concert at MaerzMusik 2004. These 3-orchestra concerts were performed by the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra in collaboration with conductors Zsolt Nagy, Christian Arming and Petr Vronsky, all of who contributed enormously to this project.
In the late 2002, after finishing the hour-long orchestra piece Music in Two Movements, I began working on Variations for three orchestras. In August 2003, a part of Variations was presented as a workshop performance at the Ostrava Days 2003 Festival. The March 21 concert at MaerzMusik Festival marks the premiere of the finished composition.
Between November 2002 and January 2003, I composed approximately 145 bars of material. I felt ambivalent about the result -- the music felt directionless and although it was rather difficult and laborious to compose, I rejected it. At this point, I conceived the idea of Variations on a segment of Many Many Women, my older piece from 1978. There, similarly to the 3-orchestra environment, the music unfolds independently form different directions. By early May, I finished about 240 bars of these variations and it became a major part of the composition, followed by about150 bar section, a quasi coda for the three tutti ensembles. The two sections formed the piece as it was performed at Ostrava Days 2003 last August. The result was unsatisfactory and I continued to work on the composition. In November 2003, a new section of about 110 bars was added, placing it and at the beginning of the piece. Then, I became interested in the year old material, which I initially rejected. I reworked it, using about 90 bars and placing it, again, in front of the three existing parts. After adding an 8-bar introduction in January 2004, I felt that the piece has been basically finished.
- Petr Kotik, Berlin, January 23, 2004
Olga Neuwirth (b. 1968) studied composition with Erich Urbanner at the Vienna Academy. She also studied at the Electroacoustic Institute and later at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco. Neuwirth was particularly influenced by the work of Adriana Hölszky, Tristan Murail and Luigi Nono. She has been the recipient of a number of awards and prizes and in 1998, she was featured in two concerts of the 'Next Generation' series at the Salzburg Festival. Together with Pierre Boulez, she was the composer-in-residence at the Luzern Festival in 2002. Her new opera Lost Highway, based on the film by David Lynch, was premiered on October 31, 2003 at the Steirischer Herbst Festival in Austria.
Neuwirth's locus…dublure…solus< is a composition in 7 movements performed without interruption. The composition exisits in three version; two versions are a quasi concerto for piano and orchestra: the first one is for piano and a 20-piece chamber orchestra, the second one is for piano with a symphony orchestra. In the summer of 2003 a third version for 3-orchestras was created. In the 3-orchestra version, Neurwirth has assigned the solo piano part to the middle orchestra (2) while dividing and reworking the single orchestra material into a version for 2 orchestras (1 and 3). Three out of the seven movements received a workshop performance at the Ostrava Days 2003 Festival. This workshop performance was very useful, it indicated the need for further changes in the transcription process, which was done during January, 2004. The 3-orchestra version was a result of a close cooperation with Victoria Erber, without whom, the project could not take place. The piece will be heard for the first time in its final shape on March 21, 2004 at MaerzMusik Festival.
Christian Wolff (born 1934 in France, living in the United States since 1941) holds a doctorate in classics from Harvard, where he taught until 1970. Between 1970 and 2000, Wolff was the Strauss Professor of Music at Dartmouth College where he also taught classics. As a composer he is basically self-taught, although his association in the early 1950s with John Cage, David Tudor and Morton Feldman provided a music background unmatched by any formal education. He has received a number of commissions, was "Ford Composer" at Mills College and was composer/lecturer at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt. He has written for numerous music periodicals, and has organized and performed in concerts in Europe and the U.S.A.
Wolff's work has concerned itself principally with the introduction of various new modes of notation and freedom of the musical event, both for the composer and performer as well as the listener. Wolff described his current concerns in the following manner: "To turn the making of music into a collaborative and transforming activity (performer into composer into listener into composer into performer, etc.), the cooperative character of the activity to the exact source of the music. To stir up, through the production of the music, a sense of social conditions in which we live and of how these might be changed."
Berlin notes on Ordinary Matter: <
Ordinary Matter for 3 orchestras was composed at the suggestion of Petr Kotik as part of the ongoing project of "Music in Space - Compositions for 3 Orchestras" and was premiered on August 27, 2001 at the Ostrava Days 2001 Festival by the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra, Christian Arming, Petr Kotik, and Zsolt Nagy, Conductors.
Ordinary Matter is both an expression of everyday speech and an astronomical term referring to the 4.5% of the universe we are more or less able to perceive, all aspects of "matter" as known to us . The remaining 95.5% consists of completely incomprehensible "black matter" and "black energy."
When composing Ordinary Matter, Wolff remarked "I do not wish to compose a piece which will perhaps be performed only once at the festival. I am aiming for something, which gives many performance possibilities. It should be possible to perform it with 80 musicians, or perhaps just with 2 harps."
Ordinary Matter consists of 14 parts or movements for three orchestras and three conductors (80 musicians maximum). The piece can be adapted to the performance possibilities - the number of parts as well as the number of musicians can vary. Part 7, for instance, is a duo for harps that could represent the whole piece, in a very short version. What parts are played, in what sequence and in what possible superposition or overlaps is open. Some parts even allow the "orchestration" to be determined according to the performance possibilities. Each performance follows an exact plan. Some parts are scored exactly, some allow players freedoms of spacing, or dynamics and durations within a time-length limit.
The performance on March 21, 2004 at MaerzMusic will present the most complete version. It has been assembled by the composer in consultation with Petr Kotik and with the benefit of advice from Zolt Nagy during the Ostrava Days performance in 2001. In Berlin, all 14 parts will be performed together for the first time. Part 9 for percussion and double basses, was composed in late 2003, others have been revised and/or adapted.
Composer Phill Niblock (born 1966) also works extensively with images -- film, video, photography. He normally constructs his music as recordings. In 1998, he made a scored piece for orchestra for Petr Kotik and the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, which was played in their concert series in Brooklyn, NY that year. That piece, Disseminate, was performed subsequently in Berlin by the Kammerensemble, and at the Ostrava Days Festival in 2001. The recording of that performance, by members of the Janácek Philharmonic, will appear on a CD on the Mode label of New York in 2004.
Three Orchids was originally conceived for Art Zoyd of Maubeuge, France. The ensemble was split into three groups which were separated on stage. Each group was amplified and accompanied by a recording of twenty-four instruments. Three Orchids for three orchestras is structured so that each orchestra plays one note of a three note chord, E, B, and G. Each note is written to be played with many microtones, producing within each orchestra many sum and difference tones, and overtones. After eight minutes, the chord begins to gradually shift from E, B, G to E, A#, G, and at sixteen minutes the latter chord remains. The overtone patterns are very rich because of the many different timbres of the instruments in the orchestra. The score was constructed by Berlin musicologist Volker Straebel, from Niblock's schema and drawings, and conversations. Straebel specified that the notes (E, G, B, A#) would vary within the range of a quarter tone up and a fourth tone down, away from the central pitch, in micro-intervals of a sixteenth of a tone. He prepared ten parts for each of the three orchestras, to be distributed randomly within each ensemble - the first orchestra is devoted to E, the third centers on G, and the second starts with unison B and ends with unison A#.
Conductor Zsolt Nagy (born 1957) studied conducting at the Budapest Academy of Music with István Párkai and was an active participant at the Bartók Seminar and Festival with Péter Eötvös. After winning the Soros Foundation Fellowship in 1989 he was involved in various orchestra projects, master classes, and teaching positions throughout Europe. In 1995 he became guest Professor of the International Eötvös Institute, in 1999 the Chief conductor and artistic adviser of the Israel Contemporary Players, and in 2002 Professor of conducting at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris. Nagy has also been Artistic director of the Master class for Conductors with the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, (held in Ostrava) and of the Master class for Young Conductors for New Music (held in the Jerusalem Music Center). Nagy has conducted over 100 world premieres, released numerous radio and CD recordings, and made regular appearances at a variety of international music festivals. He has had performances with many celebrated international artists and in 1999 was given a special award for excellence in performing new Israeli music.
Petr Vronsky< (born 1946) is a leading Czech conductor who has also been successful on foreign concert stages. He began his career as an opera conductor, but soon devoted himself to the symphony repertoire. He has conducted many symphony orchestras all over the world including the Philharmonic Orchestra Ankara, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Antwerp, Berliner Symhoniker, Philharmonisches Orchester Dortmund, Dresdner Philharmonie, Göteborgs Symfoniker, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Nürnberger Symphoniker, Stuttgarter Philharmoniker, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, etc. He has developed a regular collaboration with many Czech orchestras including the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Prague, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Brno and the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra (in Taiwan 1997, Japan 1999, Spain 2001). In September 2002 Vronský was appointed the Chief Conductor of the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also taught conducting at the Janáček Academy in Brno since 1983. Vronský's broad repertoire includes more than 200 classical and modern symphonic works and operas.
Petr Kotik on Wolff:
Christian Wolff looks ascetic but he likes to eat well very much. His most early musical influence was not John Cage but Johan Sebastian Bach. He decided to become a composer while listening to the 5th Brandenburg Concerto.
Wolff's music often asks for micro tuning, resulting in music that sometimes sounds out of tune, as if the composer could not tell the difference. However, his ears are impeccable, he can hear subtleties that escape a seasoned music critic.
Instead of going to music school Wolff went to study classics, and became a professor of classics at Dartmouth College. It may lead someone to think that his musical knowledge is scant, but just a short conversation with Wolff can convince anyone of his vast and deep knowledge about music.
His manners are restrained, tranquil and very pleasant, but his observations are sharp and uncompromising. He is quick, firm and to the point - always with a smile on his face (is this the real John Cage influence?). He will accept no nonsense and will not be "pushed around."
His persistence and, in fact, his "against all odds" existence as an artist is a source of inspiration - and not only to me. In a statement on Wolff, Feldman once remarked: "he has ruined my life, but saved my art".
Petr Kotik, Berlin, February 2, 2004.