Printer Friendly

Petr Kotik: as a composer, I've always been a loner.

Petr Kotik is one of the most original of Czech composers, although it could equally well be said that he is one of the most interesting American composers. Straddling the divide between European and American culture gives his work a peculiar breadth. Kotik's compositions are often long, much longer than is usual, but it is not the duration that imbues them with their undemonstrative, refined monumentality. Being aware of walking on thin ice, I would still say that Petr Kotik is a composer of dispassionate objectivity. Kotik's music is personal, but it is not "about Kotik." Kotik is striving not to impose himself on the listener, or on his music for that matter.

As a composer do you feel you arc part of and continuing some kind of musical tradition?

Musical tradition? What do you mean by tradition? A style, a movement? Or, are you asking whether I have been a part of a group of artists? In Prague, a lot of emphasis has always been placed on tradition, but I think the question of tradition is a pseudo-issue. Similarly to the notion of "expressing oneself." I have never been interested in these questions, perhaps because they have no meaning. Everyone, always and everywhere is expressing himself, whatever he is doing. As far as tradition goes, it's automatically part of our personality and reveals itself in everything we do. The way we talk is based on tradition, for example - and the way we talk is the way we think, and the way we think is the way we act. The fact that we use a handkerchief to blow our nose is also a tradition. I don't think about tradition just as I don't think about breathing oxygen. And another thing: people who talk about tradition actually do not mean tradition; they're just parading their intellectual (and cultural) limitations, trying to impose them on everyone else.

What I meant more or less was a certain intellectual and cultural development, i.e. a tradition in the broader sense of the word--if I'm not mistaken you have said that you could not have done in Europe the kind of music you have written since moving to USA. Why not?

Naturally, if I'd stayed in Europe I couldn't have done what I've done in America. There arc several reasons for that, although actually it comes down to just one thing: the environment in which one lives and works. It is related to what you call "intellectual and cultural development" but I would just call it an environment.


Each one of us is part of an intellectual, artistic and social environment that surrounds us. It provides the context for our existence and to some extent sets limits of what it's possible for us to do. Beethoven wouldn't have created his work if he had staved in Bonn, just as Picasso wouldn't have done what he did in Barcelona and Dvorak wouldn't have written the New World Symphony and the American String Quartet in Nelahozeves. In Prague they would have had Janacek locked up in an asylum (as Otakar Sevcik wanted), but fortunately the Brno environment allowed him to create great oeuvre, despite the continuous attempt in Prague, at the beginning of the century, to cripple his artistic output and silence him.

As far as my own environment (or in your words "intellectual and cultural development"), I must admit I've never thought much about it, whether we talk about Prague or New York. On the one hand I've always worked within a relatively narrow circle of composers and musicians--people I have had some understanding with, but on the other hand, I've always stood outside of any group, and that's the case since the start of my professional life. And the circle of my friends has never been local. At the beginning in the 1960s they were, in Prague, Sramek, Rychlfk, Komorous and also Nono and then during my yearly visits to the Warsaw Autumn Festival, I met Rzewski, Cardcw, Kotonsky, Xenakis, Tomek, Hiller and others. I continued to make friends during my studies in Vienna (Schwertsik, Cage, von Biel) and this circle expanded later in America. But as a composer, I've always been a loner. Until recently, my work was only marginally accepted by the public. Even people I was close to, for example Rudolf Komorous, often raised their eyebrows when they saw what I was composing and also how I was composing it. I remember my mentor Vladimir Sramek, when I first showed him my compositional method, he screamed at me: "You don't compose like this! This is no way to compose music!" When the New Music Group was formed in Prague in the mid-1960s - Kopelent, Lebl, Vostfak, Komorous, and others - I wasn't invited to join. I got used to that and never felt bad about it. Of course there were exceptions, for example Lejaren Hiller, at the end of the 1960s, invited me to come to America. There, I found far more people with whom I was able to communicate and who were supportive of my work. In America, there is a tendency to welcome surprises and unusual ideas with much greater openness to it than in Europe. That could be one of the attributes that separates America from Europe.


I'm interested in a shift of style that happened in your music at the beginning of the 1970s after you moved to USA. Apart from the fact that you started to compose for voices, it seems as if your compositions mould loose any link with European new music. This link completely disappeared from your work. For example, you have abandoned the so called extended instrumental techniques that you used abundantly in the rg6os. What led you to work exclusively tenth the conventional, standard sound when writing for instruments? And which elements of your compositional conceptions from the 1960s survived into the 1970s? What did you abandoned and what emerged as new?

You are right, the music I started composing after my arrival in America is different from what I did in Europe. But the reason wasn't my relocation to America. I started to turn away from European new music much earlier, my musical thinking started to change about five years earlier, while I was studying in Vienna (1963-66). As far as the extended instrumental techniques are concerned, I didn't use them consciously as something "experimental" (for example Spontano from 1964 uses simple tone material). I never differentiated sound into "standard" and "extended". I'm part of the post-Cagean generation that from the beginning accepted the idea of sound emancipation, introduced by Cage in the 1940s. This approach was always part of my musical thinking. I never considered scratching on the string of a violin as something non-standard. When you add to it my tendency to express myself in a direct and simple way, you'll understand why I simplified the sound by just using conventional techniques.

For European new music in the beginning of the 1960s, what came out of Darmstadt was critical and most important. But already by the middle of the 1960s some young composers--and I was one of them--began to be critical toward Darmstadt. For example, I never traveled to Darmstadt (I was there only once for few days, by Stockhausen's invitation to collaborate on the performance of his Mixtur). At the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, when Darmstadt attracted me tremendously, I wasn't allowed to go--I couldn't get an exit visa. From the mid-1960s on, I lost interest. Otherwise I would have gone to Darmstadt every year.

I should mention Kurt Schwertsik, Cornelius Cardew and Frederic Rzcwski those friends I felt close to at that time, and of course I greatly admired American composers like Cage, Feldman and La Monte Young. Those were people the Darmstadt scene looked down upon. When I returned from Vienna to Prague my attitude toward new music coming out of Darmstadt was already very negative. With this in mind, I founded the QUaX Ensemble. I worked with QUaX until I left for USA. My turning away from European new music was also the reason why, on my return to Prague in 1966, I didn't get involved in the activities of Musica viva pragensis (Kopelent, Vostrak, but also to some extent Komorous). By that time European new music, the kind Musica viva pragensis performed, no longer interested me.

My decision to relocate to America came as late as in autumn of'69 after the Prague authorities banned QUaX Ensemble from taking part in a concert series (a kind of a festival), planned by the (West) Berlin Akademie der Kiinste. The festival program was to be focused on Cornelius Cardcw's London group AMM and my QUaX from Prague. I was twenty-seven and I realized I was already too old to deal with problems like bans on travel abroad and so on, and I realized that the most important thing for me was to have peace and quiet to be able to work. At the end of' 69, the cancellation of our concerts in Berlin made me realize that living in Czechoslovakia did not offer this kind of environment, so I had to get out.



I came to USA on a scholarship to work with the new music group at the University of New York at Buffalo (Center of the Creative and Performing Arts), directed by Lucas Foss and Lejaren Hiller. The repertoire that this relatively large and well-funded group was doing was a kind of cross between European and American new music, as it was done at the universities in the U.S., with a little bit of interesting music here and there. It was a disappointment for me. "I was doing more interesting things in Prague", I told my new friends right after I arrived. They agreed with me and this is what led to the start of the S.E.M. Ensemble a few months later. I began to compose intensively for the group. Logically, my pieces no longer had anything in common with European new music. Except for concerts that the S.E.M.

Ensemble gave on our frequent European tours, I lost contact with European new music after coming to America. By chance, I happened to hear some concerts while in Europe, but they mostly put me off to such an extent that I stopped being interested in European new music altogether. Today of course, the situation is completely different. Since the beginning of the 1990s the European scene has been very lively and interesting. But I remember, sometime back in the early 1980s, hearing a concert of young composers at the festival in Witten in Germany that was so awful that I felt that I was attending the funeral of music. All the composers on the program, one after another. When they came to take the bow, they looked avant-garde--from their hairstyles to their stylish shoes--but the music was a set of badly made diluted thirty year old academic cliches. This was my attitude toward European music back then.

I would say that my "shift in style," my critical attitude toward European new music emerged long before I came to America. (Just a small remark: the academic scene at music departments in the U.S. at that time - what gets taught in universities--was completely influenced by European new music, and if I had supported this musical style T would certainly have gotten a good job as a professor at one of the universities). What I would see as the main influence of America on myself is that my "shift in style," was more radical and that without America I wouldn't have written vocal compositions. I can't imagine that the music I started to compose at the beginning of the 1970s would have been tolerated in Europe, let alone supported. The chance that in Europe in the 1970s I would have found singers who would work with me so intensively, studying my extended duration compositions that are so demanding, and performing them without adequate pay--this chance would have been zero in Europe back then, and is probably still today.

You ask what I abandoned and what emerged as new in my music. I have never abandoned anything in my music, and on occasions I still go back to my method of the 1960s. As I'm sure you know, I have never rejected any of my earliest pieces and sometimes still perform them. I constantly come up with new elements, ideas or observations. They result from my experiences, from my continuous work and observations I am making all the time. My American experiences are very important, but so is my work in Ostrava. Without America, my music would certainly be different and the same can be said, to a certain extent, about Ostrava. My interaction with the young generation of composers I meet at Ostrava Days, and the opportunity to work with a large symphony orchestra, for example, are important Ostrava influences. One thing leads to another and it's impossible to give a simple explanation.

You are one of those quite rare composers who keep on insisting that their music expresses nothing, represents nothing, and isn't intended to bring up associations of any kind. Yet all the same you've created so many important pieces in which you set a text - and do so in a way that respects the coherence of the text and ensures its comprehensibility, so the text keeps its meaning. What do the texts you have chosen mean for your? What is actually your reason for setting text to music?

Are you suggesting that music doesn't express anything? Of course it does. But what is it--that is a different question. Certainly, music does not tell stories or relay some sort of message. Music is expressing itself--music, nothing more and nothing less, just as everything else ultimately expresses itself, whether it is a stone, or a human being or a tree. Naturally, music can be composed or listened to with ideas of some program, or a message, but that's another matter altogether. It is a personal view, which is not directly related to music as such. G sharp will always be G sharp and D will always remain D and to claim that this G sharp expresses some sort of content different from the content of that C sharp is just as naive as believing that a thunder storm with hail is a God's punishment. We can believe that, but it does not make any difference to the fact that a storm is a storm and G sharp is G sharp.

Music invokes a situation that can lead to meditation; a personal, poetic and intellectual meditation. It is a field of sound, which we perceive in a time space. Music is not universal, it is always specific, and the ability to "understand" or navigate in this sound field requires education. A real education, that comes through one's own initiative.

It is true that music as an abstract meditation is a relatively recent phenomenon in Western culture. This kind of music-listening originated in Germany and became the norm in our culture only recently, during Romanticism (in India, musical meditation exists for centuries, if not millennia). In France, for example, up to early 19th century, music was used only as an accompaniment to dancing or singing and the voices used text that expressed some kind of content. Apart from very brief opera overtures Rameau didn't write a single instrumental piece intended for performances with paying public. His orchestral suites are compiled from the dance sections of his operas. In 18th century, the French audiences would not have any idea what to do with purely instrumental music.

When I was confronted with the task of composing music for voice (not as a result of my initiative but because Julius Eastman joined the S.E. M. Ensemble, sometime in 1971 and I had to include voice in my new piece for the group), first I had to find a suitable text (vocal music starts with text, not notes; this is basic, one learns that in a counterpoint class for beginners). Although at the beginning of the seventies using voice without a text was common with composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, I had no interest in doing such a thing. For me, the use of voice without text didn't make any sense. At the time I was on tour with the Buffalo group. We were in Albany, NY and I happened to be walking by a bookstore and as I entered, I saw a small paperback of lectures by Gertrude Stein. I bought the book and when I read a few sentences just before going to sleep that night, I realized that I'd found the text for my piece. And so the choice of text wasn't inspired by some "brilliant" idea; it just happened. What's more, back then I was only just starting to speak English and I only knew English and American literature from Czech translations. Toward the end of the period when I worked with texts by Gertrude Stein, I composed the six-hour long Many Many Women (1975-78) for six singers and six instruments. In this composition, as in all the others I composed at that time, not a single note was written with the slightest intention to illustrate the text, lending it color, or expressing its content. I find such an approach simplistic, almost primitive. For me the text and the music are two different entities.

The majority of musicologists believe that everything can be rationally analyzed, that each aspect in composer's work is a result of some deliberate decision, which can be deciphered. I have never understood the premises of musical analysis, it never made much sense. Varese completely rejected analysis. He claimed it murdered music. The problem is that the effort to find rational explanations creates the wrong frame of reference and that leads nowhere. Feldman started to write uncoordinated scores because of problem he had with his eyes (as a performer, he could not follow the score). This led to a whole new way of composing and performing that became at the time quite important. I myself, I started to write vocal music after meeting Julius Eastman and continued to write it because of the possibilities offered by the New York vocal scene. There are plenty of other, similar examples.

When, after a few years writing for voice I stopped working with Julius, I decided to either find other singers or stop composing for voice. I approached the vocal group Western Wind and few singers from the group agreed to collaborate with me after listening to recordings and looking at the scores. Gradually, these singers found others, which for me resulted in a period of intense working with voices. That lasted up to the beginning of the 1980s. I was not just lucky finding singers; this work was also a result of the high level of singing in New York. For someone to survive as a singer in New York, unless he or she makes it as a soloist, that person has to join one of the many church choirs. There are number of these choirs; practically every larger congregation has its own choir, which is employed several times a week and provides a small but regular income to its members. These choirs sing different material each time, practically without any rehearsal. They get together an hour before the service, go through difficult passages, and the rest is sight-read directly during the performance. These choirs are quite small and every singer is an important part of the whole. It's taken for granted that the singers can sight-read without mistakes. For every choir member, there are many other singers waiting to be called and able to replace anyone at a moment's notice, which means that singers who can't read well and who cannot sing without mistakes will not last very long. In New York, you can find a number of singers who are able to sight-read music as if they were instrumentalists. I can't imagine ever getting so far with my vocal pieces without these New York singers.

I've noticed that you consistently avoid making aesthetic judgments, either on your music or the music of other composers. What kind of criteria do you apply to your own music, what is it that makes a piece "come off" for you, in the sense of satisfying you? (I think people have to have some criteria of quality, if only to be able to recognize when a piece is finished or if it needs to be revised, which you yourself do very often.)

That's right, I avoid making judgments and I regard aesthetics, which concerns itself with the question of beauty, as a form of cultural ideology. This is what I am trying to avoid. The aesthetic concept of beauty is really connected with the idea of what people ought to like (or dislike). I can assure you that one can live and work perfectly well without the need for aesthetics. For centuries artists worked without the need for a theory of aesthetics and did well without it.

Rejecting aesthetics doesn't mean accepting everything. The question is what is it that forms a judgment. I base my conclusions on objective strategies, not on whether or not I like something. Not to mention that what I may like today I may not necessarily like tomorrow, without any consequences. But if I say this chair is green and the next day I say it's yellow, it would at least mean I was color blind. What draws my interest when I listen to music is its originality and authenticity. Is the composer trying to make an impression on me, is he pandering to the public, or is he indifferent to these matters? There are a lot of details, apart from this, that cither interest me or put me off. And then,I'm also interested in the form. Sometimes I encounter pieces that end before they actually began - i.e.they end in the moment when I start to listen with intensity. That irritates me. Having said that,I should point out that one must take one's own reactions with a grain of salt,because one can always be wrong. And then there is the fact that one composer's opinion about another composer is worthless. I discovered that long time ago. If it weren't so, then everything would be easy. One generation would simply identify who from the next generation would take over. This has never happened and when on occasion, an established composer identifies the one who is supposed to become important in the future, that judgment is always completely off.

Paula Cooper Gallery has been in existence for nearly 45 years and is one of the most successful in the world. Paula doesn't represent a single artist that she doesn't personally know well. There is a good reason for this - by looking at a painting, drawing or sculpture, one can come to an unreliable conclusion, especially when it is an unknown artist. A personal relationship is another matter. One can intuitively guess who the artist is and how serious he is - things that are not apparent by looking at the artwork for the first time.

I remember my father (the painter Jan Kotik) once told me that when people come to look at the work at his studio, they are almost always attracted to the weakest paintings, while leaving the strongest work on the side. This is probably why there have always been only a handful of collectors capable of identifying great works at the time they were created, even though all of it was available to the public for almost nothing. Sometime in 1951, when Morton Feldman first visited Robert Rauschenberg's studio and was drawn to one of his "black paintings," Rauschenberg said to him,"Why don't you buy it? I'll sell it for all the money you have in your pocket." Feldman had 16 dollars and some change and took the painting home.

I don't try to avoid my music, but I definitely don't spend time listening to it. And listening to my music doesn't automatically fill me with satisfaction, that's for sure--I don't recall the last time that happened. John Cage once told me that when he asked Duchamp how he came up with the idea of readymades, whether he liked the objects, or whether he related to them is some way, Duchamp answered no--it was neither liking nor disliking them, something in between. Cage believed that this kind ambiguous feeling toward the work--neither positive nor negative--is an indication that it may be a significant piece of art. It made mc feel better about the way I look at my music and since then I've stopped worrying about it.

Except for very old pieces, I listen to my music with a certain intensity and tension. Pieces I wrote many years ago seem to me like someone else's works and I can listen to them with detachment, but pieces that are recent--I listen to those intensely. The process of composition, i.e. the path from nothing to the finished score is complicated and, at least in my case, it differs from one piece to another. I wrote Many Many Women, for example, with a pen. I didn't have to correct a single note. (Feldman also used to write with a pen. It made him concentrate harder.) But there are pieces, for example my string quartet from 2007, or my orchestral compositions (from 1998-2005), which underwent several corrections. At the moment I'm working with the Janacck Philharmonic on a forthcoming performance of my piece Fragment and once again I've revised it slightly in two spots.

There is a certain direction I follow that leads me to the moment when I feel that the composition is finished. I work with a number of approaches to create the composition, from the processes of controlled chance to graphical drawings. In the final phase, and that may be the most important thing, I correct and edit the material I've produced so far. I have realized that in this phase what I'm really trying to do is to eliminate banalities. What constitutes a banality is a personal thing. What sounds banal to me might be interesting to someone else. But that's the way it is.


One might perhaps say that a composer's thinking takes place in an imagined triangular field defined by three points: system--intuition--chance. Where--in relation to these points--are your strategies as a composer heading?

Every one of us has a different approach, this is the reason why it is so difficult for one composer to criticize another. For you, the compositional process oscillates between the three points you have mentioned. Mozart would probably tell you that for him there are only two points: chance and the critique of what has come out of it. Using intuition must have been something natural for him, and not just in music--the age of Enlightenment (i.e. rational thought) was only just beginning - and compositional system played no role at that time. It was well established and there was no need to take it into account.

What is essential for me is to have a vision or an idea of what the new piece should be. It is sometimes so specific that it includes musicians who will perform it and the hall where the performance will take place. In the end, it may not turn out the way I imagined, but that makes no difference. I need these specific images to get the right working impulse. My pieces for orchestra, Fragment and Asymmetric Landing were written for the orchestra I have in New York, so they use a relatively modest number of players. The idea of using two vibraphones was inspired by a piece by Alvin Lucier that I conducted at that time. On the other hand, Variations for 3 Orchestras was composed with the idea of the Janacek Philharmonic performing it and that's why it incorporates a large number of musicians. The whole strategy with which I approach composing depends on my vision of the resulting piece. The emergence of the final score is a continuous problem-solving process, where I have to find a way how to realize my vision economically and efficiently.

The process of chance is an integral part of my method, not something that stands separately. Chance operations I use have a direction and are partially controlled. I then take the result and proceed to work on my own. The way I compose could be called a game. It's a kind of a dialogue between the results of my method and my reaction to it, intuitively correcting, editing and introducing other elements in a quasi-improvised way. This result can be further processed by the method, which can set off a chain of more intuitive interventions. It's like moving a piece on the chessboard - a predictable move leads to an unpredictable reaction, which requires further action, etc.

You say that roughly from about the early 1990s, the centre of your interest became working with orchestra. What attracts you so much to the orchestra? If we take into account all the oiganizational and personal difficulties (not having adequate rehearsal time, the orchestra musicians having their own ideas on how proper music should be like), writingfor orchestra can be a quite frustrating experience for a non-conformist composer like you. What rewards do you draw for this trouble?

Every one of us is either attracted or feels indifferent to something. It is really not possible to rationalize it. My involvement with orchestra and conducting, the way it all evolved wasn't simple and happened quite late in my life, when very few people would think of starting something as large-scale as that. Let me briefly describe it. And as to facing difficulties and problems, I never consider that when I decide to embark on a project, when I decide to do something. This may be the result of - and lots of people who know me say so - the fact that in my decision making, I fail to be "reasonable," which often gets me into unpleasant situations. I certainly don't think I am being courageous by behaving like this. When I start to plan something, I have to have first of all a clear vision of what I want this to be and where it ought to lead. And then there is my latent optimism and lack of "common sense." I don't make quick decisions, but when I commit myself to something, I go ahead and do it, regardless of what it may cost.

I began to work with orchestra almost twenty years ago and over those years I've become a conductor and come to a clear understanding of what orchestra is really about. It is a large ensemble, consisting of individuals that function as a single homogeneous organism. An orchestra is, in the first place, a professional entity -neither avant-garde nor conservative - and to be functional it depends on hierarchy of relationships and on the collective efforts of everyone, from the conductor to the last player in the string section. To perform as an orchestra musician is very demanding, and every minute that an orchestra is in session is not just financially very costly, but also requires a great deal of concentration and work from everyone involved. The available time for preparing a performance depends on specific possibilities and these are different in each situation. Generally speaking, in today's environment, there is never enough rehearsal time, especially for studying new compositions. However, giving up isn't an option. Instead of a large number of rehearsals, one can program repeated performances for a new piece. The second, third time, the orchestra can already perform very well.

From a very early age, it was clear to my family and also to myself that I would become a musician. To this day, when I hear music, it is never an analytical listening. I perceive music as a succession of sounds, without a natural feeling and understanding for the principles of classical harmony that revolve around cadence. With this handicap, at the time that I began my life as a musician, I couldn't even think of studying composition. By the time I discovered the possibility of composing without regard to harmony I was already a very good flutist and doing music meant performing chamber music. Very often, the flute playing assumes the role of the first violin - it has to lead the ensemble, giving cues, tempos and so on. This is only a step from conducting.

From the time I was little, I was taken by my parents to the Czech Philharmonic concerts conducted by Karel Anccrl and Karel Scjna, and later, when I was studying at the conservatory, I used to go to concerts sometimes every day of the week. Although most of the concerts were orchestral, I was never interested in the orchestra as such. The sound of the late romantic orchestra was utterly uninteresting to me - the vibrato, the phrasing and all the cliches and pretensions to make a performance "musical" appalled me. Not that I rejected the orchestra practice, or had anything against it; it just didn't interest me the least. The lack of interest in the orchestra continued until I was fifty.

In 1991 I was asked to record Atlas Eclipticalis bvjohn Cage for the German label Wergo. It was to be the first recording with all the 86 instruments. Atlas is a piece that consists of 86 solos and they can be performed together in any combination, including a solo performance. Up to then, Atlas had only been performed with a partial instrumentation. Just as it isn't necessary to have all the instruments, it is not necessary to play everything each part contains; only a section of the music can be used. My recording was done with a third of the players and we made three recordings, each time with a different material. Then, I mixed these three recordings into one, ending up with the sound of the complete 86-piece orchestra. The final mix sounded so stunning and it surprised me so much, that I decided to organize the complete orchestra and perform Atlas Eclipticalis at Carnegie Hall in the autumn of 1992 as a tribute to Cage, celebrating his eightieth birthday.

I was working on this concert for several months and apart from raising the funds (the budget was almost 100,000 dollars) I rehearsed with every musician separately. You can imagine how many rehearsals it took! When Cage unexpectedly died in August 1992, I asked David Tudor to perform Winter Music with us. This piece has been played simultaneously with Atlas Eclipticalis when Cage and Tudor performed Atlas back in the sixties. David Tudor was one of the most prominent pianists of his day and Cage's closest collaborator, but he had not appeared publicly as a pianist for 20 years. Instead, Tudor started to do electronic music. He practically invented what was later called live electronic music. At Carnegie, we performed Atlas Eclipticalis in two-hour version, not just with all the instruments but the whole piece from the beginning to the end. It was in fact the premiere of the complete work, and also, thanks to the appearance of David Tudor, the concert became an international sensation, with listeners and reviews from across the U.S. as well as Europe and Japan.

An orchestra of 86 musicians does not sound like an enormous ensemble, but in this case, it includes nine percussion players, each with a large setup, three sets of timpani, three harps, three tubas and so on. We had a hard time fitting everyone on stage, despite the enormous size of the Carnegie Hall podium.

To stand in Carnegie Hall, in front of such an orchestra for two hours and conduct this wonderful piece totally changed my relationship to orchestra and from that moment on I considered nothing more important than to work with orchestra. This was the beginning of my conducting career and also, it resulted in me starting to compose for orchestra. Since the beginning of my professional life (and I mean the time when I was still at the conservatory and founded Musica viva pragensis), I have been continuously encountering organizational and personal troubles (to use your words). I have never paid any attention to such things and a prospect of facing more problems never discouraged me from doing what I believe is the right thing to do. After the debut of my New York orchestra at Carnegie Hall, it has never even occurred to me to worry about the difficulties I might be facing by continuing to organize and perform with an orchestra. But that's how it is with everything that I do.

(Translated by Anna Bryson and further edited by Petr Kotik)

Petr Kotik (*1942)


Composer. conductor and flutist. He studied in Prague (flute) and in Vienna (eompostliou and flute). At the beginning of the 1960s founded the fust Czech ensemble for new musie Musica viva pragensis. his career was fundamentally influenced by his meeting with Vladimir Srdmek. who opened the way for Kotik to "be a composer" - Srdmek showed him how it was possible to think in Categorus other dian the classical harmonic-melodic system, for which Kotik didn't have anv interest or understanding at the time. In 1969 Kotik settled in USA, where in 1970 he founded the S.E.M. Ensemble (in 1992 S.E.M. expanded into an oreheslra entitled 'The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble). Fur main years Koit'l; collaborated with John Cage, mainly performing his musie (from the mid-tgdeis to (.Cage's death) as well as with other American experimental composers. Kotik's own music, however, developed autonomously without traces of imitating other composers. During 1970s, the basis of Kotik's work was free combination of independently composed voices or pairs of voices led in perfect intervals {parallel fifths, fourths and octaves). A striking linearity is also characteristic of Kotik's later works, already written into the standard score. Kotik has never been interested in the concept of psychologisiug the structurec uec of musical form: his musie is conceived more as an "object to be observed,'' he. does not seek to manipulate the listener's emotions and his aim is not to "astound" with showy acoustic gestures - in this respect Petr Kotik's affinity with the American experimental scene is evident, although the character of Kotik's musie is different form what one might expect from this association. Among his best-known pieces are Many Many Women (1978-78) on a text by Gertrude Stein, Explorations in the Geometry of Funking (1978-81) on lexis by R. Buekminster Fuller, but also the orchestral works Music in Two Movements (Fragment and Asymmetric Landing, 1998-2002) and Variations for 12 Orchestras (2005). In 2ooo Kotik founded the Ostrava Center for .New Music, and a year later the just biennial Ostrava Days look place. Curruntly it is the largest and most important festival of contemporary music on the Czcchseene. and Kotik is its artistic director. Since the mid-2000, Kotik has been living on an alternating basis in .new york and Ostrava.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Czech Music Information
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bakla, Petr
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Apr 1, 2011
Previous Article:Classical music.
Next Article:Is the Czech Philharmonic succeeding in starting a new era?

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters