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S.E.M. Ensemble

Brooklyn, NY         

Since its inception in 1970, the mission of the S.E.M. Ensemble has been to present concerts of new music by living composers. The focus has been on music that pursues an independent direction and is often neglected by the mainstream music world—compositions that make an impact and deserve to be heard. The majority of composers programed by SEM work closely with the ensemble, often performing and rehearsing alongside SEM. In the past, SEM has collaborated with John Cage, Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros, Julius Eastman, and Earle Brown, among others. The present collaborators of the SEM include Alex Mincek, Roscoe Mitchell, Christian Wolff, Muhal Richard Abrams, Alvin Lucier, Bernahrd Lang, Henry Threadgill, and a score of young emerging composers. In the current season, we have programmed works by up-and-coming composers Liisa Hirsch, Eli Greenhoe, David Louis Zuckerman, Tai-Kuang Chao, Anthony Donofrio, Chang Seok Choi, and James Falzone.


Since the mid-1990s, SEM has been conducting yearly workshop-readings of new works by emerging composers to help offset the lack of opportunities for the (young) composers to hear their music and develop further their ideas, concepts, and skills. The readings are in fact real rehearsals with discussions between composers, the conductor (Petr Kotik), and musicians that help to clarify scoring and performance questions.


In 1992, the ensemble expanded into The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble with a debut performance at Carnegie Hall, premiering the complete Atlas Eclipticalis with Winter Music (David Tudor at the piano) as a tribute to John Cage. Since then, the SEM Orchestra has performed numerous concerts in New York and Europe (Major European festivals, Alice Tully Hall and Stern and Zankel Halls at Carnegie Hall), including the American (and world) premieres of works by George Lewis, Christian Wolff, Somei Satoh, Petr Kotik, Muhal Richard Abrams, Edgar Varèse, Lucie Vitkova, Phill Niblock, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, and others.


Since 2001, SEM has been coproducing the biannual festival and institute, Ostrava Days in the Czech Republic. After the conclusion of Ostrava Days 2015, which presented major large orchestral and music theater works by Alex Mincek, Petr Kotik, George Lewis, Phill Niblock, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ben Richter, among others, S.E.M. Ensemble started an initiative in collaboration with members of Wet Ink and other New Music collectives to launch an orchestra under the title, New Orchestra New York, which will perform new orchestral compositions in major venues and alternative spaces throughout New York. This orchestra will present its first performance in the 2016-17 season, with the intention of becoming a major working outlet for the composers of our time.


Recent Press Comments: “Kotik, an admired experimentalist composer who has been a stalwart on the New York scene for three decades” — The New Yorker, December, 2014; But the most striking thing about the performance was its secret logic of cohesion, the way in which three wild strands of atonal outpouring managed to form a compelling shape. This was a shared achievement, but [for Muhal Richard] Abrams [it] seemed [to be] especially crucial.” The New York Times, May, 2015; Ostrava Days is the finest festival of modernism in classical music there is, it has no peers or rivals… Ostrava Days represents the art in art music.” The Brooklyn Rail, October, 2015; Any concert by the extraordinary virtuosi of the S.E.M. Ensemble is a celebration…” ConcertoNet.com, December, 2015.

Christian Wolff – Trust (2012)

The S.E.M. Ensemble plays Christian Wolff’s Trust (2012) at the Bohemian National Hall, Manhattan, April 28, 2015.

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George Lewis – Memex (2014)

The S.E.M. Ensemble plays George Lewis’ Memex (2014) at the Bohemian National Hall, Manhattan, on April 29, 2015.

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Photographs from recent performances

Some photographs of the S.E.M. Ensemble’s recent performances at the Bohemian National Hall, Roulette, and the Paula Cooper Gallery.