This week’s S.E.M. Ensemble concert is presented under the banner “Music of Extended Duration”: a fair warning for Petr Kotik’s 1978 setting of Gertrude Stein’s Many Many Women. Kotik’s adaptation, a 173-section composition of indeterminate length, is scheduled to run for five hours on Wednesday.
The piece has had a hard time keeping its feet in recent months. A performance meant to take place at the Paula Cooper Gallery last October as part of the “Beyond Cage” festival—organized by Kotik, who worked with John Cage during the famed composer’s later years—was scuttled by Hurricane Sandy. A change of venue after the gallery lost power allowed only a 90-minute staging. Another abbreviated version was presented in December, but this performance will be the first complete rendition of the piece in New York since 2000.
The audience is free to come and go during the White Box concert, but be forewarned: Kotik’s highly repetitive piece doesn’t work in small doses. The open-form composition—here involving six singers, two flutes, two trombones and a trumpet—uses the entirety of Stein’s 86-page novella, one of the more idiosyncratic works by the writer famous for declaring that “a rose is a rose is a rose.” You might think you get the piece based on a short sampling, but an extended listen allows hypnotic patterns in the subtly shifting vocal and instrumental phrases to work their way into your consciousness.—Kurt Gottschalk