"Here's an experiment we should all try occasionally: get a CD of music by a composer whose work you've never heard before, and listen without reading up on the music beforehand. OK, I cheated a little and read the back of the CD, which promised that Gloria Coates is "startlingly individual" - well, that could be good or bad, couldn't it? Either way, I came to this without preconceived notions of what I was supposed to hear. I was rewarded handsomely. The Symphony no.15 was commissioned for Mozart's anniversary in 2006, but one could not by any stretch call it Mozartean (although it does use his Ave verum corpus in the second movement). Startlingly individual is about right - I haven't heard anything quite like this before. The first movement is full of tension and in its "bigness" reminds me of Bruckner (albeit a Bruckner for the space age). If I had read Kyle Gann's useful booklet note first, I would have been well prepared for Coates' "trademarks" - string glissandos, chorales, and quite a bit of martial percussion; as it was, these all came as fascinating novelties. The other movements are also full of drama and flow. This is very accessible music and could make an ideal starting point for listeners who "don't like all that modern stuff".
The Cantata da Requiem is from 1972 and sets the words of German and English women from World War 2. It's recognisably by the same composer although less "weird"; the settings are very evocative, even pictorial at times, and even what seems like a very ordinary piece of writing ("A note from Elfriede Birndorder, a schoolteacher") is invested with quite a bit of weight. The whole piece is very moving, especially with the surprisingly (but effectively) conventional peroration with piano.
Transitions didn't impress me much the first time I heard it, but subsequently reading about the piece clarified things; it's really just that it's generally not as immediate in impact as the symphony, although they share many traits. But a second listen paid off.
All in all, a great introduction to a fascinating composer. "
Brave New Sound World
Dean R. Brierly | Studio City, CA | 01/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gloria Coates is easily one of the most exciting and adventurous composers of the past several decades. A fierce modernist with a musical language all her own, she is as prolific as she is profound, having written no less than 15 symphonies in addition to numerous chamber and vocal works. It's a travesty that she isn't better known, but Naxos is looking to raise her profile with a new disc that presents a nice cross-section of Coates' work from both a chronological and stylistic perspective. Her 15th symphony, written in 2004-5, is the centerpiece of this recording. It's relatively short, clocking in at 22 minutes, but chock full of her signature string glissandos and unique tension between tonal and atonal forms. The opening movement is built upon repetitive, slowly unfolding string patterns occasionally interrupted by dissonant punctuation marks. The eerie sonorities contribute to a hypnotic, unsettling mood that builds to an almost unnerving intensity. Coates maintains the unearthly atmosphere throughout movement two. The constantly ascending strings evoke a feeling of deep space--airless, black and empty, yet full of unseen mystery. The music seems to be reaching for a resolution that is seemingly just out of reach. The final movement opens with a Herrmannesque brass fanfare before transitioning into dense abstraction that at times resembles electronic music. Tonality and atonality battle for supremacy until Coates eventually brings the two into an uneasy alliance at the symphony's conclusion. It's an astonishing piece of music given a brilliant interpretation by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Also included is Coates' 1972 "Cantata da Requiem." It's comprised of six short movements based on World War II-era songs and texts that are sung by soprano Teri Dunn with plaintive urgency. The music's emotive power is enhanced by the sparse instrumentation, and Coates' writing is by turns angular, discordant, haunting and profound. "Transitions," from 1984, is a deeply personal musical response to the death of Coates' father. Utilizing strings and woodwinds, Coates creates stark, descending musical patterns that seem to plumb unfathomable depths. The music is dark, at times despairing, and yet ultimately and strangely cathartic."
Gloria Coates on Naxos
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 12/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I recently heard Gloria Coates's symphonies 1,7, and 14 on a Naxos CD and couldn't resist hearing more of this unique composer. Naxos has just released a new CD of Coates's works, including her Symphony No. 15 and two earlier works, the Cantata da Requiem and Transitions. I enjoyed this CD even more than the earlier disk in that it includes chamber and vocal music in addition to a symphony. The CD offers the opportunity to hear Coates's music by a variety of performers in different settings.
Coates (b. 1938) received her musical training from Alexander Tcherepnin and Otto Luening. She has lived in Germany since 1969, and her music remains little-known in the United States. Coates's music is statling at an initial hearing. She combines the use of string glissandos, repetitive percussion, and atonal or polytonal harmonies with traditional chorales and forms, including liberal quotations from other composers. Her distinct musical language is combined with a clear musical form, as each movement of her work develops inexorably to a climax through repetition and rhythmic variation of her material. Coates uses a small range of musical gestures and techniques to create a highly original voice. Once the initial shock of hearing Coates's music wears off, it is surprisingly accessible and emotional, even visceral.
Coates's Symphony No. 15, her most recent, is title "Homage to Mozart". It is a short work, as are most of her symphonies, but it is scored for a full orchestra. (Many of her symphonies are scored only for strings and tympani.) The work recieves a world-premiere recording from the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Boder. This three movement work is taken almost throughout at a slow tempo and is filled with rhythmic punctuations from the tympani and other percussion. The brass and winds frequently play tonal chorales to accompany the strings in their repeated and varied glissandos. Mozart's late "Ave Verum Corpus" is quoted in the middle movement, which opens with a wind chorale that is soon surrounded by glissandos. Mozart's chorale returns at the end of the movement. The second movement is surrounded by a slow opening movement, featuring slowly changing dissonant harmonies underlying the repeated glissandos with outbursts from the tympani and horns. The finale, titled "What are Stars" opens with a chorale in the brass and winds which is juxtaposed with glissando passages in the strings. The symphony is a dense, emotionally intense work.
The Transitions for Chamber Orchestra dates from 1984 and receives its first CD performance her from the Ars Nova Ensemble Nuremberg conducted by Werner Heider. Coates again combines glissandos, esoteric harmonies, ahd insistent rhythms with quotation, in this instance from the early English composer Henry Purcell. This symphony features extensive passages for the piano, in particular, as well as for brass and winds, to accompany the string glissandos and the march-like tympani. This work is surprisingly lyrical.
The earliers work on this CD is the Cantata da Requiem, 'WW II Poems for Piece" dating from 1972 and performed by soprano Teri Dunn and the Talisker Chamber Players (viola, cello, piano, percussion) of Toronto, Canada. These performers specialize in contemporary music, and Ms Dunn has recorded works by the American composer George Crumb on Naxos. Coates set poems and texts in German and English that describe the Allied bombing of Germany during WW II. The German selections are based on a lament by a newly-made widow and by a note from a young woman teacher. The selections in English quote a BBC broadcast of the bombing, a poem by Phyllis McGinley, and, a conclusion by Marianne Moore: "Teach us how to live in peace/then all these dyings,/All these sorrows were/ Not in vain. Dunn sings in a declamatory, intense style with shrieks of anguish at the horror of the war. The accompaniment relies less on glissandos than do Coates's latter works. It is harsh and percussive and complements the text and the singer. The piano is used prominently and effectively. This is a moving, passionate work.
This Naxos release, as well as the earlier Naxos release of Coates's symphonies will appeal to adventurous listeners who want to explore contemporary music that is distinctly off the beaten track.
Robin Friedman "
Not just as a creator of novel sounds
F. A. Harrington | Boston MA | 01/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Any mention of Gloria Coates' music cannot avoid mentioning her use of glissandi, the gradual sliding between two notes on a string or wind instruments. Often moving glacially across large intervals, sometimes quickly and chaotic sounding, sometimes as the main focus, or sometimes in the background, she employs glissandi not as a matter of phrasing or color but as a basic building block of sound, not using them as one note to another but more or less as notes themselves.
Something like this runs the risk of coming across as a gimmick, and your skepticism is understandable, but like Messiaen's birdsongsMessiaen: Petites esquisses d'oiseaux/Catalogue d'oiseaux, Coates' glissandi are at the service of a larger compositional goal. I first encountered the music of Gloria Coates when Naxos first issued its volume one of her string quartetsGloria Coates: String Quartets Nos. 1, 5, 6 and found these sounds to be the heart of some quite interesting music. Hearing them on a larger scale in her Symphony No. 8 Gloria Coates: Indian Sounds (Symphony No. 8)was another revelation.
So with this sound world in mind, Symphony No. 15's subtitle "Homage to Mozart" may seem incongruous. Obviously expectations of Mozart's elegant lyricism will go unfulfilled. Thick string sounds and a disjointed march rhythms do bring to mind some of the grim pathos of Don Giovanni's overture. The second movement features a retrograde setting of Ave Verum Corpus set against long glissandi giving you a feeling something like you're in the spot in a cathedral where all the notes go to reverberate. The third feature is built around a similar idea but at a faster pace with a more Brucknerian chorale propelling the action. Led by Michael Border, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra plays excellently.
Cantata de Requiem (which also exists in a slightly longer version with chamber orchestra called the Force for Peace in War) is a diverse collection poems (and one weather report) depicting war's horrors. The glissandi easily (and obviously) suggest air raid sirens and propeller engines, but they are sparingly and subtlety deployed, underlining the outrage and chaos in the texts. The piece also demonstrates Coates' gift for colorful and expressive percussion writing.
Transistions begins with a passicaglia in which string and wind glissandi along with percussion create an ever evolving cloud of sound over a quotation from Purcell's Dido and Avenues, sounding something like Charles Ives' Central Park After Dark. The work continues with swirling sounds slowly moving steadily forward, something like watching satellite photos of a storm move across the country.
To paraphrase Glenn Gould's line about Arnold Schoenberg's use of the 12-tone row, Gloria Coates is not a great composer because she uses glissandi; they are fortunate to be championed by a composer of such skill and imagination. Coates proves her skill as a composer not just as a creator of novel sounds but also as a creator of gripping drama. And she paints her own album covers too (actually she seems to have considered an art career as well) in which bold smears of oils function like the colors of her music.
Gloria Coates, Symphony #15
Dean Santomieri | Oakland, CA | 02/22/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Gloria Coates Symphony # 15. Coates is an American composer who deserves to be as well known as her contemporaries Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Because she moved to Germany in the early 1970's, critics have always referred to her as an ex-pat, although she now divides her time between Germany and the US. For that reason and the fact that her music is not as inviting as the minimalism of her contemporaries might explain why it is too seldom heard on US concert stages. Her latest CD features her 15th Symphony (2004-5) and like most of her music includes restless string glissandi (sliding the finger along the string), which in this case shape a vibrant undulating canvas over which the foregrounded brass and winds darkly paint. Once the anguished, stuttering brass and insistent tympani enter, this first movement begins sounding something like Tibetan ritual music and serves as almost a fanfare for the 2nd and 3rd movements. For Coates fans the 2nd movement will come as a shock, beginning as it does with a Mozartian wind ensemble, but in a minute her trademark glissandi return to envelop then drown the winds. This CD also includes a performance of her brilliant peace cantata, Cantata da Requiem, and the haunting Transitions for chamber orchestra. If you are a fan of New Music and don't know her work, this is a good place to start."