In conversation with
July 11, 2008–3:00 p.m.
At the home of Catherine Luening
Video presentation by Randy Nordschow
Transcribed by Julia Lu and Trevor Hunter
Have you heard of Gloria Coates? Despite having a career that has spanned five decades, two continents, and 15 symphonies, she remains a largely unknown quantity on these shores even after years of success in Europe. It would seem, however, that the Atlantic tides are turning. A rash of CD releases on the Naxos label have helped her music achieve greater exposure, pushing her name into major publications in print and online. More U.S. performances have yet to follow, but with all the recent attention it may be inevitable. However, an in-depth look at the creator of all this music, the most prolific of female symphonists, was still sorely lacking.
The volume of recordings on which Coates’s music appears—17 by last count—signaled that here was a truly significant body of work. In addition to the 15 symphonies, she is the composer of numerous additional pieces for orchestra, 9 string quartets, 15 songs on texts by Emily Dickinson, 5 pieces for choir, musique concrète, a cantata, and dozens of chamber works. Yet despite the wide range of music in both instrumentation and chronology, there is a consistent and original vision behind it all.
For Coates, artistic expression is a spiritual necessity. She has great interest and significant participation in painting, architecture, theater, poetry, and singing—but it is through composing that she taps into a wellspring of abstracted emotionality that the others cannot reach. Or perhaps abstracted is not the correct term, as it would seem that Coates is merely being oblique about what the inner, personal meaning of the music is to her. Whatever the veiled expressions of her work may be, there is an undoubted emotional richness present, which if not concretely knowable is at least viscerally felt by the audience. Canons constructed of quartertones and glissandos evoke gloomy instability, but also unearthly beauty.
NewMusicBox managed to catch up with Coates on one of her infrequent visits to New York. She opened up about what it means to be an American in Germany, a woman in classical music, and a modernist with minimal materials. In the end, however, Coates is content to let the art speak for itself; she stands apart, a painter of colors and tones.