Naxos Releases The World Premiere Recording Of Gloria Coates Symphony No. 15 On Its American Classics Series

On December 11, Naxos of America will release its fourth disc of music by renowned American composer Gloria Coates, featuring the world premiere recording of her Symphony No. 15 “Homage to Mozart.” Other works on the disc are Cantata da Requiem (a vocal work composed in 1971-2, originally entitled Voices of Women in Wartime); and Transitions (a 1984 chamber symphony – which Coates later expanded into her Symphony No. 4, “Chiaroscuro.”) This recording features the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted Michael Boder; the Toronto-based Talisker Players with Teri Dunn, soprano; and the Ars Nova Ensemble Nuremberg, conducted by Werner Heider.

Of Symphony No. 15, Coates has written:

“There are three movements in this symphony. The first is my intuitive use of chords migrating polyphonically to a conclusion. The second movement is based on Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, one of my favorite Mozart compositions. Only after I used it, did I discover that it was his last completed work. I then knew it had been the right choice as this symphony was a dedication to him for the 200th year after his death. I used the quotation first disguised backwards and then eventually into the entire texture.

The last movement uses an earlier theme of mine, and expresses the finality and tragedy I feel about Mozart’s life….and then the bitter-sweet triumph of its closure…the end having been reached…the summit … the goal before the endless peace.”

While Coates’ musical thinking has been influenced by European musical trends, her work has always retained a distinctively American feel. This is particularly apparent in her use of musical quotations, which sometimes remind the listener of Charles Ives, who surrounded familiar songs and hymns with orchestral “noise.” The first movement of Coates’ Symphony No. 4 (“Chiaroscuro”), written in memory of her father, uses “Dido’s Lament” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as part of the orchestral texture. Her Symphony No. 14 is based on early American hymns by two New England composers, Supply Belcher (1751-1836) and William Billings (1746-1800).

Coates also loves large-scale forms, canons, mirrors, and palindromes, as well as conventional tonal chorale writing, often quoting other compositions. Above all, she is known for her signature use of glissandi, with which she has had a lifelong fascination. For Coates, glissandi are more than simple coloristic devices; they are integral structures in her music. Symphony No. 15 (“Homage to Mozart”) includes all of Coates’ signature elements: the first movement, entitled Iridescences, features “swooping upward glissandos in the strings”; the second movement, Puzzle Canon, illustrates her love of quotations, and the final movement, which takes its title from the Emily Dickinson poem What are the Stars? (Dickinson’s poetry resonates throughout
Gloria Coates’ oeuvre), is a dialogue between a “chromatically wandering chorale in the brass … and a texture of multilayered glissandos in the strings …”

Gloria Coates’ breakthrough as a composer came in 1978 with the premiere of her Symphony No. 1, (“Music on Open Strings”) at Warsaw Autumn, which was a finalist for the Koussevitzky Prize in 1986. Composed between 1972 and 1974, it was dedicated to her teacher Alexander Tcherepnin. Its original title, “Music on Open Strings,” suggests another of Coates’ interests—unusual tunings—all the strings play in scordatura. Unusual tunings are also evident in her other symphonic works, including her Symphony No. 14, (“Symphony in Microtones”) which uses not only glissandi, but quartertones.

But in Coates’ music these signature elements never become cliché. As composer/critic Kyle Gann has noted, “[t]he essence of Coates’ music is not any one of these elements, but their juxtaposition and combination sometimes even their indistinguishable fusion into some of the strangest textures in recent music …” Further, he points out that it is her ability to “limit her materials and weld a work into a single gesture” which contributes to its power. “She realizes … how much more intense a piece of music can become when it is narrowly focused …”

In addition to her newest release Symphony No. 15 (Naxos 8559371), Naxos has two discs of her string quartets, Naxos 8559091 and 8559152; as well as her Symphony Nos. 1, 7, & 14, (Naxos 8559289). Additionally, Naxos is the distributor for CPO, which features several discs of Coates’ music including Symphonies 1, 4, & 7, and her Symphony No. 2 (CPO Nos. 999-392; 999-590).