Gloria Coates (1933–2023)

Gloria Coates (1933–2023)
Gloria Coates, 2021
© Astrid Ackermann

Edition Peters Group is sad to announce the death of the composer Gloria Coates who passed away peacefully on August 19 after a short time in hospital, following a diagnosis of late-stage pancreatic cancer. She was 89.

Described by Mark Swed in the LA Times as ‘the most obscure great composer of our time’, Coates wrote 17 symphonies, 10 string quartets, chamber music, solo and vocal music, and signed a publishing agreement with Edition Peters in May 2021.

Coates built her music on a framework of supreme structural clarity, across which she stretched finely woven meshes of glissandi and other microtonal effects. Coates was born in Wausau, Wisconsin, USA and began composing and experimenting with overtones and clusters from an early age. Her studies took her from Chicago, Cooper Union Art School, NYC, and Louisiana (with a Master’s in Composition), to postgraduate studies in composition at Columbia University, with Alexander Tcherepnin, Otto Luening and Jack Beeson being important mentors.

Since 1969, Coates lived primarily in Munich, Germany. The Polish Chamber Orchestra premiered her first symphony, Music on Open Strings, under Jerzy Maksymiuk at Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1978, and in 1986 the work was a finalist for the Koussevitzky International Award (KIRA). The symphony achieved a breakthrough at Munich’s Musica Viva in 1980, as it was the first orchestral composition by a woman composer to be played in the 34-year history of the Festival.

Her music has been programmed at many Festivals including March Music (Berlin), New Music America (New York), Other Minds (San Francisco), the Dresden Festival, Warsaw Autumn, Avanti (Finland), the Hans Werner Henze Festival in Montepulciano, and Aspekte Salzburg. Among the artists who have performed her work are the violinists Peter Sheppard Skærved; Carolin Widmann; the Kronos, Kreutzer, Spektral and Jack String Quartets; EXAUDI; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Munich Chamber Orchestra; Brooklyn Philhrmonic; Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra; Milwaukee Symphony; Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; American Composers Orchestra and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. In November 2018 she was invited by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for a concert of her first, seventh and eleventh symphonies, conducted by Ilan Volkov.

As well as composing, Coates promoted American music in Europe, curating a German-American Music Series (1971-1984), writing musicological articles, and making broadcasts for the WDR Radio Cologne and Radio Bremen. From 1975 to 1983 she taught for the University of Wisconsin’s International Programs, initiating the first music programs in London and Munich. Coates was also a poet and painter, with much of this work relating to her music compositions. Her paintings also became the artwork for her recordings.

Katie Tearle MBE, Director of New Music at Edition Peters Group says: ‘Gloria was a composer whose unique voice was not universally heard in her lifetime and after hearing a BBC Radio 3 ‘Hear and Now’ broadcast of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert in January 2019 of three of her symphonies conducted by Ilan Volkov, I was immediately captivated and curious by her bold and original sound world and delighted to work with my colleagues in Leipzig and New York to bring some of her major works into publication with Edition Peters in 2021.

‘Gloria shared her cancer diagnosis with her friends on Facebook on August 4, with a beautiful quote: “May the vibrations of the stars continue in harmony through the rest of eternity and join us into one”. We send our deepest condolences to her daughter Alexandra and grandson Alexander, her brother and sister, and all her friends.’

We invite you to hear the first movement from her seminal fourth symphony 'Chiaroscuro', in which the swirling glissandi slowly give way to an extended interpolation of 'When I am laid in earth’ from Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, to devastating effect.

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