Gloria Coates, 1933-2023

by 5:4

i was deeply saddened to receive a message around an hour ago, with the news that composer Gloria Coates has died.

i only began to spend significant time with Gloria’s work last year, when it finally dawned on me just how fascinating and remarkable it is. This led to my decision to focus this year’s 5:4 Lent Series on contemporary symphonies, where i explored three of hers (No. 1, No. 7 and No. 11), all of which had been performed at the 2018 Tectonics festival. It was while i was writing those three articles, early this year, that i managed to make contact with Gloria, and we began an email correspondence. During our ongoing back-and-forth, i suggested to her that we get together to record a conversation for my occasional series The Dialogues, and we agreed to do this in July. As i think i’ve mentioned before, those Dialogues take an enormous amount of preparation on my part, so a great deal of my time in recent months has been spent immersed in her music. My trip to Salzburg last month was specifically designed to enable me to travel across to Munich on one of the days so we could talk and record together.

On 16 June, Gloria told me she had got a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which had metastasized, and that she was looking at a prognosis of just three to six months. i can only imagine the whirlwind that erupts in the wake of such information, and Gloria soon after returned from Germany to her native United States for a while. Contact resumed around a week ago, via Gloria’s daughter Alexandra, culminating yesterday morning in a group video chat where, for a few moments at the very end, Gloria put in an appearance.

So the sadness i feel this morning is considerable and multi-faceted. Above all, i’m sad for the simple fact that a truly remarkable composer, of such powerful music, is no longer with us. i’m sad for the loss of a friendship that, at barely six months, was still in its earliest stages, for the in-depth conversation we never got to have, and for all the questions (i have so many questions) that i was never able to ask her.

There’s much to be done. At present, Gloria’s music remains, relatively speaking, ridiculously unknown. There’s a reasonable number of recordings, though quite a few of these are now out of print, and the vast majority of her output remains commercially unrecorded, in many cases unperformed for decades. That’s a situation not helped by the fact that much of her work is not published or readily available, a process that various people, and Peters Edition, are gradually working to improve. Furthermore, aside from a modest monograph published in 2012 (not yet translated into English), and the liner notes of those recordings, very little of substance has been written about her.

i’m optimistic that Gloria’s wildly unique, maverick, single-minded music will gradually become much better known and appreciated, and feel sure that she will, eventually, come to be regarded as one of the more significant composers of recent times. Meanwhile, now would be an excellent time to explore her back catalogue. i’m not going to recommend anything in particular; wherever you dive in, you’ll inevitably find yourself somewhere strange and marvellous.

(NB. Contrary to literally everything you’ll read anywhere, in print and online, Alexandra Coates tells me that Gloria was actually born in 1933, not 1938.)

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