Gloria Coates: Symphony No. 15; Cantata da Requiem; Transitions. Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Boder (Symphony); Teri Dunn, soprano, with the Talisker Players,
Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait. Produced and directed by Mark Kidel. Arthaus Music. $24.99 (DVD).
In modern music, and perhaps especially in modern American music, it is mighty hard to tell where one genre leaves off and another begins. The matter becomes even more complicated as American music is increasingly played in
Gloria Coates, who will be 70 this year, certainly seems to use traditional “classical” forms, but most of her music does not sound “classical” in any traditional sense. Neither her Symphony No. 15 nor Transitions, both of which have their world première recordings on this new Naxos CD, really lives in the sound world of the concert hall. Both are three-movement works using the forces of a symphony orchestra – indeed, Coates expanded Transitions (1984) into her Symphony No. 4, “Chiaroscuro.” But what unites the works is nothing thematic, harmonic or rhythmic, but what might be called “Gloria glissandos,” of which Coates is inordinately fond and which she uses again and again to create a sonic background that is also, in her music, the foreground. The pervasiveness of these glissandos results in music that always seems to be yearning to go somewhere, but never actually goes there – an unusual sonic world that seems not quite to fit into the concert-hall environment. Coates deliberately includes little bits of classical works in her pieces, although they may be played backward or only in part and are not easily heard: there is a touch of Mozart in her Symphony No. 15 and of Purcell in Transitions. But it is the sonic experience of both works, not their structure, that is likely to please listeners or dismay them.
Coates, born in Wisconsin, has lived in Europe since 1969, and it is interesting that both Symphony No. 15 (written in 2004-5) and Transitions are performed by European ensembles – it is hard not only to tell what sort of music this is but also whether it ought to be called American in the first place. Cantata da Requiem is a live recording, too, but this time from North America, although not the
Jazz is considered the quintessential American musical form, but it is interesting that Mark Kidel’s documentary, Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait, features a performance by the Zawinul Syndicate at The Point in