Nominated for a 2009 Grammy in the Category of "Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra" this album features the Boston Modern Orchestra Project with Gil Rose conducting and the composer himself on clarinet.
Dust Dances, Elixir, Thracian Echoes, and Voices.
Staggering eclecticism from a true musical renaissance man
"You might say that Derek Bermel (b1967) is the quintessential 21st-century musician. A composition student of Henri Dutilleux, Louis Andriessen and William Bolcom (among others), Bermel is also an accomplished jazz clarinettist, has travelled the world exploring folk traditions, and performs (singing and playing keyboards and percussion) in a rock band. This staggering eclecticism is apparent in all four works recorded here.
Dust Dances (1994) developed out of the composer's study of the gyil, a xylophone-like instrument from Ghana. Powered by a series of syncopated ostinatos, the music has a distinctive African flavour that's enhanced by vibrantly colourful orchestration.
Thracian Echoes (2002) was inspired by an extended visit to Bulgaria. In the score's opening section, closely overlapping melodic lines create dark sonic pools that gradually swirl and deepen. Then, from what seems like the depths of despair, the mood seems to brighten, bringing the promise of a joyful conclusion. At the moment of truth, however, the music's resolve falters, sinking into quiet waves of uncertainty.
Elixir (2006) is a lush, pastoral tone-painting that seamlessly mixes orchestral and electronic sounds. Serene at first, its lulling atmosphere is soon disturbed by cries from a gathering chorus of instrumental birds and beasts.
In Voices (1997), both Bermel's solo clarinet and the orchestra make sounds that mimic human speech and song. It's a delightfully clever, often amusing concerto, yet a quite serious one too. The slow movement, based on an Irish folk tune, is gorgeous.
Given the very wide range of inspiration at work in these four pieces, the consistency and coherence of Bermel's musical language is particularly impressive. He's definitely a composer I'm eager to hear more from. I just hope that future performances are as authoritative as these by Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. The SACD recording is thrillingly vivid."
--Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone, July 2009
""The polished and the vernacular mingle in the bent-note evocations of speech — flirting, taunting, shouting and bantering — that open the concerto, as well as in the slow movement, based on an Irish folk melody, and the wild, unabashedly down-and-dirty jazz jam that ends the piece." more...
--Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, May 10, 2009
"The American clarinetist and composer Derek Bermel is gaining increasing prominence as a postmodern force. His philosophy involves recreating the sounds of world music, jazz, rock, and funk in traditional instrumental genres, especially the symphony orchestra. This artistic viewpoint, of course, is hardly new; Mozart invoked the sounds of Turkish music, Debussy conjured the timbres of the Indonesian gamelan orchestra, and Bernstein was at home with jazz, Latin music, and the Western European canon." more...
--Patrick Hanudel, American Record Guide, July 2009
"In listening to this magnificent collection of orchestral pieces by the Brooklyn composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel, it's difficult to know whether to be more knocked out by his stylistic versatility or his technical prowess. I'll settle for both. Bermel's music is intricate, witty, clear-spoken, tender and extraordinarily beautiful. It also covers an amazing amount of ground, from the West African rhythms of Dust Dances to the Bulgarian folk strains of Thracian Echoes to the shimmering harmonic splendor of Elixir. And as a sumptuous finale, there's Voices, an elaborate clarinet concerto mixing free jazz, Irish folk melody and funk. In the hands of a composer less assured, all that globe-trotting would seem like affectation; Bermel makes it an artistic imperative."
--Joshua Kosman, San Fransisco Chronicle, March 2009
"Then Bermel picks up his clarinet and nothing is the same again. Beyond the shear difficulty of Voices, Bermel's control, extended technique and improvisational skills, the orchestration of the accompaniment is masterful - sparse when I wanted sparse, full when I wanted full." more...
--Emily Parkhurst, The Classical Voice of New England, March 2009
Bermel's debut disc on CRI features virtuosic performances of the composer's chamber works by the Borromeo String Quartet, Derek Bermel, and other renowned performers.
Soul Garden (viola and string quintet), Wanderings (ww quintet), Coming Together (clar, cello), Turning (piano solo), Theme and Absurdities (clar solo), Mulatash Stomp (vln, clar, pno), SchiZm (clar, pno), Quartet (string quartet)
"Derek Bermel has been making a name for himself in New York for about a decade, as both a composer and performer. He's that rare breed for a contemporary concert composer, a genuine instrumental virtuoso, in his case on clarinet. Backing up this claim are his definitive performances on five of the eight pieces in this collection.
As a composer, Bermel projects several attractive musical qualities. First, his own musicianship infuses his work with a naturalness that makes it flow easily from moment to moment. One feels that this composer has no trouble writing as many notes as necessary to bring an idea to its full realization, because the creative act is already so much like the interpretive one for him.
Second, his music has great wit. This can range from a sense of play (take Mulatash Stomp (1991) or the second movement of Wanderings (1994), "Two Songs from Nandom"), or it can indulge in the musical equivalent of gross-out, as in Theme and Absurdities (1993). Whether at a high or low level, the humor is derived from the music itself, not from some arbitrarily imposed template.
Third, Bermel is quite unafraid of mixing musics from different traditions. Soul, blues, and gospel are the sourcebook for the string sextet Soul Garden (2000) and the Quartet (1992). The two movements of Wanderings evoke Hebraic chant and West African music, while the second movement of SchiZm (1994), "Puppet State," plays with tango and habanera. The piano work Turning (1995) uses an original tune crafted to resemble a sturdy Protestant hymn (while all of Bermel's work on this disc could be considered to some degree "Ivesian," this is the piece which in terms of both stylistic reference and actual transformative technique most resembles that composer). . . .
Superb performances throughout, not the least from the composer. The sound is consistently fine. This is a very promising debut album by an engaged young artist. I'll look forward to hearing even more expansive and ambitious pieces from him, to see where he's going."
—Robert Carl, Fanfare, January/February 2003