'Soul Garden' reviews

‘… represents the confluence of two main-streams – the romantic-modern waters that originated in Europe and the blues-jazz-gospel waters that flowed from African American communities.  The most striking and pervasive effect in the piece is the use of sliding notes, or quartertones, to emulate the vocal inflections of African American music.  But “effect” isn't quite the right term because these inflections are not separable, conceptually or compositionally, from the core musical ideas: Bermel’s highly complex but fully controlled approach to harmony and rhythmic structure… nearly every moment is both appealing and challenging, familiar and strange.  It is music by a composer who thinks deeply about where music comes from, how it is made and what it is for.’
San Antonio Express-News (Mike Greenberg), July 2004 

‘Like many of his pieces, this essay for solo viola and a string quintet (a quartet with an extra cello, in this configuration) draws freely from several musical worlds.  The music's surfaces are painted in the coloration of blues and gospel. Glimpses of blues-based pop turn up as well … The work’s underpinnings, though, use rhythmic and harmonic techniques more germane to contemporary concert music, and the tensions between those languages give the music its poignancy.  The bluesy turns of the solo viola line, played with a warm tone and an almost vocal inflection by Paul Neubauer, suggest a simple, direct approach to tonality.  Yet the quartet writing, with its hazy, tonally ambiguous shimmer, pulls in the opposite direction.  The piece moves quickly: its 13 minutes hardly overstay their welcome.’
The New York Times (Allan Kozinn), 31 March 2004 

‘In Soul Garden Bermel shows a more serious side, and it is possible to detect a strong blues and gospel influence in the viola’s opening lament, from which everything else in the piece is derived.  There is much in the contrast between lyricism and activity here to interest the listener, with the ‘rub’ (as Bermel calls it) of combined European diatonicism and African pentatonicism – of course at the heart of the gospel tradition, with its heightened use of controlled dissonance.’
Tempo (John Kersey), April 2003

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