'It’s hard to know what to be more dazzled by - the range of stylistic voices he cultivates or the profusion of ingenuity, beauty and wit he brings to everything he touches.' San Francisco Chronicle
Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel has been widely hailed for his creativity, theatricality, and virtuosity. An "eclectic with wide open ears" (Toronto Star), Bermel is acclaimed for music that is “intricate, witty, clear-spoken, tender, and extraordinarily beautiful [and] 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. In the hands of a composer less assured, all that globe-trotting would seem like affectation; Bermel makes it an artistic imperative." (San Francisco Chronicle).
His studies of ethnomusicology and orchestration with Andre Hajdu in Jerusalem heralded his immersion in music of the world – traveling later to Bulgaria to study the Thracian folk style; to Dublin, to study uillean pipes; to Ghana, to study the Lobi xylophone; and to Brazil, to learn caxixi –while adding the study of Dutch, Portuguese, French and Italian along the way. Inevitably, Bermel’s engagement with other musical cultures has become part of the fabric and force of his compositional language, in which the human voice and its myriad inflections play a leading role.
Bermel’s commissioners have included the Pittsburgh, National, Boston, Saint Louis, New Jersey, and Pacific Symphonies; Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, WNYC Radio, and eighth blackbird; the Guarneri and JACK String Quartets, Music from China, Copland House, New Century and River Oaks Chamber Orchestras, electric guitarist Wiek Hijmans, Schoenberg Ensemble/Veenfabriek (Netherlands), Jazz Xchange (U.K.), La Jolla Music Society, Seattle Chamber Music Festival, and Figura (Denmark).
Bermel's clarinet playing has been hailed by The New York Times as "brilliant," "rhythmically fluid, rich-hued" and "first rate." The Boston Globe wrote, "There doesn't seem to be anything that Bermel can't do with the clarinet." As a performer he has worked with a diverse array of musicians including Paquito D'Rivera, Luciana Souza, Tan Dun, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), John Adams, Midori, and Stephen Sondheim. In recent seasons he performed as soloist alongside Wynton Marsalis in his own Migration Series, commissioned by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra (ACO). Since its premiere at Carnegie Hall, he has performed his critically acclaimed clarinet concerto Voices with dozens of orchestras worldwide, including the L.A. Philharmonic and the BBC Orchestra, and his recording with BMOP was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. He has also appeared with orchestras in concerto repertoire ranging widely from Mozart and Copland to Bolcom and Adams. Founding Clarinetist of Music from Copland House, Bermel's chamber music appearances also include performances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Seattle Chamber Music Society, Borromeo, Pacifica, and JACK string quartets, festivals including Moab, Fontana, Cape Cod, and Salt Bay, Kempten (Germany), Nuova Consonanza (Rome), Intimacy of Creativity (Hong Kong), and Beijing Modern Music Festival.
Bermel has brought his “staggering eclecticism” (Gramophone Magazine) to an array of collaborations, residencies, and groundbreaking educational roles. His passion for collaboration has led to several film scores along with composer David Reid, and his work with artists such as playwright Will Eno, installation artists Sook-Jin Jo and Shimon Attie, choreographer Sheron Wray, writers Sandra Cisneros, Will Eno, Nicole Krauss, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Wendy S. Walters.
Artistic Director of the American Composers Orchestra, Bermel is also curator of the Gamper Festival at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Director of Copland House's CULTIVATE emerging composers institute, and recently enjoyed a four-year tenure as artist-in-residence at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton. He has become recognized as a dynamic and unconventional curator, notably via the 2011 and 2015 SONiC Festival in New York, featuring music by over 200 young composers at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Joe's Pub. An innovative educator, Bermel was the Founding Director of the New York Youth Symphony’s Making Score program, an intensive composition seminar exploring composition and orchestration. He has led master classes and held residencies at Yale University, University of Michigan, Longy School of Music, Peabody Institute, Faculdade de Santa Marcelina, Beijing Central Conservatory, Mannes The New School, Shanghai Conservatory, Columbia University, Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Rhode Island School of Design, Rotterdam Conservatorium, University of Cardiff, USC, Curtis School of Music, University of Chicago, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Universita Federal da Bahia, UCLA, Adolf Fredriks Musikklasse, Northwestern University, Aspen School of Music, Bowdoin Festival of Music, Cal Arts, Tanglewood Music Center, and many more.
Bermel's discography features an all-Bermel orchestra recording (BMOP/sound) which includes his clarinet concerto Voices; 'Soul Garden', a disc of his small ensemble/solo music (New World); and his most recent critically acclaimed disc, 'Canzonas Americanas', with Alarm Will Sound (Cantaloupe). Upcoming discs feature the JACK Quartet and the Albany Symphony Orchestra.
Among Bermel’s many awards are the Alpert Award in the Arts, Rome Prize, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, the Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; commissions from the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations; and residencies at Yaddo, Tanglewood, Aspen, Banff, Bellagio, Copland House, Sacatar, and Civitella Ranieri. Bermel holds B.A. and D.M.A. degrees from Yale University and the University of Michigan. Notable among his composition teachers are William Albright, Louis Andriessen, William Bolcom, Henri Dutilleux, André Hajdu, and Michael Tenzer. His music is published by Peermusic Classical (Americas, Asia) and Faber Music (Europe, Australia).