Derek Bermel2008

A protean artist, Derek Bermel,  is a composer of chamber, symphonic, dance, and theatre works, as well as a conductor and performer. A virtuoso clarinetist, he has performed internationally as a guest orchestral soloist, as well as with the Dutch-American interdisciplinary ensemble he co-founded, TONK, and with Music from Copland House. He also performs in clubs as singer-songwriter and keyboard player in his rock band, Peace by Piece.

Immersing himself in the nuances of musical idiom through his studies of Lobi xylophone in Northwest Ghana, Thracian folk styles in Bulgaria, ethnomusicology in Jerusalem, and uillean pipes in Dublin, he has deepened his awareness of musical gestures and inflections as specific modes of human communication rising out of a particular cultural and historical context. His compositions reveal these organic connections, highlighting the commonalities between disparate traditions.

While serving a three-year residency with the American Composers Orchestra, he wrote Migration Series, a large scale work for Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and ACO, based on sixty paintings by Jacob Lawrence that depict the migration of African-Americans from the south to northern cities in the early 20th century. His musical Golden Motors, written with librettist/lyricist Wendy S. Walters, portrays the life of a family in the declining Detroit of the 1980s.

As an arts educator, under the auspices of the New York Youth Symphony, he founded “Making Score,” a monthly seminar for 25 young composers, offering an introduction to myriad cultural styles, analysis, performance, and multi-disciplinary work.

"As a kid, I studied clarinet in the classical tradition and concurrently taught myself to play saxophone and piano by transcribing recordings of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Later I began to experiment and compose with hybrid sounds, most notably vocal ones.

Recently, I have been exploring the boundaries of notated music and improvisation, seeking to discover pathways which connect diverse genres and performance traditions, to create music that challenges preconceptions and asks vital questions."