Wonderful new music, all of it. Dust Dances is charming and jazzy, and reminiscent of Bernstein at his most relaxed. Thracian Echoes is exotic and atmostpheric, conjuring up visions of John Fowles’ The Magus. Elixir is a moving and soothing interlude with wonderful antiphonal effects. Voices, a conversational concerto, features a range of interchanges between the composer’s solo clarinet and the orchestra, with an almost raunchily bluesy conclusion. Performances are tip-top, and the sound clear and immediate.
News and Press
Clarinetist and composer Derek Bermel has donned the motley hat of eclecticism early in his career. For the most part, it’s a happy fit. His Voices CD showcases multiple styles and influences and succeeds in presenting him as an individualist composer.
For this New Sounds, listen to John Schaefer’s completely personal and opinionated look at the ten best new music releases of 2009. There just might be something by a death jazz piano trio, a banjo player, and perhaps an indie rocker’s tribute to a major thoroughfare, along with some big band music.
Derek Bermel: Voices
My shot at the best classical recordings of 2009 turns out to be top-heavy with pianists and French composers. Funny how that happens: You begin a process with what seems like scrupulous fairness, sorting through hundreds of discs, aiming for balance, trying to demonstrate one’s wide-openness to the whole musical universe. But somehow, the results wind up reflecting personal preferences, anyway.
Given the large number of fine recordings released in the past year, a first-time visitor to Planet Earth would hardly suspect that the record industry is in the doldrums. Nor will the music lovers on your holiday gift list think anything is amiss, if you present them with one or more of the sonic goodies in the guide that follows.
Eclecticism is everywhere now, but Derek Bermel makes his style-hopping colleagues seem lazy in this set, which includes works based on Ghanian xylophone figures (Dust Dances), Bulgarian folk music (Thracian Echoes) and an ear-catching blend of speech melodies, Irish tunes and contemporary jazz (Voices, a clarinet concerto with Mr. Bermel as the soloist).
As clarinetist and composer alike, Derek Bermel is a product of the contemporary accessibility of, and fascination with, the diverse musics of the world. Gone are the days when the Austro-Hungarian, or even the wider European, traditions could constitute any kind of workable definition of ‘serious’ music. Just as, once upon a time, European literature woke up to – and creatively embraced – literatures far beyond the previously monolithic Latin and Greek tradition, so Western music has widened its horizons enormously.
Meanwhile the city’s other homegrown label, BMOP/sound, continues to impress. This scrappy in-house operation run by conductor Gil Rose and his Boston Modern Orchestra Project was launched early last year, and it has released a steady stream of impeccably produced, beautifully packaged discs with exacting and engaged performances of 20th- and 21st-century music. Several elegantly probing pieces by Brandeis-based composer David Rakowski were recently featured on a BMOP/sound disc called Winged Contraption, including his Piano Concerto in a strong performance by Marilyn Nonken.
You might say that Derek Bermel (b. 1967) 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 clarinetist, has traveled 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.
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.
Derek Bermel, like many composers born in the late 1960’s, is a natural eclectic who uses classical forms and timbres as his principal medium and draws on jazz, pop, and world music when he wants a particular melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic twist.
Here are some classical records that have been exciting us recently. Some are brand-new, some have been on the site for awhile, but we stand 100 percent behind all of them, and we hope you love them as much as we do.
BMOP and Bermel get busy with several generations and cultures’ worth of music:
The enterprising new label BMOP/sound has another winner in their disk of music of clarinetist, composer, and jazz/rock musician Derek Bermel. The four works show his interest in various folk influences (including Bulgarian folk music), jazz and depicting the human voice instrumentally. Dust Dances resulted from a 4-month visit to Northwest Ghana where Bermel learned to play the Dargara gyil, a 14-key xylophone related to the marimba; in this 9-minute work he attempts to turn the symphony orchestra into a gigantic gyil.
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.
To count up the musical influences in the works on Derek Bermel’s new album, Voices, featuring the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, would prove impossible. He is a composer as comfortable mixing jazzy trombone riffs with plunky, Asian harp-piano duets, as with combining eerie portamento violins and Stravinsky-like primitive rhythms. To say that Bermel’s music is adventurous would be an understatement.
BMOP/sound, the nation's premiere label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music recordings, today announced the release of Derek Bermel: Voices, the first of nine BMOP/sound albums to be released in 2009. From the melodic roots of West Africa to the infectious grooves of Bulgarian folk music, the CD's four orchestra works meld Bermel's love for orchestral and jazz music with a myriad of unlikely traditions and influences.