composer, clarinet

Still in his early 30's, Derek Bermel has been hailed by colleagues, critics, and audiences across the globe for his creativity and theatricality as a composer of chamber, symphonic, dance, theater, and pop works, and his versatility and virtuosity as a clarinetist, conductor, and jazz and rock musician. He has received many of today's most important awards, including the 2001 Rome Prize, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, a Millennium Prize by Faber Music (UK), and several ASCAP Awards, as well as residencies at the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, Tanglewood, Bowdoin, Banff, and Yaddo.

His hands-on experience with music of cultures around the world has become part of the fabric of Bermel's compositional language. He studied ethnomusicology and orchestration in Jerusalem, and later traveled to Bulgaria to study the Thracian folk style, Dublin to study uillean pipes, and Ghana to study the Lobi xylophone. Well-versed in the classical and jazz repertoire on clarinet and piano, he trained at Yale University and the University of Michigan, and later in Amsterdam, studying composition with William Albright, Louis Andriessen, William Bolcom, and Michael Tenzer.

Recent premieres include those by the St. Louis and New Jersey Symphonies, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, WNYC Radio, Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony, Paul Lustig Dunkel and the Westchester Philharmonic, Aspen Music Festival, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and Pacific Symphony. His first disc, of his chamber music, was recently released to much acclaim. His music has also been featured at festivals including De Suite Muziekweek (Amsterdam), Composers Inc. (San Francisco), Imagine (Memphis), Cactus Pear (San Antonio), Gaudeamus Muziekweek (Amsterdam), Society of Composers, Inc. National Conference (Iowa), American Guild of Organists (Washington, Los Angeles), Society for New Music (NY), Bowling Green (Ohio), Focus! (NY), Interlochen (Michigan), Thunderclaps (Den Haag), Tanglewood, and Banff (Alberta).

He is currently working on commissions from the Gilmore Festival, Eighth Blackbird, Fromm Foundation, a Duo Consortium for flute, clarinet, and piano. He is also collaborating on an opera with librettist Wendy S. Walters. He has received commissions from the Fabermusic Millennium Series, American Composers Orchestra, Albany Symphony, De Ereprijs (Netherlands), Birmingham Royal Ballet (U.K.), Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players, New York International Fringe Festival, TONK, Jazz Xchange (U.K.), pianist Christopher Taylor, organist William Albright, baritone Timothy Jones, cellist Fred Sherry, and the New York Youth Symphony.

Bermel's clarinet playing has been hailed by the New York Times as "brilliant" and his talent as "truly exceptional." He premiered his own critically acclaimed clarinet concerto, Voices, with the American Composers Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, and revisited it with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the BBC Symphony in the U. K., and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (with John Adams conducting) . He has also premiered dozens of new works for clarinet in appearances as soloist throughout the U.S. and Europe, including recitals in New York, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Detroit, Jerusalem, The Hague, and Paris, and radio broadcasts on the BBC (London), NCRV (Amsterdam), and WQXR (New York). He recently performed Bolcom's Concerto for Clarinet with the Lexington (KY) Philharmonic and the Greensboro (NC) Symphony. Bermel is founding clarinetist of Music from Copland House, the resident ensemble of Copland's longtime New York home, now restored as a creative center for American Music.

Bermel was the recipient of one of three Ford Foundation Conducting Awards, leading the Cleveland Chamber Symphony in his Continental Divide and Edward Miller's Cascades. He recently led the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble in a program including two of his own works, conducted his orchestral work, Dust Dances, at Interlochen Academy and toured with the British dance company Jazz Xchange, conducting and performing in his composition Messengers, a collaboration with choreographer Sheron Wray; he also conducted his score for two Brecht plays, Caucasian Chalk Circle and Drums in the Night at the International Fringe Festival in New York. In Banff, Alberta, he conducted the opera choir in the premiere of his West African Folk Songs.

Derek Bermel is music director and co-artistic director--along with electric guitarist Wiek Hijmans and poet Wendy Walters--for the Dutch-American interdisciplinary ensemble TONK, which he co-founded, and director of Making Score, the composition lab at the New York Youth Symphony. He has served as music director, conductor, and arranger for several jazz choirs, including The Baker's Dozen at Yale University, Parallel Motion at the University of Michigan, Mash'hu K'mo ha'Blues in Jerusalem, and The Toast of Hell's Kitchen in New York City. He studied conducting at the University of Michigan with Donald Schleicher, clarinet with Ben Armato and Fred Ormand. In demand as an educator, he is the recipient of grants from Meet the Composer, The American Symphony Orchestra League, ASCAP, and others to support his work with students. Derek Bermel's music is published by Peerclassical.


Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | November 3, 2006
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | June 17, 2000

News and Press

[News Coverage] Spinning Local: A batch of new CDs from BMOP

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.

The Boston Globe Full review
[CD Review] American Record Guide reviews Derek Bermel: Voices

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.

American Record Guide Full review
[CD Review] Gramophone reviews Derek Bermel: Voices

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.

Gramophone Full review
[CD Review] The New York Times reviews Derek Bermel: Voices

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.

The New York Times Full review
[News Coverage] Emusic selects Derek Bermel: Voices as an "Editors' Pick"

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:

Emusic Full review
[CD Review] The San Francisco Chronicle reviews Derek Bermel: Voices

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.

The San Francisco Chronicle Full review
[CD Review] The Classical Voice of New England reviews Derek Bermel: Voices

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.

The Classical Voice of New England Full review
[Press Release] BMOP/sound releases first album of 2009, Derek Bermel: Voices

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.

Full review
[News Coverage] Letter from Boston: BMOP drops six more into the kitty

BMOP (the Boston Modern Orchestra Project), now in its 10th season, is on the side of the angels when it comes to being good musical citizens. Can anyone doubt it?

To begin with, when they use the word Project, that’s exactly what they mean. Everything on their recent (Nov. 3) Jordan Hall concert - some six works by four composers - was slated for commercial recording immediately afterward. With this done, the BMOP discography will amount to an impressive 20 releases.

Sequenza 21 Full review
[Concert Review] A classic start for composer with BMOP

Founded a decade ago, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has risen to the front ranks of American contemporary-music ensembles through its fire, precision, and commitment to new work. BMOP’s 10th season opened Friday at Jordan Hall with a concert including two pieces by emerging singer and composer Lisa Bielawa, 38, inaugurating her three-year residency with the orchestra. BMOP’s typically canny programming surrounded Bielawa’s works with beautifully complementary compositions - two, like hers, inspired by literary sources.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Press Release] BMOP announces 10th anniversary season

BMOP announces that its 10th anniversary season will open on November 3, 2006 at Jordan Hall. For 10 years BMOP has been Boston's only orchestra dedicated exclusively to performing and recording new music. Led by founding Artistic Director Gil Rose, BMOP is considered to be the premier orchestra for new music in the country.

Full review