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.

questions to consider
press release

Born in New York City, 1967
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Described by the Toronto Star as "an eclectic with wide open ears", composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel has been widely hailed for his creativity, theatricality, and virtuosity. Bermel's works draw from a rich variety of musical genres, including classical, jazz, pop, rock, blues, and gospel. Hands-on experience with music of cultures around the world has become part of the fabric and force of his compositional language.

Currently serving as 2006-09 Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Bermel has received commissions from the National, Saint Louis, New Jersey, and Pacific Symphonies, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, WNYC Radio, eighth blackbird, De Ereprijs (Netherlands), Jazz Xchange (U.K.), Figura (Denmark), cellist Fred Sherry, and pianist Christopher Taylor, among others. His many awards include the Rome Prize, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, the Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center, the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and residencies at Yaddo, Tanglewood, Aspen, Banff, Bellagio, Sacatar, and Civitella Ranieri.

Last season Bermel performed as soloist alongside Wynton Marsalis in a newly commissioned work by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and ACO. He also appeared as clarinet soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in conductor/composer John Adams' Gnarly Buttons, and as soloist in his own concerto with the Tianjin Symphony Orchestra at the Beijing Modern Music Festival. The Philharmonia Orchestra in also produced an all-Bermel concert as part of its Music of Today series at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Highlights for next season include the Pittsburgh Symphony’s premiere of The Good Life for chorus and orchestra, Golden Motors, a music-theatre collaboration with librettist/lyricist Wendy S. Walters, and a return to Carnegie Hall for two premieres: a Koussevitzky Commission for ACO conducted by Maestro Dennis Russell Davies, and as soloist in the world premiere of Fang Man’s clarinet concerto. Beginning in 2009 Bermel will serve as composer-in-residence with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Bermel has collaborated with artists in a wide variety of genres, including filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson, installation artist Shimon Attie, landscape architect Andy Cao, playwright Will Eno, choreographer Sheron Wray, sound designer David Reid, and poets Wendy S. Walters, Mark Halliday and Naomi Shihab Nye. As an educator, he founded the groundbreaking Making Score program for young composers at the New York Youth Symphony, and regularly leads masterclasses at universities, conservatories, and concert venues worldwide.

Derek Bermel's music is published by Peermusic (North/South America & Asia) and Faber Music (Europe & Australia). For more information: www.derekbermel.com.

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