Biography

Grammy-nominated composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel, “one of the most original voices of American music” (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram), 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).  

Bermel’s studies of ethnomusicology and orchestration with Andre Hajdu in Jerusalem heralded his immersion in music of the world -- traveling to Bulgaria to study the Thracian folk style; Ghana to learn the Lobi xylophone; and Brazil to study caxixi  –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 primary 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, eighth blackbird, the Guarneri and JACK String Quartets, Music from China, Copland House, violinist Midori, electric guitarist Wiek Hijmans, Schoenberg Ensemble/Veenfabriek (Netherlands), Jazz Xchange (U.K.), 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 James Galway, Luciana Souza, Tan Dun and John Adams. He performed as soloist alongside Wynton Marsalis in his own Migration Series, commissioned by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra (ACO). ACO had earlier commissioned Bermel’s clarinet concerto Voices for premiere in Carnegie Hall, with the composer as soloist. Bermel has since performed the critically acclaimed work with more than a dozen orchestras, including the BBC Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, and at the Beijing Modern Music Festival. His recording of Voices with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project led to a Grammy nomination (2010) as Best Soloist with Orchestra. He has also appeared with many other orchestras, in concerto repertoire ranging widely from Mozart and Copland to Bolcom and Adams. Founding Clarinetist of the acclaimed Music from Copland House ensemble, Bermel’s chamber music appearances include performances with the Chamber Music society of Lincoln Center, Borromeo, Pacifica, and JACK string quartets, and Festivals including Moab, Fontana, Cape Cod, and Salt Bay and the Cliburn Series at the Modern, Carmel, Albuquerque Chamber Music Series, Garth Newel Center, Seattle Town Hall, and Louisville Chamber Music Society. 

Bermel has brought his “staggering eclecticism” (Gramophone Magazine) to an array of collaborations, residencies, and groundbreaking educational roles. His passion for collaboration has led him to score several films with composer/sound designer David Reid, as well as work with artists such as playwright Will Eno, installation artist Shimon Attie, choreographer Sheron Wray, poets Wendy S. Walters, Nicole Krauss, and Naomi Shihab Nye. His recent collaboration with hip hop legend Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) for the Brooklyn Philharmonic received raves; the Brooklyn Rail called it “astounding…. burning like a rocket through the brain.”

Currently serving as Artist-in-Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), Creative Adviser to the ACO, and Composer-in-Residence with the Mannes College of Music, Bermel has become recognized as a dynamic and unconventional curator of concert series that offer a new take on a venerated tradition: the composer as performer. In addition to programming the Edward T. Cone series at the IAS and the 2013 Gamper Music Festival in Bowdoin, Maine, he helped found and shape the ACO’s Jazz Composers Orchestral Institute and co-curated the ten-day 2011 SONiC Festival in New York, featuring music by over 120 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 Composition (formerly Making Score) program, an intensive seminar exploring creativity and orchestration. Currently he is Institute Director of Copland House’s new CULTIVATE program for emerging composers, and also mentors young composers in the ACO’s Underwood Readings, Playing it Unsafe, and CoLABoratory programs. Bermel 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, New England Conservatory, Columbia University, Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, University of Texas (Austin), Northwestern University, Rotterdam Conservatorium, University of Cardiff, USC, Curtis School of Music, University of Chicago, 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 three critically-acclaimed discs: an all-Bermel orchestral recording that includes his clarinet concerto Voices (BMOP/sound); Soul Garden, a disc of his small ensemble/solo music (New World/CRI); and his most recent disc, Canzonas Americanas, with Alarm Will Sound (Cantaloupe).

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, Aspen, Banff, Tanglewood, 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, represented in Europe and Australia by Faber Music.