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Derek Bermel

Intonations - Music For Clarinet and Strings

Naxos
Release Date: August 26, 2022

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Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute - Interview with Derek Bermel and Tania Leon
1 Intonations / I. Harmonica 5:28  
2 II. Hymn/Homily 6:54  
3 III. Hustle 6:20  
4 Ritornello (2011) (version for electric guitar and string quartet) 12:33  
5 Thracian Sketches (2003) 7:12  
6 Violin Etudes (2009) / No. 1. Twenty Questions 1:27  
7 No. 2. Gravity 2:43  
8 No. 3. Figure and Ground 2:53  
9 No. 4. Multiverse/Sketch 3:28  
10 No. 5. Chôros 2:29  
11 A Short History of the Universe / I. Multiverse 5:07  
12 II. Heart of Space 6:53  
13 III. Twistor Scattering 4:46  
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In the music of Derek Bermel, familiar oppositions – between classical and vernacular, comic and serious, visceral and cerebral – start to break down. In Intonations (2016) for string quartet, a series of ragged chords, like the sound of someone blowing idly on a harmonica, is taken apart, reassembled, and woven into a web of dazzlingly ornate counterpoint. In A Short History of the Universe (as related by Nima Arkani-Hamed) (2013), a raucous, jazzy glissando becomes the unlikely basis of a meditation on cosmology and the nature of time. The music on this album is full of such moments of strange alchemy, in which seemingly antithetical qualities merge and transform each other unpredictably.

These pieces draw on Bermel’s kaleidoscopically varied background as both composer and performer: studies under the great French modernist Henri Dutilleux, the Dutch avant-gardist Louis Andriessen, and the American ragtime revivalist William Bolcom; travels to learn Thracian folk music in Bulgaria, the Lobi xylophone in Ghana, and the caxixi in Brazil; and collaborations with musicians ranging from Wynton Marsalis and Stephen Sondheim to the rapper Yasiin Bey (Mos Def). The breadth of these interests has earned Bermel a reputation for eclecticism, but the label doesn’t capture the deeply personal sensibility running through all his music, one marked by sly theatricality, deadpan humor, and restless intellectual curiosity. It’s this final quality that both impels Bermel’s stylistic exploration, and gives the resulting music its unity. Unsurprisingly, then, the pieces on this album are as wide-ranging intellectually as musically, their inspirations extending from theater (Ritornello), to gestalt psychology (Figure and Ground), to theoretical physics.

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