Skip to page content

About this Piece

Described by the Toronto Star as “an eclectic with wide open ears” and by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as “one of America’s finest young composers,” 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, folk, and gospel. Hands-on experience with music of cultures around the world has become part of the fabric and force of his compositional language.

The 2006-09 Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Bermel has received commissions from major orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout the U.S. and overseas, collaborating with a diverse array of artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Midori, John Adams, Paquito D’Rivera, Philip Glass, Gustavo Dudamel, and Stephen Sondheim. Beginning in Fall 2009, Bermel serves as composer-in-residence with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and as artist-in-residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Bermel’s music is published by Peermusic and Faber Music.

The composer wrote the following note about Canzonas Americanas:

“While writing Canzonas Americanas I had in mind a request from Gustavo Dudamel to consider the interconnectedness of North and South American musical traditions. This was not a difficult task, as our cultures are sonically intertwined, both historically and today. Barring the traditional instrumentations, Afro-Brazilian and African-American traditions - such as Pixinguinha’s chôros and Joplin’s rags - can be difficult to distinguish. From Gershwin and Copland to Ellington and Gillespie, many of our trailblazing composers have been indelibly influenced by Latin music, and vice-versa. My hometown of New York has become as much of a center for salsa and merengue music as Havana or Santo Domingo, and the U.S. as a whole is becoming more bilingual and bicultural with each successive generation.

“In preparation for writing the piece, I returned to Rio de Janeiro for a month, where I spent days refamiliarizing my fingers with chôros, bossa nova, and samba standards, at night jamming with friends in clubs around the city. In this way, I reconnected with the South American spirit and the piece became as much about memory as music.

“The first movement, ‘El Dude,’ transforms a quintessentially ‘Americana’ diatonic/pentatonic melody as it encounters Latin rhythms, blues, jazz, rock & roll, and funk.

“The second movement, ‘Silvioudades (ecos e lembranças),’ is an homage to Silvio Robatto, the great architect and photographer of Salvador. It is a simple Brazilian chôros with a slight Bulgarian inflection (how did that creep in?), which absorbs an echoing canon in each succeeding verse.

“The third movement, ‘Montuno Blue,’ recalls the spirit of two great pianist/composers: the Puerto Rican Eddie Palmieri and the American Thelonious Monk. An atonal salsa undergoes various transformations, and along the way another revolutionary pianist/composer – this one from Europe – sneaks in and steals the spotlight.

“The fourth movement is a short song that I wrote while resident at the Fondação Sacatar on the island of Itaparica in Bahia. The island exudes a seductive, yearning softness; accordingly, the bass carries a mellow bossa rhythm as the traditional berimbau melds into the sound of the guitar. I wrote it for the magical singer Luciana Souza.”