Derek Bermel Concludes Tenure as Artistic Director of American Composers Orchestra

American Composers Orchestra and Derek Bermel announce that after ten years as Artistic Director (2013-2022) and four years as Creative Advisor (2009-2013), Bermel will step down at the end of 2022 due to the increasing demands of his composition career. He will remain on ACO’s Board of Directors. ACO President and CEO Melissa Ngan and the Board of Directors are leading a search for Bermel’s successor. View the position announcement here.

Bermel’s relationship with ACO began in 1994 when he was a participant in ACO’s Whitaker (now EarShot) Readings, conducted by Paul Lustig Dunkel. In 1998, his piece Voices was commissioned by ACO and premiered at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Tan Dun. From 2006-2009, he was a Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the orchestra, with ACO premiering several of his pieces during that time. From 2009-2013 he served as Creative Advisor, before stepping into the role of Artistic Director in 2013. As Artistic Director, in addition to leading ACO’s commissioning and programming efforts, Bermel has helped to design and implement ACO’s EarShot Readings program, the EarShot CoLABoratory initiative, three installments of Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, and two SONiC city-wide music festivals in 2011 and 2015.

ACO Board President Sameera Troesch said, “Derek’s inspiring voice has helped to shape the American Composers Orchestra for over a decade. His commitment to artistry, mentoring, and equity in the field of orchestral music has furthered our mission and helped to put us in the strong position that we are in today. We are grateful for his contributions and his magnetic presence on stage, which, together, have brought audiences back, time and time again. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with him in other meaningful ways and wish him the best of luck in his future professional endeavors.”

“In addition to his leadership of ACO’s artistic vision, Derek has served as an incredible mentor and advocate for countless composers as they build relationships and adventurous new work with orchestras, many for the first time,” says ACO President and CEO Melissa Ngan. “We are thankful for his generosity of spirit and for the skill with which he has guided so many at such a critical moment in their careers.”

“It has been my honor to serve as artistic director with this extraordinary orchestra for the past ten years,” says Bermel. “I believe deeply in ACO’s mission of enabling up-and-coming composers and will continue this rewarding work in many other ways, including as part of ACO’s Board of Directors. I’ll be working closely with our Chair and President to ensure a smooth transition to my successor in 2023, and I know that ACO will continue to rise to even greater heights.” 

Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel has been internationally recognized for his creativity, theatricality, and virtuosity. 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. Bermel and his works have received the Alpert Award in the Arts, Rome Prize, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, the Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center, and the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Recordings of Bermel’s “unambiguously luscious” music (The New York Times), with the composer as clarinet soloist, have received two Grammy nominations: Migrations (Naxos, 2020) and Voices (BMOP, 2010). His Migration Series for jazz band and orchestra was acclaimed by Gramophone magazine as “exciting, compelling attention from the very first bars… Bermel succeeds with Bernsteinian élan.” Bermel’s newly recorded orchestral work A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace, noted for its “ideal balance of tenderness and raucousness, of stillness and intricate rhythms” (The Los Angeles Times), was cited as best of the year by The New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini for its “dizzying melting pot of folklike rhythms, droning tunes and pungent modernist harmonies, spiked with bursts of wailing jazz.”

Upcoming premieres of Bermel’s work include The House on Mango Street, the Opera with librettist Sandra Cisneros, an expanded version of the concerto Spring Cadenzas for violinist Midori, a string quartet for the Ying Quartet in honor of Eastman School of Music’s 100th anniversary, a piano trio for the Horszowski Trio, a Fromm Foundation commission, and a transcription of Chevalier de Saint-Georges A major violin concerto for clarinetist Anthony McGill and the Orlando Philharmonic.

About American Composers Orchestra

Founded in 1977, American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is dedicated to the creation, celebration, performance, and promotion of orchestral music by American composers. With commitment to diversity, disruption and discovery, ACO produces concerts, middle school through college composer education programs, and composer advancement programs to foster a community of creators, audience, performers, collaborators, and funders. ACO identifies and develops talent, performs established composers, champions those who are lesser-known, and increases regional, national, and international awareness of the infinite variety of American orchestral music, reflecting gender, racial, ethnic, geographic, stylistic, and age diversity. To date, ACO has performed music by 800 American composers, including over 350 world premieres and newly commissioned works.

Now encompassing all of ACO’s composer advancement initiatives, EarShot is the first ongoing, systematic program for developing relationships between composers and orchestras on the national level. Through orchestral readings, CoLABoratory fellowships, consortium commissions, and professional development, EarShot ensures a vibrant musical future by investing in creativity today. Serving over 350 composers since inception, EarShot had its beginnings in NYC with its own Readings in 1991 (carrying the name Whitaker and then Underwood) and expanded in 2008 to national Readings offered in partnership with orchestras across the country in collaboration with the League of American Orchestras, New Music USA, and American Composers Forum. EarShot has also included other programs such as Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, CoLABoratory, Pathways and more. Readings composers have gone on to win every major composition award, including the Pulitzer, Grammy, Grawemeyer, American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Rome Prizes.

Since 1999, ACO has brought composers and musical teaching artists into NYC public schools through Sonic Spark. Sonic Spark aims to leverage composition as a platform for creativity and creativity as a platform for achievement in all areas of a student’s life. Students in Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens work directly with professional composers to create and perform original music.

ACO has received numerous awards for its work, including those from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and from BMI recognizing the orchestra’s outstanding contribution to American music. ASCAP has awarded ACO its annual prize for adventurous programming 35 times, singling out ACO as “the orchestra that has done the most for new American music in the United States.” ACO received the inaugural MetLife Award for Excellence in Audience Engagement, and a proclamation from the New York City Council.

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