SMALL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE - Language Instruction (2003) Program Notes:
Derek Bermel's concert works have been deeply inspired by African-American music: jazz, blues, R&B and hip-hop have all influenced his writing. In Soul Garden he uses precisely notated glissandi and quarter-tones to capture the quality of gospel music. Substituting a quarter-tone for its corresponding chromatic counterpart connotes for Bermel an emotional, even sensual, inflection: the solo viola solo is made to resemble a burnished alto gospel singer; the cello a rumbling church baritone.
The work exploits the tension stemming from what Bermel calls the rub, the juxtaposition of the African pentatonic and European diatonic scales. Melodically and harmonically rooted at first, Soul Garden slowly moves away from its tonal center. By the viola cadenza, the glue holding the piece together is gesture, an element common to all of Bermel's works; yet each of these gestures can be traced back to the viola's opening motive. Bermel thus pays tribute to the Beethovenian ideal of generating the entire motivic content of a movement from an initial melodic seed. And in the cadenza, one hears a dialogue reminiscent of both call-and-response in gospel music and J.S. Bach's multidimensional solo writing; one example of how Soul Garden unearths common ground between disparate traditions.
Soul Garden was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for violist Paul Neubauer, who premiered it with cellist Fred Sherry and the Miami String Quartet on April 16 and 18, 2000 at Alice Tully Hall , New York City. It was recorded on CRI CD 895 by Neubauer, Sherry, and the Borromeo String Quartet, now available from New World Records.