SMALL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE - Soul Garden (2000) - Solo viola, 2 vn, va, 2 vc

Duration - 13:00

viola solo, 2 violin, viola, 2 violoncello.

Commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

American composer Derek Bermel’s “Soul Garden,” a 2000 work for solo viola and string quintet, represents the confluence of two mainstreams the romantic-modern waters that originated in Europe and the blues-jazz-gospel waters that flowed from African American communities. The most striking and pervasive effect in the piece is the use of sliding notes, or quarter-tones, to emulate the vocal inflections of African American music. But “effect” isn’t quite the right term because these inflections are not separable, conceptually or compositionally, from the core musical ideas Bermel’s highly complex but fully controlled approach to harmony and rhythmic structure&.nearly every moment is both appealing and challenging, familiar and strange. It is music by a composer who thinks deeply about where music comes from, how it is made and what it is for.
— San Antonio Express-News
Like many of his pieces, this essay for solo viola and a string quintet (a quartet with an extra cello, in this configuration) draws freely from several musical worlds. The music’s surfaces are painted in the coloration of blues and gospel.&The work’s underpinnings, though, use rhythmic and harmonic techniques more germane to contemporary concert music, and the tensions between those languages give the music its poignancy. The bluesy turns of the solo viola line, played with a warm tone and an almost vocal inflection by Paul Neubauer, suggest a simple, direct approach to tonality. Yet the quartet writing, with its hazy, tonally ambiguous shimmer, pulls in the opposite direction.
— New York Times
Even more striking was Soul Garden for viola and string quintet, whose origins lie in African-American gospel music. With soloist Rachel Roberts emulating the vocalism of an alto gospel singer answered by the church baritone represented by an ensemble cellist, the result lies in the tradition of Aaron Copland’s popular Americana in its immediacy and sense of respectful parody.
— The Guardian (U.K.)
...his seductive culture-crossing ‘Soul Garden’... bends pitches with jazzy style.
— Harlow Robinson, The Boston Globe