DEREK CHARKE is a JUNO and three-time ECMA award-winning composer and flutist. Derek has a catalogue of over 90 (available) works and has had many high profile commissions and performances including several by Canada’s major Symphony Orchestras, the Kronos Quartet, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Duo Turgeon, Cheng2 Duo, Land’s End Ensemble, WIRED!, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, as well as an impressive list of other performers and organizations. His music is eclectic, often defying categorization due to wide-ranging influences. Described as minimalist and post-minimal, modernist, inventive, rich textured, full of colour, and imbued with drama and rhythmic vitality, his music often incorporates tonality and modality, electronics and soundscapes, explorations of contemporary instrumental techniques, and improvisation. His music attempts to speak to a wide-ranging audience. Derek is currently a professor of music at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia where he teaches composition and music theory. As a professional flutist he continues to perform as a soloist and new music improviser. He is a member of the Charke~Cormier Duo, a flute and guitar duo. He is also the co-director of the Acadia New Music Society and an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre.
His work "Sepia Fragments" for the St. Lawrence String Quartet won the 2012 JUNO Award for Classical Composition of the Year. "Reel Variations on a Jig" as performed by Mark Adam & himself, and "Between the shore and the ships" as performed by Helen Pridmore & Wesley Ferreira, also won East Coast Music Awards in the same category. A "Kitchen Party" album featuring percussionist Mark Adam won the 2015 ECMA Award for Classical Recording of the Year. "In Sonorous Falling Tones", a CD featuring four of his seminal works, and featuring Derek as flute soloist with the WIRED! Ensemble conducted by Mark Hopkins was nominated for two East Coast Music Awards, as was the album "Live Wired!" featuring works for saxophonist Tristan De Borba and the Acadia Wind Ensemble. Derek is the recipient of a 2018 Arts Nova Scotia Established Artist Award and a BMI student composer award. He has received funding from a number of organizations including the Canada Council, the SOCAN Foundation, Arts Nova Scotia, in addition to joint funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Nova Scotia Research & Innovation Trust for the creation of AEMS: the Acadia Electroacoustic Music Studio.
Some of his work explores environmental issues. Recent compositions include "Water Flows Serpentine" for the Cheng2 Duo (cellist Bryan Cheng and pianist Silvie Cheng;) and "Drift", a piano duo commissioned for the remarkable Duo Turgeon (Anne Louise-Turgeon and Edward Turgeon). "Water Flows Serpentine" takes its concept from the tidal landscapes of the Bay of Fundy and the Minas Basin. Drift muses on lake effect snow and the concept of drift — i.e. to oscillate around a fixed position. Another work, "Tangled in Plastic Currents" for cellist Jeffrey Zeigler deals with the plastic clogging our oceans. His second symphony, "Earth Airs" (commissioned for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's 25th Annual New Music Festival), is a choral symphony that muses on the infinite nature of air using text adapted from the Greek Philosopher Anaximenes of Miletus. His "Symphony No. 1 ‘Transient Energies’ " for Symphony Nova Scotia explores a soundscape of energy production. Another orchestral work "After Chaos, the Earth and Love came into being", commissioned by Harvey and Louise Glatt for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, takes its inspiration from Plato and Hesiod and their philosophies on the creation of the universe. "Falling from Cloudless Skies" for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra focusses on strange meteorological phenomena, and includes a soundscape of ice. "Warning! Gustandoes Ahead" for the National Flute Association addresses the destructive nature of wind. "In the Falling Dark 1", commissioned by Musikon (Halifax, NS) for pianist Barbara Pritchard, is about dusk, or twilight; known in French as ‘Entre Chien et Loup’. The sequel "In the Falling Dark 2" was composed for pianist Jennifer King. "Oikos/Ecos" for soprano Janice Jackson is a commentary on our state of affairs. "Disturbances of Circadian Rhythm" for flutist Chenoa Anderson deals with sleep patterns. "Song of the Tides", commissioned by Mark Hopkins for the Acadia University Wind Ensemble, explores ocean sounds and is featured the Acadia New Music Society CD, Live Wired.
Electronics, multi-channel spatialization, acousmatic, and interactive electroacoustic elements using Max/MSP, often pairing live instruments and electronic sound, are another interest. Works include "Nine Lines" for cellists Norman Adams and Nicola Baroni, which incorporates real-time computer processing; his "Symphony No. 1" for orchestra and 6-channel electronic soundscape; "Tangled in Plastic Currents" for cello and Max/MSP; "Oikos/Ecos" for soprano and Max/MSP; "Disturbances of Circadian Rhythm" for flute and Max/MSP; "Tidelines" for 4 or 8 channel setup; "Deliquescence" for 8- channel diffusion; "Falling from Cloudless Skies" for orchestra and soundscape; "Song of the Tides" for wind ensemble and soundscape; "Don’t Be Alarmed", for wind ensemble and soundscape; "WARNING! Gustnadoes Ahead" for flute and soundscape; and others.
Purely instrumental music is yet another focus. For example, his "Wired" series was created to feature solo instruments or small ensembles. So far there are works for alto saxophone, trumpet, horn, bassoon, flute, and wind quintet. Each work contains a middle movement ‘AND’ that plays with disjunct, but lyric ‘endless’ chromatic melodies. The series includes "Wired and Wound" for Tristan De Borba, saxophone, and Simon Docking, piano; "Rewind and Fast-forward" for Fifth Wind Quintet; "Wound and Released" which was premiered at the 2014 International Trumpet Convention by Terry Everson, trumpet and Shiela Kibbe, piano; and "The Engine Continuum" which was premiered by Derek Charke and Eugene Cormier, guitar.
Improvisation is another interest. Work that are improvisatory in nature including "Beat", "Oikos & Ecos", and "Spin". The use of improvisatory elements in works for younger players is important to his aesthetics. For example, "Song of the Tides" for grade 5 and up concert band, incorporates five minutes of improvisation in the opening, with a soundscape of ocean sounds. Other works with improvisatory elements include "Don’t be Alarmed", "Mercury in Transit", and "Tree Rings".
As a professional flutist he composes often for the flute. Works include solo pieces, a number of works for flute and guitar for the Charke~Cormier Duo, and a popular series of flute quartets and quintets, including: "Raga Terah", "Raga Saat" and "Raga Nau" (commissioned by Sonja Giles and Kim Scott for the 2013 National Flute Convention). He has also written and premiered two chamber concertos for flute: "The Winds of Winter" and "In Sonorous Falling Tones".
Derek has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet on a few works, including the creation of a "Concerto for String Quartet" (2011) which was commissioned and premiered by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and "Tundra Songs" (2007) which was commissioned by the LA Philharmonic Association for the Kronos Quartet and Tanya Tagaq with text by Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory.
Derek’s composition teachers included David Felder, Louis Andriessen, Steve Martland, Paul Patterson, Cindy McTee, and Martin Mailman. He attended the University of North Texas, the Royal Academy of Music in London, England, the Koninklijk Conservatorium in the Hague, and the State University of New York at Buffalo where he received his Ph.D. in composition. Derek also earned a Master’s degree in flute performance from SUNY Buffalo where he studied with the late Cheryl Gobbetti Hoffman. During his undergraduate degree he studied trumpet with Dr. Leonard Candelaria, while also pursuing the flute.
SAMPLE OF PRESS REVIEWS
"Likewise, a splendid performance of Derek Charke’s Tree Rings for violin and marimba made a decided impact on its audience chiefly for its thoughtful and musically engaging story. A fine staged moment at the beginning set the improvisational feel of the work, featuring John Lowrey’s senza misura off-stage entrance from the back of the Bella. Tree Rings is a condensed tone poem in quasi-cyclic form emulating the life cycle of a majestic tree. Each minute of music could mysteriously encapsulate decades or even centuries of the tree’s life as told within its internally mapped-out ring structure. The conceit is doubly effective: the cycling through of ideas from section to section added to the imagery of temporal compression depicting tree rings metaphorically traversing time, evinced brilliantly through the work’s arpeggiated violin line and final section of impressive ostinato mallet playing. Here is a splendid work, one that needs to be heard several more times to be understood better still." – Stephan Bonfield, Calgary Herald
In Sonorous Falling Tones
"Bravissimo! This is contemporary music-making at its best. Good things are happening in Wolfville, Nova Scotia." – Allan Pulker, Whole Note
Earth Airs (Symphony No. 2)
" […] it was Gary Kulesha’s Echoes of Light […] and Derek Charke’s Earth Airs, with its engaging buoyancy, that demonstrated how much wholeness and affirmation there still can be within new classical music. New music can appear stubbornly determined to take the elements of music apart to show the spaces between things. In this concert, Charke in particular was fearlessly putting some of those pieces back together. His emotional symphony (beautifully engaging the human voice, here represented by the feisty and articulate Horizon Choir) managed to reach out, not push away." – Sue Sorensen, Spectator Tribune, Jan. 28, 2016
Dear Creator, help us return to the centre of our hearts
"Essentially, Charke journeyed to Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands and wrote a piece to envelop the experience. He recorded the sounds of industrial work and nature, which he then integrated with the musical sounds written for the quartet. Having read the program only after listening to the piece, this listener recommends letting the music speak for itself. Embarking rhythmically and forcefully, the piece began with fast eighth notes and a violin melody up in the stratosphere. Violent sounds of machinery alternated with the sounds of birds and the quartet reacted to the commotion, sometimes taking tempi from, for instance, a truck backing up. The most notable part was when cellist Sunny Yang struck her instrument in a jazz bass style of pizzicato that is not utilized enough in cello writing." – Jacob Slattery, Bachtrack.com
"After intermission came the world premiere of Wolfville composer Charke’s charmingly original Concerto Grosso, featuring the unusual soloist combination of violin (Nelly Chen), flute (Jaewon Choi), clarinet (Marc Blouin) and marimbaist (Christopher Eagles). Always playable, Charke’s music was both entertaining for the audience and challenging for the players throughout the three movements." – Stephen Pedersen, The Chronicle Herald
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra
"A full house (almost) at Roy Thomson Hall—for a concert of New Music? Yes! And standing ovations that wouldn’t quit for the première of Derek Charke’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra? Too right! Charke’s music is eclectic, hectic and sometimes electric. The concerto’s finale is a post-climactic mix of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing mournfully, while out of the speaker system issue loud chords by Kronos String Quartet infused into a taped soundscape of eerie narwhal and ring seal vocalizations that is simply beautiful. It prepares a silence that is the hallmark of a fulfilled audience resting before an explosion of appreciation. Backing up from the concerto’s finale we find ourselves excited by a toe-tapping, percussive frenzy of rhythms driving in successive, serialist waves that rock the room like its back ain’t got no bone. And backing up towards the beginning we get broken bits of sound and silence that gather into oscillating melodies broken by guttural grunts, yells and cries by Kronos. Listening backwards or forwards, Charke’s music is about the freedom to be an individual, and the audience got it." – Stanley Fefferman, Opus One Review
"This composition was a gem of musical genius, embodying a vast variety of diverse emotions and themes into a single piece. The final descent from celebration led into a darker and mysterious theme featuring the soundscape technique with distinct seal, whale and dolphin sounds. This immense sense of imagination and imagery concluded the piece, earning the performers and the composer a well-deserved standing ovation." – Daniel Frasca, Bachtrack.com
"With this concerto, Charke staked out a vast sound-world as his musical territory. His horizons are very broad – encompassing not just the fragmented syntax of Widmann or the subtle timbres of Eotvos, but also familiar modal harmonies, a steady, danceable beat and even a dash of Hollywood film-score glitz. As if that weren’t enough, there was also some shouting from the orchestra players, and prerecorded seals and narwhals from Nunavut." – Colin Eatock, The Globe and Mail
Symphony no. 1 – Transient Energies
"His ear for instrumental tone as well as the shimmering timbres of natural sounds of automobiles, wind turbines, flowing water, gurgling oil, shovelled coal and the clatter of trains over buzzing steel rails is amazingly acute and all-inclusive... Consistently and forcefully, Charke marshalled them into order, while maintaining firm artistic control of imagery, shape and playability... Moments of extraordinary tranquility, as in the mystical vision at the end of the hectic fourth movement, echoed through the Mahler-esque cello solo, played so expressively by principal cellist Norman Adams in the melancholy first movement." – Stephen Pedersen, The Chronicle Herald
Falling from Cloudless Skies
"Derek Charke's “Falling From Cloudless Skies” was an enjoyable blend of electronics and orchestra. While the musicians played, Charke focused on his laptop, carefully executing more than 200 recorded sounds. The piece began with synthesized sounds and a mild pulse. Suddenly, it became chaotic as the audience was assaulted with full force chaos of the orchestra. There was a surprise when a recorded voice reported that a six-pound chunk of ice fell from the sky and that this and other extreme atmospheric events may be associated with climate change. The strings began undulating and the music took on a movie soundtrack quality. By the end of the piece, the orchestra sound had thinned out and the electronics had more prominently returned. It had an open feeling — perhaps the sky's relief after letting loose its ice chunks." – Chris Hay, The Manitoban
"Derek Charke’s smeared lines and quivering textures have an immediate appeal..." – Elissa Poole, The Globe and Mail
"The admirable simplicity of the concept kept the audience riveted on catching the tiniest details." – Stephen Pedersen, The Chronicle Herald
Time’s Passing Breath
"...and the contemporary Canadian composer Derek Charke’s Time’s Passing Breath, a piece layering the dual guitars atop a prerecorded bed of crystalline bells, their rings electronically stretched and skewed nearly beyond recognition. If such a diverse, enticing sample is representative of their repertoire, it would be surprising indeed if any audience member left without wanting to hear what other musical surprises the brothers Katona have up their black sleeves." – Colin Marshal, Santa Barbara Independent
What do the Birds Think?
"Among four newer pieces, only Derek Charke’s “What Do the Birds Think?” could be said to extend the modernist tradition. The work’s animated outer movements call for a catalog of unorthodox expressive techniques. In between, an onstage trio (alto flute with muted violin and cello) is juxtaposed with an offstage duo (bass clarinet and percussion). While physical separation was impossible here, the layered sounds still proved fascinating." – Steve Smith, The New York Times
"Structure is important to Derek Charke... Although his description of What Do the Birds Think? is almost impossibly complex, the results would be engaging no matter how they were created." – Bruce Hodges, Seen and Heard International Concert Review