Listen to music at SoundCloud (opens in a new window)
Derek Charke (b. 1974) is a JUNO and ECMA Award-winning composer, flutist and associate professor at Acadia University.
Derek Charke’s music is recognized as an original contribution to the Canadian music scene. He won the 2012 JUNO Award for Classical Composition of the Year for ‘Sepia Fragments’ (recorded by the St. Lawrence String Quartet) and the 2013 ECMA Award for Classical Composition of the Year for ‘Between the Shore and the Ships’. Additionally, two of his works, ‘Blizzard’ and ‘Between the Shore and the Ships’, are included on the ECMA Award-winning Best Classical Recording of 2013 (recorded by Helen Pridmore and Wesley Ferreira).
Although his music tends to defy categorization, it has been described as post-minimal, inventive, rich textured, full of colour, imbued with drama and rhythmic vitality and including a wealth of diverse emotions. Casting a broad horizon, his music encompasses both familiar modal harmonies, melody and a strong rhythmic pulse in conjunction with modernist techniques: serialism, a fragmented syntax and the use of extended instrumental techniques. Ecological sound, field recordings and a long-standing fascination with the Arctic are also important to his music.
Derek has worked with leading new music specialists including world-renowned artists like the Kronos Quartet, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis. His music has been heard in prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, Roy Thomson Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He has received grants and commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, Arts Nova Scotia, SOCAN Foundation, CBC Radio, Radio Canada, and others. What do the Birds Think? garnered a special mention from the Kubik Prize and his work Xynith won him a BMI student composer award in New York City.
Dr. Charke is an associate professor of Music at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He teaches courses in composition, theory, orchestration and contemporary music. He is Co-Director of the annual Acadia New Music Festival Shattering the Silence, an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the Canadian League of Composers. In 2010 Derek was a Distinguished Guest Composer at the Winnipeg New Music Festival and a Guest Composer for the 2010 Newfound Music Festival.
Derek’s composition teachers included David Felder, Louis Andriessen, Steve Martland and Cindy McTee. He held a prestigious four year Presidential Fellowship at SUNY Buffalo, as well as a NUFFIC grant from the Dutch government to study with Louis Andriessen. He attended the University of North Texas (during which he received the Outstanding Student in Composition Award and the David M. Schimmel Memorial Composition Scholarship), the Royal Academy of Music in London, England, the Koninklijk Conservatorium in the Hague, Netherlands, and the State University of New York at Buffalo where he received his Ph.D. in composition. He participated in various composition workshops such as the June in Buffalo Festival, the Array Music Young Composer workshop, the Sonic Boom Festival in Vancouver and held a summer composers residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
As a professional flutist he continues to perform regularly as a new music soloist and improvisor. He is a member of subText and performs as a duo with percussionist Mark Adam. He earned his Masters degree in flute performance from SUNY Buffalo where he studied with the late Cheryl Gobbetti Hoffman.
For more information visit www.charke.com
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
“It’s really one of the major, spectacular pieces that has ever been written for Kronos, I would say—and I think it’s a breakthrough piece for Derek Charke, too,” “It’s fun to play; I think there’s kind of an elemental quality to the music, and to the collaboration. It feels really great, to me.”
– David Harrington, Kronos Quartet
“I can really feel my home in the piece,” she adds. “He nailed it on the head.”
– Tanya Tagaq, Throat Singer
“Tundra Songs is a complex and ambitious piece of work, but the audience felt its impact on an emotional level and replied with an exuberant standing ovation”
– Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight
"Charke's style is not far out. He has a command of likable post-Minimalist techniques. He creates grooves. He matches string textures, through devices such as circular bowing, with atmospheric sounds.... “Tundra Songs” is the 600-and-somethingth piece written for Kronos over more than three decades – and another keeper. "
– Mark Swed, LA Times
“Tundra Songs was very effective in creating imagery in the mind of the listener. One could easily imagine the arctic tundra, open expanses, ice flow, and exotic wildlife. Although Tundra Songs was lengthy, there was never a dull moment it was the kind of sound that one would want to go on and on all night if it could.”
– Johnathon Bakan, San Francisco Examiner
"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
Cercle du Nord III
"The three-hour concert began with a few non-Indian works, including arrangements of short pieces by the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros and an Ethiopian composer, Getatchew Mekurya, as well as "Cercle du Nord III," an inventive, rich-textured score for quartet and electronic sound by the Canadian composer Derek Charke."
– Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
"Elsewhere on the program, Canadian composer Derek Charke's "Cercle du Nord III" wove Inuit throat-singing and barking sled dogs into a taped rhythm track that chugged along under toe-tapping minimalist writing for the quartet." – Joe Banno, Washington Post
"The quartet began the night with perhaps one of the strongest arrangements, Derek Charke's ‘Cercle du Nord III’.”
– Matt Sedlar, The DCist
13 Inuit Throat Song Games
"Canadian composer Derek Charke's 13 Inuit Throat Song Games, composed originally for the Kronos Quartet and re-envisioned for this concert, consists of thirteen evocative slices of Inuit life. Its 13 sections, with suggestive titles like Dogs and Story of a Goose, each flow into the next as one organic entity. The barefooted Tagaq's throaty voice provided both counterpoint as well as rising above the strings like a howling wolf."
– Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press
"...Charke's four Inuit Throat Singing Games (chosen from a longer compilation) was chiefly remarkable for the use of bowing techniques (circular bowing and a kind of scrubbing up and down), in imitation of the throaty, scratchy, in-breath and out-breath voicings of Inuit throat singers. ..."
– Stephen Pedersen, The Chronicle Herald
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
"More satisfying were Juliet Palmer's Starving Poetry for violin and marimba, whose structural clarity intensified the ache in its melancholy; Louis Andriessen's Dubbelspoor for harpsichord, piano, celesta and glockenspiel, which chimed patiently toward a grand melodic ending; and Derek Charke's Breakup, which came out of Charke's experience in the north. Charke wisely avoided the windswept cliches of northern soundscape and wrote about the dance in his heart in a well-formed work full of colour, drama and rhythmic vitality."
– John Lehr, Toronto Star