is a JUNO and three-time ECMA award-winning composer and flutist. Derek has a catalogue of over 80 (available) works and many high profile commissions and performances, including several by Canada’s major Symphony Orchestras, the Kronos Quartet, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Duo Turgeon, 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 and post-modern, 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 a professor of composition at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, he is co-director of the Acadia New Music Society, and he continues to actively perform as a soloist and new music improvisor on the flute.
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) won East Coast Music Awards in the same category. His Kitchen Party CD, featuring himself and 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, pairs himself as flute soloist with the WIRED! Ensemble, conducted by Mark Hopkins.
Some of his work explores environmental issues. The most recent is Drift, a piano duo commissioned for the remarkable Duo Turgeon: Anne Louise-Turgeon and Edward Turgeon. Drift muses on lake effect snow and the concept of drift — i.e. to oscillate around a fixed position. Tangled in Plastic Currents for cellist Jeffrey Zeigler (former cellist of the Kronos Quartet) 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. Symphony No. 1 ‘Transient Energies’ for Symphony Nova Scotia explores a soundscape of energy production. 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 in 2006 by Mark Hopkins for the Acadia University Wind Ensemble, plays with ocean sounds, and is featured the Acadia New Music Society CD, Live Wired.
Another focus is purely instrumental music. 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. Wired and Wound is also featured on the Acadia New Music Society CD, Live Wired, and was recently nominated for a 2016 ECMA Award for Classical Composition of the Year.
He has written a number of works that focus on improvisation, including Beat, Oikos & Ecos, and Spin. In addition, 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. His flute works are available from the Canadian Music Centre (except for Raga Saat which is now published by Theodore Presser).
Derek has worked with the Kronos Quartet on a number of pieces including 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 lyrics by Laakkuluk Willamson Bathory. Tundra Songs was released on the Centrediscs label in 2015. His latest work about the Athabasca Oil Sands called Dear Creator, help us return to the centre of our hearts was premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2015.
Over the past fifteen years Derek’s compositions have included electronics, multi-channel spatialization, acousmatic, and interactive electroacoustic compositions using Max/MSP to pair live instruments and electronic sound. Works include his Symphony No. 1 for orchestra and 6-channel electronic soundscape, Tangled in Plastic Currents for cello and Max/MSP, Dear Creator for string quartet and soundscape, 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.
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.
Derek is an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre.