New video performance of Three Rilke Sonnets

Josipa Bainac and the Austrian Cultural Forum in London have produced a video of Michael Berkeley's Three Rilke Sonnets as a contribution to Austrian-English music cooperation.

Premiere of Insects performed by Mahan Esfahani

Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has given the world premiere of Insects, the new piece by Michael Berkeley, at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Insects was written for Esfahani, and is a work that naturally follows on from Berkeley's birds-inspired Haiku for piano. Esfahani is also a master in the performance of Bach's music, and this concert's programme also included the French Dance Suites.

Premiere of Insects performed by Mahan Esfahani took place at Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Snape Maltings, Snape, Suffolk, IP17 1SP on Sunday 18 October 2020.

Presteigne Digital Festival 2020

Presteigne Digital 2020 is an online festival celebrating a wide range of music, musicians and literature filmed specially at beautiful locations in Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Oxford and the Welsh Marches. It is welcomed by a specially composed fanfare by Michael Berkeley. Over four days in late August the festival broadcast eight concerts and three literary events, available to view online by a worldwide audience until 31 December 2020. The programme includes seven world premiere performances of Presteigne Festival commissions, together with several from previous years, contemporary British music and some great standard repertoire from Beethoven, Britten, Janacek and Schubert.

Concerts may be viewed by clicking the links at the bottom of this page. The full line-up, together with programme notes, biographies and other information is available in the online Presteigne Digital Programme Book.

Chamber version of A Dark Waltz performed in Denmark

Michael has composed a new chamber version of A Dark Waltz for Janne Thomsen and the Holstebro International Festival that took place from 1 to 4 October 2020. The piece will also be broadcast on Danish Radio.

Holstebro International Festival

Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake live at Wigmore Hall

BBC Radio 3 broadcast a live Lunchtime Concert from London's Wigmore Hall, including an extended version of Michael Berkeley's 'A Dark Waltz', arranged especially for Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake. The concert took place without an audience present, and is part of a series of twenty recitals - the first live concerts since the start of lockdown. The series features some of the UK's finest instrumentalists and singers in music from the 16th century to the present day.

Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake live at Wigmore Hall recorded at Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 2BP broadcast on Thursday 04 June 2020.

A Dark Waltz recorded for new Many Voices disc

Many Voices album cover

As part of the celebrations for London Music Masters' 10th birthday, ten of the most exciting emerging and established composers working in the UK today have created new works for children and young people. Michael Berkeley's A Dark Waltz is one of the pieces on the new release Many Voices. The pieces are inspired by, and dedicated to, the young musicians learning as part of London Music Masters' primary school music education programme. London Music Masters believes that by including the many diverse voices, perspectives and stories around us, the music created will resonate today and in the years to come.

— Article based upon a text by Colin Matthews, curator of Many Voices for London Music Masters

Prince of Wales discusses lifetime passion for music

Michael Berkeley (left) with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales discussed his lifetime passion for music with Michael Berkeley on Private Passions at Christmas. The programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 30 December 2018, and is available on BBC Sounds.

Winter Fragments disc celebrates Michael's chamber music

In the year of Michael's 70th birthday, the Berkeley Ensemble has recorded a selection of his chamber works from across the last thirty-five years, including the virtuosic Catch Me if You Can and Clarinet Quintet. The Ensemble are joined by mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron and conductor Dominic Grier for Winter Fragments, Sonnet for Orpheus, and the poignant Seven.

The Berkeley Ensemble - celebrating their 10th anniversary - returns to the Resonus Classics label following their critically acclaimed recording of Lennox Berkeley's chamber music.

The disc has received widespread and unanimous praise in the Sunday Times, Observer, BBC Music Magazine, The Gramophone and from several online reviewers.

Winter Fragments is available from Resonus Classics.

Summer 2018 concerts at Plush, Lake District and Presteigne Festivals

The Lake District Summer Music Festival opened on 28 July 2018, including three works by Michael Berkeley: Re-Inventions, Build This House and the world premiere of A Dark Waltz. On Friday 3 August, Tim Horton performed Haiku at the Plush Festival in Dorset in an innovative concert that mixes early and present-day repertoire including works by Stockhausen, Kurtag and Gedualdo.

On 23 August, the Presteigne Festival opened in Wales. Aside from a major appreciation of Baltic music, the Festival included a wonderfully wide variety of music – Coronach, Ode - In Memorium and Touch Light by Michael Berkeley together with works by J S Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert. In the Sunday Times, Rebecca Franks reviewed the Festival Finale, writing “Michael Berkeley's arresting string-orchestra Coronach ... a guttural eruption of grief meets the pure lament of tears.” And for the Midlands Music Reviews website, David Hart writes, “Michael Berkeley's Coronach (written for Presteigne in 1988) has a power that fully engages the emotions, which here reached its pinnacle in leader Anna Smith's intensely poignant solo.”

Private Passions wins Voice of Listener and Viewer Award

BBC Radio 3's Private Passions, presented by Michael Berkeley, has won the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. The programme came out on top in the Best Radio Music and Arts category, with other nominees including Desert Island Discs, In Tune and Soul Music. The nominations were voted on by VLV members and the awards were presented by broadcaster Jon Snow at the VLV Spring Conference in Piccadilly, London, on April 19th 2018.

Michael Berkeley (centre) with the Private Passions production team and Radio 3 controller, Alan Davey (left)
Michael Berkeley (centre) with the Private Passions production team and
Radio 3 controller Alan Davey (left)

Two Farewells receives world premiere in Moscow

Two Farewells for solo cello and orchestra revisits and recasts music written for cello in memory of the recently departed. It was created for the cellist, Boris Andrianov, for his Vivacello Festival which took place in November 2017 in Moscow.

The piece opens with an anguished cello line at the very top of the register, barracked by repeated notes on tympani and brass, a deliberate nod to the insistent use of repeated notes in Beethoven. This leads to the first Farewell, an orchestrated version of the melody in At A Solemn Wake for cello and piano which was written in memory of my first wife, Deborah Rogers, who died suddenly in 2014. Music from the opening is then developed, taking us to the second Farewell: Ode - In Memoriam, for solo cello but heard now in an orchestral setting. It was written following the early death of a dance collaborator of mine, Lesley-Anne Sayers who worked as a researcher at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where the piece was subsequently choreographed and danced. For me Ode also marked the premature passing of another close friend, Robert Sandall, who was rock critic for the Sunday Times.

Two Farewells is not then a concerto in the sense of conventional structure (it is in one movement lasting around 17 minutes) but the soloist does have the role of protagonist, in this case a grieving figure, and the orchestra, by turns, supports or acts as a counter force. In the Ode section I became particularly intrigued by the opportunity to add harmonies and counter melodies where previously they had only been implied.

In the closing pages the solo cello is confronted yet again by unyielding Beethovenian repetition. Indeed the score uses a classical orchestra as inherited by Beethoven from Mozart and Haydn - double woodwind, two trumpets, two horns, tympani and strings.

By Michael Berkeley, November 2017

Two Farewells receives world premiere in Moscow took place at Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, 4/31, Triumfalnaya pl., Moscow, 125047, Russia on Monday 13 November 2017.

• Michael Berkeley composer profile by Vivacello

Tre Voci's performance of 'Sonnet to Orpheus' is critically acclaimed

'Sonnet to Orpheus' from 'Three Rilke Sonnets' was performed by Natalie Clein (cello), Julius Drake (piano) & Fleur Barron (mezzo-soprano) at King's Place on Saturday 30 September 2017.

‘ Rapture was a mood struck often during the evening. It was there in the 2nd of Michael Berkeley's Three Rilke Sonnets, where voice and cello (the piano now silent) mirrored the tender feeling of loss in the poem. The ending, where cello and voice seemed to resist the urge to meet on the same note, and then finally yielded to it, was the most intense moment of the evening. ’

Ivan Hewett, Telegraph

‘ Perhaps best of all was Michael Berkeley's 'Sonnet to Orpheus', the second (originally for soprano and solo viola) of the composer's 'Three Rilke Songs' in which, seated side by side, Clein and Barron powerfully communicated the quiet pathos of the poet-speaker's search for the elusive, ethereal 'almost-girl' whose song invades his ear, 'Where is her death?', 'Where will I find her?' ’

Claire Seymour, Seen and Heard International

Touch Light and Stabat Mater disc shortlisted for Gramophone Awards

Delphian's 2016 release has been shortlised for the 2017 Gramophone Awards. Writing in Gramophone magazine, Marc Rochester described Touch Light, performed by the Marian Consort and the Berkeley Ensemble, as "a deliberate attempt to evoke the 'rapturous love duets' of Monteverdi and Purcell and 'a homage to these masters of early opera'. The musical language is far removed from the 17th century but the sense of great - almost erotic - rapture is beautifully created by ZoŽ Brookshaw and Rory McCleery in a performance of shimmering intensity." Read the full review here.

In a concert at Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh, Suffolk on March 25, Touch Light was partnered with Lennox Berkeley's stark and affecting Stabat Mater - the setting of the medieval poem reflecting on the suffering of Christ's mother by the Cross - commissioned by (and dedicated to) Britten, who conducted its UK premiere in the church nearly 70 years ago. Also on the programme was Lennox Berkeley's a cappella Mass, Britten's own settings of medieval poetry and the quicksilver exuberance of his youthful Sinfonietta. Performed by the Marian Consort and the Berkeley Ensemble, conducted by David Wordsworth.

'Stabat Mater: Sacred Choral Music by Lennox & Michael Berkeley' Delphian CD cover

After the performance the ensembles moved to Snape Maltings to record the Stabat Mater and Touch Light, together with Lennox Berkeley's Mass for five voices for Delphian Records, released on 22 July 2016.

"Commissioned by Britten as a "touring" companion piece to the first performances of The Rape of Lucretia in 1948, Stabat Mater shows Lennox Berkeley at his most beguilingly austere, with quasi-medieval vocal writing - Rory McCleery's alto solo is outstanding - fastidiously embroidered by chamber ensemble. His a cappella Mass and Judica Me are followed by a beautiful piece for soprano, alto and string quintet written for a wedding by his son, Michael." — Hugh Canning, Sunday Times

"Michael Berkeley's Touch Light (2005) looks back to the love duets to be found in the operas of Monteverdi and Purcell. His response is a rapturous one, richly expressive. The use of a soprano (ZoŽ Brookshaw), a countertenor (Rory McCleery) and a string quintet ravishes the senses. It's a wonderful way to end an enlightening and enriching release, which is also excellent in terms of recording and presentation." — Colin Anderson, MusicWeb International

Stabat Mater: Sacred Choral Music by Lennox & Michael Berkeley is available from Presto Classical.

Violin Concerto world premiere is highly acclaimed

Michael's new work, the Violin Concerto, has been received enthusiastically at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 July 2016. It is dedicated to the memory of Michael's late wife, the literary agent Deborah Rogers, who died in 2014. It was performed by Chloë Hanslip and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Jac Van Steen. The concert also included excerpts from one of the most dramatic and colourfully scored of all ballets, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, in a highlight of the BBC Proms series marking 400 years since the death of Shakespeare.

Michael Berkeley (left), ChloŽ Hanslip and Petroc Trelawny at the Violin Concerto Proms rehearsal in July 2016
Michael Berkeley, Chloë Hanslip and Petroc Trelawny at a Proms rehearsal

The Violin Concerto has been widely acclaimed by critics.

"Brittenesque in its haunting bareness and acerbic touches... [Berkeley] works like a master chef, seeking out ever more arresting combinations of flavours... Everything about it — perhaps especially the lacerating sound of the electric violin — paints a vivid, yet never over-sentimentalised, portrait of grief" —Hannah Nepil, Financial Times

"It certainly moved me, especially when the 25-minute structure finally reached its melodic core with the violin, lightly accompanied, echoing the theme of his earlier memorial piece, At a Solemn Wake. I cherished too those passing radiant textures, all the more precious for the minefield of explosions around." —Geoff Brown, The Times

"Hanslip takes up the raw electric violin for the finale, a ferocious outpouring of rage and grief, though a quiet coda in which she reverts to the standard instrument brings the work to a close in a mood of resignation. Her performance can only be described as a tour de force." —Tim Ashley, The Guardian

You can read more reviews here.

The Violin Concerto is published by Oxford University Press and is available for hire.