Two Farewells receives world premiere in Moscow

Boris Andrianov, Michael Berkeley and John Axelrod at the premiere of Two Farewells with the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Boris Andrianov, Michael Berkeley and John Axelrod at the premiere of Two Farewells with the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra

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

Cross Currents Festival of Contemporary Music

Clare Hammond
Clare Hammond

This concert features music by Michael Berkeley, Alexander Goehr and Robin Holloway at a new festival of contemporary music in Birmingham - ‘Cross Currents’ at the Barber Institute.

Cross Currents Festival of Contemporary Music takes place at Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TS on Wednesday 21 February 2018 at 7.30PM.

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 Zoë 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 (Zoë 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.

Clare Hammond (left), Robert Saxton (middle) and Michael Berkeley after premiere of Haiku at 2016 Presteigne Festival
Clare Hammond (left), Robert Saxton (middle) and Michael Berkeley after the Haiku premiere

Piano in the Afternoon

As part of the Presteigne Festival, this concert featured the world premiere of Haiku, performed by Clare Hammond and commissioned especially for the festival. Also on the programme were works by Henri Dutilleux, Robert Saxton and Igor Stravinsky.

Piano in the Afternoon took place at St. Andrew's Church, Broad Street, Presteigne, Powys, LD8 2AF, Wales on Friday 26 August 2016.

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. 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), Chloë 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.

Julia Donaldson and the origins of The Gruffalo

Julia Donaldson began her working life busking and writing songs, and when one of her songs became a children's book, her phenomenally successful career as an author was born. She's been the biggest selling author in Britain for the last six years. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has anything to do with young children, who adore her vibrant and funny rhyming picture books - which include A Squash and a Squeeze, The Snail and the Whale, and the tale of that much-loved monster, The Gruffalo.

Michael Berkeley and Julia Donaldson

On BBC Radio 3's Private Passions, Julia talks to Michael Berkeley about the origins of The Gruffalo - which has sold an astonishing 10 million copies - and the secret of writing for children. She remembers her student days busking with her husband-to-be in Paris and how much they enjoy singing and performing her stories together today.

Julia's music choices reflect her intensely musical background - her father's cello playing, her mother's love of lieder, and her own piano playing in pieces by Schubert, Haydn and Handel. Her love of storytelling is reflected in songs by Georges Brassens and Flanders and Swann.

Odd Man Out in Marylebone Edgelands exhibition

Edgelands is a cross-arts exhibition at St. Marylebone Parish Church Crypt, running from 14 April to 30 June 2016.

With six artists, twelve dancers, one viola player and the roar of the Marylebone Road traffic, the line-up is one of the more unusual cross-arts performances in London this spring.

The exhibition works explore and document the wastelands and neglected environs found on the margins of urban living. The dancers explore the spaces in and around the steps of the magnificent St. Marylebone Parish Church portico during the evening rush hour, with the accompanying sound of Michael's solo viola piece 'Odd Man Out'. The music provides a powerful, edgy soundscape. Moving down to the crypt there is a quiet coming together of sound, space and paintings.

Edgelands is a name dreamt up some 20 years ago to describe aspects of the changing face of Britain. The dance performance, choreographed by Lizzi Kew-Ross, is a realisation of the visual artists’ work and Kew Ross’s three-dimensional interpretations of mark and content.

A U.K. wide tour of the Edgelands exhibition will take place during 2016/17.

Odd Man Out in Marylebone Edgelands exhibition took place at St. Marylebone Parish Church, 17 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LT.

Odd Man Out dance performance outside St. Marylebone Parish Church Crypt in 2016
Odd Man Out dance performance outside St. Marylebone Parish Church Crypt in 2016

Nash Ensemble accompany John Craxton exhibition

To accompany an exhibition of the work of John Craxton at Dorchester County Museum the Nash Ensemble performed Michael's Oboe Quintet 'Into the Ravine' on June 19th 2015. This work was written in memory of Craxton who was a close friend of the composer. Craxton's sister, Janet, the eminent oboist performed many works by both Michael and Lennox Berkeley.

Audience member Christopher Daly commented, "Oboe Quintet 'Into the Ravine' had a particular presence in the elegant surroundings of the museum, and its sonorities and textures clear. The Nash were of course excellent, and the music really well received by a discerning and appreciative audience. It had helped my enjoyment to have viewed the John Craxton paintings beforehand. Liz Waller chose the programme well; fine works well contrasted."

Nash Ensemble accompany John Craxton exhibition took place at Dorchester County Museum, Dorset County Museum, High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1XA on Friday 19 June 2015.

Paddington film warmly received at premiere

November 2014

Michael Bond (right) with Michael Berkeley and Nicole Kidman at the Paddington premiere
Michael Bond (right) with Michael Berkeley and
Nicole Kidman at the Paddington premiere

The family film Paddington received its premiere at the Leicester Square Odeon on 23 November 2014.  The famous series of books upon which the film is based were written by Michael's brother-in-law, Michael Bond.  Despite feeling some trepidation at the prospect of a big-screen adaptation, and the fear that Paddington might be let down, he is delighted with the result, giving the film "full marks".  It has been acclaimed by critics too – the Telegraph proclaims it "a total delight", whilst the Guardian says "as warm as an eiderdown and as fluffy as its feathers"Paddington opened across the UK on Friday 28 November 2014.

Cycle of Songs celebrates Tour de France Cambridge visit

July 2014

Michael has composed a new work Build This House for Cycle of Songs, a multi-media project devised by the award-winning Pilot Theatre and Historyworks to mark the Tour de France visit to Cambridge on 7 July 2014.

Cycle of Songs showcases and celebrates the talent and diversity of Cambridge and includes many local people of all ages sharing their voice and celebrating the city in song.

Nine pieces were commissioned from a wide range of composers and poets. They were inspired by historical research and based on words from original sources of fascinating and quirky stories at iconic locations along the Tour's route in Cambridge.

Michael writes, "My composition for Cycle of Songs is called Build This House and was performed by King's College Choristers. I've scored the work to be accompanied by primary school voices. I always enjoy finding new ways to make music and particularly with young singers. I have created a piece that will work in various contexts and with various forces. I love working at King's - great architecture and wonderful musicians. With the Anthem Listen, Listen, O My Child, which was commissioned for the Enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I concentrated on paring things down and this new Anthem Build This House is modelled on a similar kind of skeleton."

You can hear the songs by downloading the free Cycle of Songs app. Apple users can download by clicking here and Android users can download it by clicking here.

• Michael's Listen, Listen, O My Child was included in a BBC Radio 3 broadcast from Canterbury Cathedral.

The Art of Fugue credits, Royal Opera House, 2014

The Art of Fugue at Royal Opera House

In the Royal Ballet's production 'Tetractys – The Art of Fugue', Michael collaborated with Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor to create 21st-century choreography set to Bach's 18th-century music. This exhilarating fusion took place between 7 and 15 February at the Royal Opera House as part of a mixed programme which also included the works Rhapsody and Gloria.

Michael's version uses a Mozart-sized orchestra and the piano has a prominent concertante/concerto role. On Monday 3 February 2014, Michael and Wayne spoke about their work at an event in the Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House.

In summer 2014, The Royal Ballet took the production to Moscow. You can read more on the 'reviews' page of this website.

The Art of Fugue at Royal Opera House took place at Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London, WC2E 9DD on Friday 07 February 2014.

Read more about the summer 2014 Moscow production.

Michael discusses Britten and Sir John Tavener

12 November 2013

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight, Michael reflects upon the life of his friend Sir John Tavener, who has died at the age of 69.

November 22 2013 marked Benjamin Britten's centenary. Michael, who was Britten's godson, has made several appearances in the media to discuss the composer's life and work.

On Thursday 21 November he appeared live on BBC Radio 3's In Tune at 4.30pm where he was interviewed by Suzy Klein.

BBC Four has screened the documentary Britten's Endgame where Michael talks about Britten's final years and the extraordinary creativity which led to the final opera Death in Venice.

On Sunday 24 November, BBC Radio 3's Private Passions featured Britten's music and was accompanied by a two-page interview in the Radio Times.

Michael joins Rayfield Allied

22 September 2013

Michael is pleased to announce that he has joined the Rayfield Allied agency. Established in 1971, Rayfield Allied is a highly respected independent agency for classical musicians, including conductors, singers, instrumentalists and composers. Its roster includes many distinguished artists, including the composers Harrison Birtwistle, Steve Reich and David Sawer.

New fanfare heralds Danish statue

2013

Michael was commissioned by the town of Holstebro in Denmark to create a fanfare to accompany the the daily rising from the ground of their wonderful Giacometti statue. It descends every night for security reasons. This brought to mind the statue coming to life in Don Giovanni so the Champagne Fanfare is inspired by the opening phrase of the Champagne Aria from the opera.

Champagne Fanfare has been recorded for Holsteboro by Onyx Brass and Michael has also re-arranged it for the National Wind Youth Orchestra's summer tour to Switzerland.

Michael joins House of Lords

March 2013

Michael was introduced to the House of Lords on March the 26th as Lord Berkeley of Knighton, CBE. He will sit on the cross benches as a non-party political peer. Michael is a passionate advocate for the arts, contemporary music and music education. Commenting on the news, he said he is "very honoured" to be appointed. "I am particularly pleased that the Appointments Commission was keen to increase representation in the field of music and the arts," he continued.

The appointment, which has to be approved by the Queen, is made by the Prime Minister on the recommendation of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. The entrepreneur and 'digital champion' Martha Lane Fox, who at 40 has become the youngest female peer, joined the House at the same time as Michael.

Michael's much lauded maiden speech can be read in Hansard (see subheading '14 May 2013: Column 284') or watched on Parliament Live TV (spool through to timecode 15:53:51).