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Lake District Summer Music: Three Moods
A programme of masterworks for oboe interlaced with connections – Lennox Berkeley first met Poulenc while a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and the neo-baroque Petite Suite was composed at this time. Four years later, and five years before they met, Britten heard it, noting his enthusiasm in his diary. Britten and Berkeley subsequently had a close professional and personal relationship, and Britten became godfather to Lennox’s son, Michael.
The first of two concerts (the second on 11 August) in a mini-residency marking the Berkeley Ensemble's LDSM début, but not its first visit to the district: for many years it was ensemble-in-residence at Queen Elizabeth School. Ibert’s WW1 bonne bouche 'Souvenir for string quartet & double bass' prepares us for a père et fils conjunction: Michael’s 'Clarion Call and Gallop' was written for this eponymous group while Lennox’s work, the Sextet, was created by its forebears, the Melos Ensemble. Beethoven may have grown to despise the success of his Septet –’That damned thing! I wish it were burned!’– but we have cause to be grateful that it was not. In ‘Home-Thoughts, from Abroad’ poet Robert Browning writes of ‘the wise thrush... [who] sings each song twice over, lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture!’. Toby Young’s dramatic curtain-raiser, also written for tonight’s players, was inspired equally by this poem and by tonight’s closing work. [Synopsis by Lake District Summer Music]
This opening performance of the 2017 Presteigne Festival brings together music by two Masters of the Queen’s Music, new version of a work specially composed for the 2007 Presteigne Festival by our President, Michael Berkeley, and Francis Poulenc’s delightful Sextet. The brilliantly innovative Berkeley Ensemble are joined by outstanding young mezzo Rebecca Afonwy-Jones for a concert performance of an extraordinary music drama for voice and instrumental ensemble by Judith Weir. With a libretto by the composer herself, 'The Consolations of Scholarship' is based closely on the Yuan dramas The Orphan of Chao (by Chi Chun-hsiang) and the anonymous 'A Stratagem of Interlocking Rings'.
2016 was a busy year for Michael and his music. Following very successful performances of Touch Light and the Lennox Berkeley Stabat Mater on Good Friday at the Aldeburgh Easter Music Festival, Typewriter Music received its public premiere in Australia, performed by Jenny Duck-Chong (mezzo-soprano) and Geoffrey Gartner (cello). Touch Light and Stabat Mater then moved to the Spitalfields and Cheltenham Festivals with Michael's Catch Me If You Can in the London concert and his Clarinet Quintet at Cheltenham. Next came the World Premiere of his Violin Concerto at the Proms and then in August new piano pieces, Haiku, for the Presteigne Festival (where the Clarinet Quintet was again heard but with different players). For more details of these and several other dates and the artists involved please see our Events page.
Touch Light is 'Beautifully created rapture'
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
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.