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Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
Michael Berkeley was commissioned to write a new Carol for 2016's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It was broadcast around the world on Christmas Eve from King's College, Cambridge.
The anonymous C1400 text, This Endernight, is unusual for a carol in that it articulates the voice of the infant Jesus in dialogue with his mother. Ender or Endris means past or recent. Maternal feelings of tenderness are in abundance but there is also a knowingness about the importance of the event that is unfolding. It is an upbeat lullaby which looks forward to heavenly bliss and so culminates in a radiant cadence.
2016 was a busy year for Michael and his music. Following a very successful concert on Good Friday at Blythburgh Church as part of the Aldeburgh Easter Music Festival, Touch Light and the Lennox Berkeley Stabat Mater 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.
Conducted by Thomas Van Haeperen, an ensemble from the European Contemporary Composers Orchestra (ECCO) performed six 21st century pieces by different European composers selected by the ECCO Artistic Committee, including Michael's Musical Chairs. Aiming to establish itself as a pan-European 'body of sound' dedicated to the performance, circulation and promotion of contemporary art music, ECCO had two very successful concerts in 2015 featuring ensembles such as Sturm und Klang and the BBC Singers.
The concert took place at the Flagey Cultural Center, Flageyplein, Brussels, on Tuesday 16 February 2016.
Angela Hewitt performs Cabaret Song in Vienna
Ian McEwan reads from his current book 'The Children Act' ('Kindeswohl'), from the German translation by Christiane von Poelnitz. Also on the programme Michael's song 'In love with the Nurse' (one of Three Cabaret Songs) and works by Bach, Britten, Mahler and Berlioz. Wiener Konzerthaus, Lothringerstrasse 20, Vienna, A-1030, Austria, Wednesday 9 December 2015.
St. Andrew's story told in new anthem
Wells Cathedral showcased new music from Sunday 11 to Thursday 15 October 2015. As the featured composer, Michael has written a new anthem which was premiered at Evensong in the Cathedral on Thursday 15th October. St Andrew is the patron saint of Wells Cathedral and The Tale of Andrew tells his story to words by Bishop Ken.
The anthem was performed again on 1 December 2015.
Re-Inventions performed by Britten Sinfonia on BBC Radio 3
The Britten Sinfonia performs works by Michael Berkeley, Nielsen and Patrick John Jones as part of their award-winning 'At Lunch' series in Cambridge. Michael Berkeley's Re-Inventions are based on the two and three-part inventions of J S Bach, whilst Uncanny Vale by York-based composer Patrick John Jones has pastoral influences. You can listen to the programme on BBC Radio Player until mid-November.
The King's College London Centre for Modern Literature & Culture has commissioned Michael and two other composers to set to music words by contemporary poets, to be performed by the renowned Greek mezzo-soprano Angelica Cathariou.
On Sunday October 11, Little Venice Music Festival welcomed violinist Madeleine Mitchell and pianist Viv McLean, performing music by Beethoven and Franck along with Veilleuse (Night Watch), a haunting work by Michael Berkeley, who is Patron of the festival. Also on the programme was a virtuosic work by Bridge from Madeleine's popular album 'Violin Songs', which she played to great acclaim earlier this year at Wigmore Hall. St Saviour's is a warm, comfortable venue, easily accessible.
Organist Tom Winpenny opened a short organ recital with Wild Bells at St Paul's Cathedral on 13th September at 4.45pm. Also on the programme was Saint-Saëns Prelude & Fugue in G and Willan's Introduction Passacaglia & Fugue.
Friday 31 July at 8pm, The Saloon, Duncombe Park, Helmsley, North Yorks, YO62 5EB
An evening of music and conversation with Michael Berkeley. He talked about his life in music and introduced performances of some of his own ‘private passions’, including one of Fauré’s most magnificent works. The concert also included the world premiere of At a Solemn Wake – a new piece for cello and piano commissioned for the Ryedale Festival.
The programme included works by Mozart, Lennox Berkeley, Bridge, Britten, Poulenc, Fauré and Michael Berkeley:
The Aeðelfrìth brass ensemble performed a programme with a medieval flavour on 24 July at 11am at the Joan of Arc Hall, Botton Village, Whitby, Yorkshire. After the sparkling Champagne Fanfare by Michael Berkeley, they played a new piece reminiscing Yorkshire under Viking rule – a ‘call to arms’ featuring a pair of Danish Lurs. The programme also included Music from Chaucer, a piece inspired by Tallis and a new work by Simon Dobson to celebrate the special atmosphere of Botton’s Joan of Arc Hall and Holst’s famous evocation of the northern moorland landscapes of England.
Aeðelfrìth is a brass ensemble-based arts project, named after an ancient King of Northumbria and exploring connections between Anglian, Celtic and Nordic cultures.
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."
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.