December 2012

Your hearing!

Calling all musicians and music lovers, not to mention everyone else who wants to retain their hearing. Michael made a programme for Radio 4, broadcast on Tuesday December 4 2012 at 16:00 showing how the misdagnosis of a virus from a common cold can lead to permanent hearing loss.

How the 9 million people in this country (yes – that's 9-10% of the population) who wrestle with hearing problems but do not get amplification could be risking other cognitive impairment and even dementia, according to the latest research.

How (yes, you have guessed) the level at which we listen to music (particularly on ear buds and particularly distorted pop sounds) is, according to the leading researcher in the field) "a time bomb of hearing loss".

Michael made this programme purely because if he can help stop just one person from undergoing the hearing loss he suffered (through GP ignorance of the subject) it will have been worthwhile.

It is ultimately a redemptive, if frightening, programme because composers can write from their head but also because the brain has the plasticity to re-wire, re-process the hearing of music and filter out distortion and especially if its owner is a musician.

February 2012

Sounding Off

Michael Berkeley writes in the BASCA house magazine, The Works, on the vanishing sources of commissioning money for composers

Presenting the British Composer Awards gave me the chance to highlight a subject that causes me considerable concern and should worry composers and publishers throughout the country.

In a time of economic austerity the arts are, of course, going to have to share the pain of diminished funding as is everything else, though one might argue that never have the arts been more needed.

Having been on both sides of the commissioning fence (composer and assessor) I feel that the ability to support the creation of new work, especially for young composers, is a vital part of our cultural life.

The fact is that, even without the cuts, commissioning money has deteriorated in the last few years by quite staggering proportions; indeed as much as 70 per cent in some cases.

What are the main sources of funding for commissions?

On the whole, therefore, a huge swathe of commissioning money has already gone and what is left tends to be focused on a small group of exceptionally talented and established names. That is important but it tends to reinforce the status quo and leaves nowhere to go for groups who want to take risks and commission up-and-coming but relatively unknown composers. Even a group like the Nash Ensemble is unable to commission as it has in the past and as it should and would like to in the future.

Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to find that I have infuriated some mandarin into writing a riposte disputing what I say. I would so love to be proved wrong but my experience at the coal face leads me to believe that we are in very worrying times for composers and that we need to make our voice heard. I hope BASCA will lead the way.

January 2012

Royal Ballet

Throughout his career Michael has been passionate about dance. His first string quartet was written for dance, which Michael Pink choreographed for Northern Ballet Theatre. He then collaborated on two projects with the great dancer Lynn Seymour — Bastet, a 30-minute ballet for the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet, and The Mayfly, a short piece for children and Wayne Sleep, for the remarkable, one-off Nether Wallop Festival. Most recently Michael created a complete score from the film cues that Prokofiev composed for a 1936 film, the Queen of Spades. The ballet Rushes - Fragments of a Lost Story was choreographed by Kim Brandstrup and included several stars of the Royal Ballet, including Carlos Acosta, Alina Cojocaru and Tamara Rojo. The score was highly praised and has now been recorded in a slightly different form with the title Symphonic Suite adapted from the Queen of Spades. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is conducted by Neeme Järvi on Chandos 10519.

Michael Berkeley was Chairman of the Governors of the Royal Ballet until 2012 with responsibility for overseeing the legacy and standards bequeathed by Dame Ninette de Valois to the Royal Ballet, what is now Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School.