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Britten Sinfonia performs Clarion Call and Gallop
A large chamber ensemble of Britten Sinfonia players gave two recent performances of the fun ride that is Clarion Call and Gallop. Also on the programme were Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's large-scale piece and movements from works by other celebrated British composers.
Haiku 2: Insects premiere: 'poetry and animal magic'
Soprano, oboist and harpsichordist Anna Dennis delighted in a varied recital from velvety Bach arias to new insect-inspired sketches by Michael Berkeley, and an emotional Elena Langer song cycle.
'Haiku 2: Insects' is a Britten Pears Arts commission, written for Mahan Esfahani. It is a work that naturally follows on from Berkeley's birds-inspired Haiku for piano. Also on the programme was Michael's 'Snake', and works by Handel, Bach, Elena Langer and Sven-Ingo Koch, performed by Nicholas Daniel, Anna Dennis and Mahan Esfahani.
'Haiku 2: Insects' premiere: 'poetry and animal magic' took place at Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Snape, Suffolk, IP17 1SP on Saturday 08 April 2023.
English Horn Expressions ‘Meditative yet Impassioned’
“Snake by British composer Michael Berkeley is inspired by a D H Lawrence poem called 'The Snake', which was read prior to the first performance of the work in 1990, when it was performed by Nicholas Daniel. The poem is also presented in the album notes. This is a piece of great charm, a variety of moods and it employs some effective glissandi. It has to be my favourite work on this disc.” –Geoff Pearce, Sydney, Australia, Classical Music Daily.
Michael Berkeley has been presented with a Doctor of Music (DMus) honorary degree by the University of Aberdeen.
Recording of Impromptu by Dario Vannini
A new recording of Michael's Impromptu for guitar is available on Sweet Bream, an album dedicated to Julian Bream and performed by Dario Vannini.
Michael writes: “On the morning of 15 July 1983, I was due to attend a celebratory event to mark Julian Bream's 50th birthday. I looked around for a suitable card and then decided I should write a musical one. Julian had had a long association with my father, Lennox, and premiered my Sonata in One Movement for guitar at the 1982 Edinburgh Festival. In the making of that I had spent many hours working with him and really getting inside the instrument. The Impromptu I created for Julian's birthday (a little vignette based on the musical letters in his name - B E and A) makes the most of his lyrical gifts and the melody heard in the treble part of the instrument reappears in the bass register. He later wrote to me to say that it would make a good encore piece, but it also works well with a more busy piece of mine, Worry Beads.”
The recording has also been played on Italian radio, in a series beginning on 22 August 2022.
Sweet Bream is available from Dot Guitar, email email@example.com
Creativity and government
Michael has spoken about arts education and the challenges facing touring musicians in the House of Lords. You can read his full speech here.
Academy Symphonic Brass online concert
Jörgen van Rijen conducted a varied programme of music for brass from the last four centuries. The concert included the world premiere of 'Out of the Depths' by Michael Berkeley for Bass trombone played by Michaias Berlouis. A huge, mythical creature is disturbed and stirs. The concert was live-streamed on the Academy's YouTube channel.
World Premiere of Two as One at Tetbury Music Festival
The Tetbury Music Festival's Gala Concert featured the World Premiere of 'Two as One’ with Carolyn Sampson (soprano) and Tim Mead (countertenor). It is a new companion piece to Michael Berkeley's Touch Light, which was also performed. Touch Light was originally commissioned for the 2005 festival to celebrate the marriage of Katie Smith and Jonnie Wake, and was first performed by the Kings Consort, Lorna Anderson and Robin Blaze, directed by Robert King. The new work was commissioned to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Martin and Elise Smith.
More love songs, duets and operatic interludes by GF Handel, and Purcell's Trio Sonata complete the programme. The concert was given by by members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, led by Margaret Faultless (violin) and directed by Jonathan Cohen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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. ’
‘ 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?' ’
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.
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