Michael Berkeley’s Collaborations

Collaborations Orchid Classics album cover

On June 14th 2024 Orchid Classics released Collaborations, a disc of Michael Berkeley works from throughout his life, from youth to the present day, and featuring friends for whom he has written:

Clare Hammond plays Haiku 1: Birds. Madeleine Mitchell plays Notes on the Loss of a Friend. Mahan Esfahani plays Haiku 2: Insects. Alice Coote and Julius Drake perform the song cycle Speaking Silence (a live BBC recording of the first performance in 1995). Robert Plane, Rachel Roberts and Chris Hopkins give the first live performance of The Magnolia Tree.

The BBC Singers with Joshua Ryan (organ) conducted by Owain Park sing a selection of sacred works: Super Flumina Babylonis, Released by Love, Cradle Song and Listen, Listen O My Child.

Neil Tennant provides the lyrics and vocals for Zero Hour, a song for Ukraine, which has already been streamed over 60,000 times. Joining Michael and Neil, David Gimour contributes a typically idiosyncratic guitar solo and additional vocals.

In addition to these pieces there is a free download of the Magna Carta Te Deum.

The Sunday Times has chosen the disc as one of its best classical albums of 2024.

Left quote Two collections of keyboard miniatures depict the natural world — the superior, spikier one is Insects, performed by the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. Pendant-style choral works performed by the BBC Singers show the slow evolution of Berkeley’s sparer language. The jewel in this set is a 1995 recording (unreleased until now) of the song cycle Speaking Silence, settings of poetry on lost love that burst into flame thanks to the ardent delivery of the mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, who was then on the brink of stardom.Right quote —The Sunday Times. Read full review

Left quote Intriguing, unusual and attractive albumRight quote —Richard Fairman, The Financial Times Star icon Star icon Star icon Star icon Read full review

English guitar concert at Presteigne Festival

The world premiere of Michael Berkeley's 'Morning Star' for guitar is performed by Paul Galbraith, alongside works by Dowland, Sally Beamish, Lennox Berkeley and Benjamin Britten. Note the festival bus departs Presieigne at 2.20pm.

Michael Berkeley writes: "I began sketching this 7- to 8-minute piece in 2022 having come across a recording of Julian Bream premiering my 'Sonata in One Movement' at the 1982 Edinburgh Festival. I had spent some time with Julian, as had my father, Lennox, learning about how to write for what Julian called ‘The Old Box’. Several of the ideas in the Sonata and in Craig Ogden’s subsequent recording of Lennox’s and my guitar music (Chandos) struck me as being starting points for a new piece, for example, the melodic intervals and the use of repeated notes which is such a hallmark of the Spanish repertoire. I sent a draft to the guitarist Paul Galbraith who I have long admired and he suggested minor changes to a couple of bars.

The Morning Star becomes visible just before sunrise and is thus a harbinger of dawn and daylight. The music starts with a mere glimmer before the repeated notes assert themselves. I particularly like to contrast the natural voice of the strings with their ability to take on a more metallic, edgy sound. The singing quality of the instrument comes to the fore in a middle section that is marked subito calmo, dolce e cantabile. This melody returns before the star ascends into the stratosphere and disappears."

English guitar concert at Presteigne Festival takes place at St. Michael's Church, Discoed, Wales on Thursday 22 August 2024 at 3.00PM.

Tickets available from Presteigne Festival, Tel: 01544 267800.

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.

The Guardian (see reviews)

'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’

English Horn Expressions

“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.

English Horn Expressions was released in February 2023.

Michael awarded Honorary Degree

Michael Berkeley has been presented with a Doctor of Music (DMus) honorary degree by the University of Aberdeen.

Recording of Impromptu by Dario Vannini

Sweet Bream album cover. Album dedicated to Julian Bream and performed 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 staff.dotguitar@gmail.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.

Academy Symphonic Brass online concert took place at Royal Academy of Music, London on Friday 01 October 2021.

Out of the Depths by Michael Berkeley for Bass trombone played by Michaias Berlouis
Carolyn Sampson, Tim Mead and members of the OAE directed by Jonathan Cohen following premiere of Two as One at Tetbury Festival
Carolyn Sampson, Tim Mead and members of the OAE directed by Jonathan Cohen following premiere of Two as One at Tetbury Festival

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.

World Premiere of Two as One at Tetbury Music Festival took place at Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Mary Magdalen, Church Street, Tetbury, Gloucestershire, GL8 8JG on Saturday 02 October 2021.

Adam Brown performs Impromptu for guitar

New video performance of Three Rilke Sonnets

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.

Concerts may be viewed by clicking the links at the bottom of this page. The full line-up, together with programme notes, biographies and other information is available in the online Presteigne Digital Programme Book.

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.

Holstebro International Festival

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.

Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake live at Wigmore Hall recorded at Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 2BP broadcast on Thursday 04 June 2020.

A Dark Waltz recorded for new Many Voices disc

Many Voices album cover

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

Michael Berkeley (left) with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales

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.

The Berkeley Ensemble - celebrating their 10th anniversary - returns to the Resonus Classics label following their critically acclaimed recording of Lennox Berkeley's chamber music.

The disc has received widespread and unanimous praise in the Sunday Times, Observer, BBC Music Magazine, The Gramophone and from several online reviewers.

Winter Fragments is available from Resonus Classics.

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.

Michael Berkeley (centre) with the Private Passions production team and Radio 3 controller, Alan Davey (left)
Michael Berkeley (centre) with the Private Passions production team and
Radio 3 controller Alan Davey (left)