Michael Berkeley celebrated his 50th birthday on 29 May.
The eldest son of the composer Lennox Berkeley he studied composition singing and piano at
the Royal Academy of Music but it was not until his late twenties, when he went to study
with Richard Rodney Bennett, that he began to concentrate exclusively on composition. Up
until 1982 he was writing in a broadly tonal idiom and the climax of this period was the
oratorio Or Shall We Die? to a text by lan McEwan.
Since then Michael Berkeley's music has gradually undergone
a very considerable change and in pieces like Songs of Awakening Love (premiered at the
1986 Festival) his language has become more distinctive with the emotional quality of the
early pieces integrated into a tauter musical idiom. A harder-edged sound began to emerge
in works like Keening for the saxophonist John Harle Fierce Tears I and II for the oboist
Nicholas Daniel the Quartet Study and the two string pieces Coronach and Gethsemani
Fragment. In 1991 the Clarinet Concerto and a BBC commission for Lontano Entertaining
Master Punch gave a foretaste of the nchly-coloured score for the 1993 opera Baa Baa slack
Sheep which drew an enthusiastic critical response at its Cheltenham Festival première
and subsequent CD recording.
More recently his Magnetic Field was premiered by the
Vanbrugh Quartet the Nash Ensemble gave the first performance of Winter Fragments the
Takács Quartet premiered Torque and Velocity (in a Cheltenham Music Society concert in
this hall on 15 October last year) and Secret Garden was premièred by the London Symphony
Orchestra in January. On 8 August Michael Berkeley's first Proms commission The Garden of
Earthly Delights was premiered by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain with a
live relay on both Radio 3 and BBC2 television.
1995 was his first year as Artistic Director of the
Cheltenham International Festival of Music a position he has been invited to renew through
to the year 2000. His Radio 3 programme Private Passions (winner of the 1996 Broadcasting
Press Guild radio prize) and appearances on television reflect his own passion for
bringing a wider range of music to a wider public audience.