Michael Berkeley was born in 1948, the eldest son of the composer Sir Lennox Berkeley and a godson of Benjamin Britten. As a chorister at Westminster Cathedral, singing played an important part in his early education. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and later with Richard Rodney Bennett. In 1977 he was awarded the Guinness Prize for Composition; two years later he was appointed Associate Composer to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Since then Michael’s music has been played all over the globe and by some of the world’s finest musicians.
Major works of the 1980s include Gregorian Variations, conducted in England and America by André Previn and the oratorio Or Shall We Die? (1982), to a text by Ian McEwan. The 1990s began with the Clarinet Concerto and Berkeley’s first opera, Baa Baa Black Sheep, based on the childhood of Rudyard Kipling to a libretto by David Malouf (Opera North). Secret Garden was premiered by the LSO under Colin Davis. In 1998, the BBC Proms commission The Garden of Earthly Delights was played by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain under Mstislav Rostropovich. Berkeley’s tenure as Composer in Association to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales brought commissions for three new works; the second of these, the Concerto for Orchestra, was first heard at the 2005 Proms. This piece, as with most of his significant orchestral work, much of his chamber music and his operas, is available on CD as part of the Chandos Berkeley Edition.
Berkeley’s second opera, Jane Eyre, with a libretto by Malouf, has been produced in the UK, Australia and America. For You is Berkeley’s third opera, for which he has also created a version for a larger orchestra opening in Rome in Autumn 2010. Future plans include a song cycle for Claire Booth and the Nash Ensemble, which will be followed by his next opera, Atonement. From 1995 to 2005, Berkeley was artistic director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music and he has also programmed music for both the Sydney and Spitalfields Festivals. He currently presents BBC Radio 3’s ‘Private Passions’ and is Chairman of the Governors of The Royal Ballet.