Michael Berkeley (born 1948) is the eldest son of the composer Sir Lennox Berkeley and a godson of Benjamin Britten. As a chorister at Westminster Cathedral, singing naturally played an important part in his early education.
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 Berkeley began to concentrate exclusively on composing. 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 Berkeley’s music has been played all over the globe and by some of the world’s finest musicians.
His work has been commissioned and performed by artists including Andre Previn, Sir Colin Davis, Mstislav Rostropovich, Heather Harper, John Harle, Nicholas Daniel, Huddersfield Festival, Cheltenham Festival, London Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales (where he was Composer in Association for three years), Carducci Quartet and Nash Ensemble. His music is regularly heard at the BBC Proms, where his commissions have included large-scale works The Garden of Earthly Delights, Songs of Awakening Love and Concerto for Orchestra.
He has composed three operas: Baa Baa Black Sheep, premiered in 1993 and based on the childhood of Rudyard Kipling; Jane Eyre, his second collaboration with David Malouf, which has been produced in the UK, Australia and America; and most recently For You written to a libretto by Ian McEwan and commissioned by Music Theatre Wales which was also recorded by Signum Classics.
Berkeley’s significant orchestral work, much of his chamber music and his operas, is available on CD as part of the Chandos Berkeley Edition.
He has been was Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Music Festival, where he premiered over a hundred new works and initiated a policy of having a contemporary work in every programme, built the music programme for the Sydney Festival in Australia for three years and, with Judith Weir and Anthony Payne, jointly directed the Spitalfields Festival. He has, for several years, been the featured composer for the New York Philharmusica. He currently presents Radio 3’s Private Passions, which won the Broadcasting Press Guild’s Radio Programme of the Year Award in 1996, and for nine years was Chairman of the Governors of The Royal Ballet until 2012.
Recent commissions have included his oboe quintet Into the Ravine for Nicholas Daniel; Rilke Sonnets for the Nash Ensemble; a new anthem for the Enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury in March 2013; and Cabaret Songs for Barbara Hannigan and Angela Hewitt, premiered in Italy in July 2013.
Michael Berkeley was made a CBE for services to music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2012. He was appointed a non-party political member of the House of Lords in 2013.