Michael Berkeley

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Michael Fitzhardinge Berkeley, Baron Berkeley of Knighton, CBE (born 29 May 1948) is a British composer and broadcaster on music.

Early life[edit]

His father was the composer Sir Lennox Berkeley. Michael was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral, and he frequently sang in works composed or conducted by his godfather, Benjamin Britten.

Berkeley was educated at The Oratory School, an independent school in the village of Woodcote, near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. He studied composition, singing and piano at the Royal Academy of Music, but it was not until he was in his twenties, when he went to study with Richard Rodney Bennett, that he concentrated on composition.

Prizes and posts[edit]

In 1977 he was awarded the Guinness Prize for Composition; two years later he was appointed Associate Composer to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Berkeley was Composer-in-Association with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales from 2000[1] until 2009.[2] He also acted as Visiting Professor in Composition at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and was Artistic Director of the Cheltenham Music Festival from 1995 to 2004. In 2002 and 2003 he was also international guest curator of chamber music programs at the Sydney Festival, Australia's largest arts festival.

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to music.[3] In February 2013 it was announced that he would be made a life peer and enter the House of Lords as a crossbencher.[4] On 26 March 2013 he was created Baron Berkeley of Knighton, of Knighton in the County of Powys.[5]

He is a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music.[6] He is President of the Presteigne Festival of Music and is also a Vice President of the Joyful Company of Singers.


Berkeley's compositions include an oboe concerto (1977), an oratorio Or Shall We Die? (libretto by Ian McEwan) (1982), Gethsemani Fragment (1990), Twenty-One (1991), an opera Baa Baa Black Sheep (libretto by David Malouf based on the childhood of Rudyard Kipling) (1993). Orchestral works include Secret Garden (1997) and The Garden of Earthly Delights (1998) plus concerti for clarinet, oboe, and 'cello. In 2000, Berkeley wrote his second opera, Jane Eyre (libretto also by David Malouf), which was premiered at the Cheltenham Music Festival by Music Theatre Wales and subsequently toured around the UK. In October 2009, his chamber opera For You, again with Ian McEwan as librettist, was premiered by Music Theatre Wales. A projected opera of McEwan's novel Atonement with libretto by Craig Raine for Dortmund Opera has been shelved.[7][8] Berkeley has written a considerable amount of chamber and choral music, including the specially commissioned Listen, listen O my child for the enthronement of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013.[9] He is currently writing a Te Deum for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015, and a violin concerto.


He is also known as a television and radio broadcaster on music. He currently presents BBC Radio 3's Private Passions, in which celebrities are invited to choose and discuss several pieces of music. In December 1997, one of his guests was a 112-year-old Viennese percussionist called Manfred Sturmer, who told anecdotes about Brahms, Clara Schumann, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg and others so realistically that some listeners did not realise that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by Berkeley and John Sessions. Other Sessions creations appeared on Berkeley's show in subsequent years.


He was married to the literary agent Deborah Rogers until she died in April 2014; the couple had a daughter, Jessica.[10] Berkeley lives in Wales and London.


  1. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/now/sites/orchestra/pages/historynoflash.shtml
  2. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/orchestras/pdf/bio_now.pdf
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60173. p. 6. 16 June 2012.
  4. ^ "House of Lords, Official Website - New peers announced". Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 60462. p. 6195. 28 March 2013.
  6. ^ "Fellows and Honorary Members". Royal Northern College of Music.  An honorary Doctor of Music at the University of East Anglia and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.
  7. ^ "Atonement opera in the pipeline". BBC News. 19 March 2010. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  8. ^ "We’ve had the book and film, now it’s Atonement the opera" by Ben Hoyle, The Times (London), 19 March 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2010. Subscription required.
  9. ^ "Listen, listen, O my child". Oxford University Press. 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Richard Lea "Deborah Rogers, 'legendary' literary agent, has died", The Guardian, 1 May 2014

External links[edit]