Michael Berkeley (21 March)

A familiar voice to Radio 3 listeners as presenter of Private Passions, Michael Berkeley was born in 1948, eldest son of the composer Sir Lennox Berkeley. As if this weren’t a sufficient composer’s presence in a young man’s life, his godfather was Benjamin Britten. As a chorister in Westminster Cathedral, singing was naturally an essential part of his musical awakening. Although he studied composition along with singing and piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music, it was not until his late twenties when he went on to study with Richard Rodney Bennett that composition took centre stage. The Guinness Prize for composition in 1977 and the position of Associate Composer for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra ensured his future as a full-time composer. His works have been premiered by – among others – André Previn, the saxophonist John Harle, Richard Hickox (who recorded Michael’s pacifist oratorio Or Shall we Die?), Sir Colin Davis and Mstislav Rostropovich. Music for radio and several films scores also form part of his works list (including Captive, with Oliver Reed and Irina Brook, Goldeneye, a dramatised account of the life of Ian Fleming starring Charles Dance, and Twenty-One, starring Patsy Kensit and Rufus Sewell). Other positions have included that of Associate Composer with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music for which he commissioned over a hundred new works, Featured Composer of the New York Philharmusica, Member of the Board of the Royal Opera House and Chairman of the Governors of the Royal Ballet. His second opera, Jane Eyre, has been recorded for Signum Classics.

As Lord Berkeley of Knighton, he has been a non-party-political member of the House of Lords since 2013 where he is a passionate advocate for the arts, contemporary music and music education, and an equally passionate opposer of Female Genital Mutilation.

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