On Wednesday 3 February The Oratory ‘Head Master in Conversation’ series of events continued with Old Oratorian Lord Michael Berkeley CBE (1961-66) discussing his career and interests with Head Master Joe Smith.
The conversation, held virtually, got underway with Joe asking Michael about his lockdown experience before moving on to his time at The Oratory in the early 1960s. As expected, music featured heavily, as did rugby.
This led on to Lord Berkeley’s BBC Radio 3 programme Private Passions and his flair as an interviewer. Michael explained how, when talking about music, people often reveal more about themselves than they would during a straightforward interview.
Talking about Michael's hugely successful career as a composer, he spoke about the influence of his father, Lennox Berkeley and his godfather Benjamin Britten. Michael spoke at length about the arts, how creativity demands persistence and the effect of the pandemic on music and the arts.
Discussion turned to Michael's appointment to the House of Lords and in particular Michael's tireless work on topics such as FGM.
Questions were asked from the Oratory community covering topics such as the future for touring musicians, issues that Michael would wish to see passed by Parliament and the cathartic effect art has on people and society as a whole.
Thank you to Lord Berkeley for this informative and stimulating event.
A biography of Lord Berkeley:
An Old Oratorian (OS: 1961-66), Michael is a Composer and Broadcaster.
He 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 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 Michael’s music has been played all over the globe and by some of the world’s finest musicians.
Recent compositions include Magna Carta Te Deum, commissioned by Lincoln Cathedral in 2015 to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta; a Violin Concerto for the 2016 BBC Proms, which was premiered by Chloe Hanslip, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and Jac van Steen; and Haiku, a collection of miniatures for solo piano, which were premiered at the 2016 Presteigne Festival.
For ten years from 1995 Berkeley was artistic director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music. He is Chairman of the Governors of The Royal Ballet, was appointed a CBE for services to music in 2012 and was made an independent peer in the House of Lords in 2013.
He has presented one of BBC Radio 3's most popular and successful programmes, Private Passions (Sunday at 12 noon), for over 20 years.
The programme is recorded in his house and has included an extraordinarily contrasting list of guests, ranging from Isaiah Berlin to Stewart Copeland, the drummer of the Police, and from the Archbishop of Canterbury to John Bird and Stephen Fry.
“Music seems to connect us with what really matters, beyond the daily busyness of our lives, so when we talk about it we soon come to love and death. Over the years, acts of seduction, weddings and funerals have all loomed large; nonetheless, I can honestly say I haven’t regretted any of my guests. I enjoy the way they confound all the established musical categories, mixing up classical and jazz and rock music. Indeed they have sometimes made me overcome my own prejudices.”