The English composer and broadcaster Michael Berkeley is the eldest son of Lennox Berkeley and was born in London in 1948. A chorister at Westminster Cathedral, he began composing at the age of six, enthused with a love of music by his father and his godfather Britten, whose choral works he often sang with the choir. After studies at the Royal Academy of Music in composition, piano and singing, Berkeley performed professionally as a baritone and as a rock musician. From 1974 to 1979 he worked as a BBC radio announcer, later becoming a leading freelance radio and TV broadcaster. His composing career was profoundly influenced by studies in the mid-1970s with Richard Rodney Bennett, from whom he acquired the techniques of serialism and logical thematic development demonstrated in the String Trio, the Oboe Concerto and the Fantasia concertante. In 1977 Meditations won the Guinness Prize, and in 1979 Berkeley was made associate composer to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra; but it was the compelling oratorio Or shall we Die? (1982) to Ian McEwan's anti-nuclear text that first attracted international attention. The climax of his first, broadly tonal stylistic phase, it was followed by a more searching, emotional idiom, with works such as Fierce Tears I (1984), the Clarinet Quintet (1983), Songs of Awakening Love (1986) and Coronach (1988), a powerful work for strings based on a Scottish highland lament. The organ, clarinet and viola concertos (1987–94) continued to explore this expressive style with their combination of poetic intensity and expressionistic gesture.
Both the Clarinet Concerto and Entertaining Master Punch were preparatory essays for Baa Baa Black Sheep, Berkeley's highly acclaimed opera, which was later televised. This opera, about the boyhood of Rudyard Kipling with libretto by David Malouf, was premièred at the Cheltenham Festival in 1993. A similar concern with the private world of childhood imagination colours later works such as The Secret Garden, The Garden of Earthly Delights (aptly commissioned for the National Youth Orchestra's 1998 Prom concert) and a second opera, Jane Eyre, again to a libretto by David Malouf. Berkeley was appointed in 2001 as Composer-in-Residence for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, a 6 year appointment, complemented by a Professorship at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. He has championed new music as artistic director of the Cheltenham Festival and co-director of the Spitalfields Festival, London. In 1998 he was appointed Chairman of the Opera Board at Covent Garden and he has been a visiting professor at Huddersfield University.