The Berkeley Ensemble was formed by friends in a spirit of adventure. ‘An instinctive collective’ (The Strad), its members have come together from diverse corners of musical life to make music in new ways, reach new audiences and, most importantly, explore new repertoire, be it newly written or inadvertently forgotten.
Its acclaimed performances and recordings celebrate contemporary chamber music, especially by British composers. Since its founding in 2008 the ensemble has premiered over 40 works commissioned by or written for the group from composers including Michael Berkeley, John Woolrich, Lynne Plowman, Barnaby Martin and Misha Mullov-Abbado. The ensemble also champions unjustly neglected works and has given the first modern performances of pieces by Lennox Berkeley, Alan Bush and Dorothy Howell.
Its eight albums include 18 premiere recordings amongst a diverse catalogue ranging from Knussen to Beethoven and have attracted considerable praise. The ensemble’s recent recording of Beethoven’s Septet was lauded by BBC Radio 3’s Andrew McGregor as ‘inhabit[ing] the heart of this rewarding score with a grace and ease I found totally engaging’ whilst Lennox Berkeley: Stabat Mater was nominated for a Gramophone Award in 2017 and praised in the magazine’s initial review for ‘a performance of shimmering intensity’.
The Berkeley Ensemble regularly appears at venues and festivals throughout the UK including Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, St David’s Hall Cardiff, Wiltshire Music Centre and the Cheltenham, Spitalfields, and Lake District Summer Music Festivals.
The ensemble’s own Little Venice Music Festival provides a unique platform to collaborate and explore whilst engaging and entertaining neighbours of the group’s London base of St. Saviour’s Church, Warwick Avenue. Since taking on the festival’s curatorship in 2016, the ensemble has brought world-class chamber music right into the community, with guest artists including Imogen Cooper, Adrian Brendel and Laura Snowden appearing as soloists and as performers with the ensemble. The forthcoming 2021 programme will be inspired by the life and work of locally born codebreaker and father of modern computing, Alan Turing. Plans include duets with synthesisers, a composing project with local schools and a major new commission from Robert Laidlow, to be composed with the help of artificial intelligence.
Away from the concert platform, the Berkeley Ensemble works tirelessly to foster the creation, appreciation and performance of chamber music at every age, level and ability. Recent highlights have included collaborations with both PRS for Music and Tŷ Cerdd on professional development schemes for composers, as well as the release in 2019 of the first commercial recording of winning scores from the ensemble’s New Cobbett Prize for composition. For amateur performers, the group runs a chamber course in Somerset, as well as a series of study days in London.
Residencies and associations with schools allow the ensemble to help create and develop musical communities of lasting and ever-deepening value. The ensemble is particularly proud of its longstanding links with Ibstock Place School in Barnes, Queen Elizabeth School in Kirkby Lonsdale and Meath Primary School near Woking.
Meet the players