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Article by Giles Dawson in 'Oremus' magazine, May 2017 (By kind permission)

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Reminiscences by composer Michael Berkely 2019

George was easily one of the most profound influences on my musical voice. In the mid 50’s when I was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral and he was the Master of Music, George treated us as professional musicians from whom he expected, and got, the highest of standards. Mistakes would be met by a terrifying and penetrating stare from his slightly wayward eye. He galvanised a desire to please, whether it be in the glorious Gregorian Plainchant that informed every service or the great masters of polyphony like Palestrina, Victoria, Byrd and Lassus whose masses and motets were ever present. Then there were the new works - two masses by my father, Lennox, and, famously, the Britten Missa Brevis which was recorded live with us boys lined up against the West End and George in the middle conducting from the organ with his back to the nave. It was precisely the forward mediterranean tone that George cultivated in us boys that Britten found so inspiring rather than the coo-ing quality of many cathedral choirs in those days.

How strange it was that many years later George conducted a work of mine with the Northern Sinfonia but I still felt a degree of nerves as I was fixed with that stare and asked if I REALLY meant G sharp in bar 58?

I am in the process of writing more about George but this will suffice for now save to say what a privilege it was to sing under his direction during some of the most formative years of one’s life, experiences for which I will be eternally grateful.

 

Nov 2019

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