Michael Rafferty was born in Carlisle, Cumbria and read physics and music at The University of Lancaster studying violin with Galina Solodchin and Nicholas Roth. During his period of postgraduate study in Cardiff, he developed an interest in theatre and co-founded Cardiff New Opera Group with the stage director Michael McCarthy. Michael Rafferty made his conducting debut with the company’s first production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse. Further productions followed touring widely in Wales. At the same time, he was also active as violinist with several new music ensembles. In 1988 he co-founded Music Theatre Wales where he was Joint Artistic Director for more than 25 years.
Notable productions for Music Theatre Wales include the European Premiere of Philip Glass' The Fall of the House of Usher, Maxwell Davies’ The Martyrdom of St Magnus, the BBCTV production of Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse, Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy, Lynne Plowman’s Gwyneth and the Green Knight and House of the Gods, Michael Berkeley’s Jane Eyre and For You, Philip Glass’ In the Penal Colony, Turnage’s Greek and Sciarrino’s The Killing Flower. Many of his performances have been recorded on CD or broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Greek won the TMA Theatre Award for 'Outstanding Achievement in Opera' in the UK in 2011. The Watkins/MacRae Opera Double Bill was nominated for an Olivier Award in 2013 and MacRae’s Ghost Patrol won the South Bank Sky Award for Opera in 2013.
New music has also been an important part of his engagements with other orchestras and ensembles. These include Britten’s Church Parables for Opéra National du Rhin, the Canadian premiere of Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy, John Hardy’s orchestral score to the film The Life Story of David Lloyd George, Veryan Weston’s Songs from a Prison Diary (Le Mans Jazz Festival) as well as performances with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, London Mozart Players, Orchestre Symphonique de Mulhouse, Scottish Opera, Norway’s BIT 20 Ensemble, Musikfabrik of Cologne, The Composers’ Ensemble and PM Music Ensemble . For 10 years, he was conductor of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Millennium Ensemble. In total Michael Rafferty has conducted the works of over 90 living composers and more than 40 opera productions.
'In the end it is conductor Michael Rafferty to whom we should hand the victor’s spoils. He has not only understood the composer’s intent, empathizing with his special soundworld, conveying to young singers and instrumentalists alike how to phrase, how to breathe beauty into fragments, how to imbue a whisper with the power of a scream, but remains meticulously honest and loyal to the score. Here everything was in balance. Finally it was a case of prima la musica e poi le parole.'
Miranda Jackson, The Killing Flower, Opera Britannia, October 2013.