Following study at Oxford University, the Royal Academy of Music and the Chopin Academy in Warsaw he became a freelance pianist, specializing particularly in song repertoire. He has collaborated with many vocal artistes, and was particularly close friends with the late soprano Susan Chilcott. Burnside is the Godparent of Chilcott's son, Hugh, and following her death in 2003 became his legal guardian. Other vocalists he has worked and recorded with include Laura Claycomb, Matthew Rose, Roderick Williams, with whom he has recorded the complete Finzi songs for baritone voice and most recently Sarah Connolly, with a release of songs by Korngold. After presenting the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, he became a presenter on Radio 3, for many years fronting the weekly song-orientated show Voices for which he won a Sony Radio Award. Since then, he presents an eponymous show on Sunday mornings.