Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia

A landmark in 20th century music

Premiered in 1968 and finally completed in 1969, Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia for Eight Voices and Orchestra is a kaleidoscope of ideas that is both intellectually playful and viscerally powerful. The vocal parts were originally written for The Swingle Singers (now The Swingles), and over five decades the group has built up an unrivalled understanding of the piece and its technical demands. As Sinfonia’s 50th anniversary approaches, they look forward to bringing it to new audiences around the world.

Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 125th anniversary, Sinfonia is written in five movements. In the central third movement, Berio uses Mahler’s 2nd Symphony as the framework for a journey through 400 years of Western music. The amplified voices are both an extra section of the orchestra and a dramatic chorus as they sing, scat, whisper, shout and recite fragments of text over increasingly chaotic textures. The result encapsulates the turmoil of the 1960s, offering a commentary on the symphonic tradition while opening up exhilarating possibilities for the future.

As a group that continually strives to innovate, The Swingles love returning to the revolutionary Sinfonia, which they perform as eight singers. Although the ensemble’s line-up changes over the years, each of the current members is an experienced Berio performer and highly responsive to the interpretations of different conductors and orchestras. The piece is approximately 40 minutes in length, and works ideally as one half of a concert, programmed alongside orchestral pieces and/or pieces from The Swingles’ a cappella and light orchestral programmes.

 Reviews of recent Sinfonia performances:

“The legendary Swingle Singers, in their latest incarnation, navigated the dauntingly virtuosic terrain with breathtaking and often quite beautiful results... The sound of the Swingle Singers remains uncannily close to the group's original membership, and hearing them work with MTT, as their elders once collaborated with Leonard Bernstein in the early days of the Sinfonia, was electrifying.”
The Bay Area Reporter (2016)

“...the extraordinary Swingles...” 
San Francisco Chronicle (2016)

“The Swingle Singers, who seem to own the piece, were in their element.”
Financial Times (2013)

 Backstage with Cristina Berio (daughter of Luciano) and Michael Tilson Thomas at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall in 2016.

Backstage with Cristina Berio (daughter of Luciano) and Michael Tilson Thomas at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall in 2016.

 The Swingles with Marin Alsop at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2013. Photo credit: OSESP

The Swingles with Marin Alsop at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2013. Photo credit: OSESP

Recent and upcoming performances of Sinfonia:

  • Staatsoper Hannover, Germany (2018)
    with Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester Hannover, conducted by Stefan Blunier
  • Auditorium Rai “Arturo Toscanini”, Turin, Italy (2017)
    with Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai, conducted by John Axelrod
  • Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, USA (2016) 
    with San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas
    Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle / Mercury News / The Bay Area Reporter
  • Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Italy (2015)
    with Orchestra Filarmonica della Fenice, conducted by Nicola Marasco
  • Royal Festival Hall, London, UK (2013)
    with OSESP, conducted by Marin Alsop
    Reviews:  The Times / The Guardian / The Arts Desk / Financial Times
  • Sala São Paulo, Brazil
    with OSESP, conducted by Marin Alsop
  • Filharmonia, Wroclaw, Poland (2013)
    with NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, conducted by Ed Spanjaard
  • La Scala, Milan, Italy (2013)
    with Filarmonica della Scala, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher
    Review: Corriere della Sera
  • Marcus Center, Milwaukee, USA (2013)
    with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Edo de Waart
    Reviews: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / Shepherd Express
  • Cité de la Musique, Paris, France (2011)
    with Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris, conducted by Jonathan Nott
  • Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal (2011)
    with Orquestra Gulbenkian, conducted by François-Xavier Roth
  • Cividade del Friuli, Italy (2010)
    with Orchestra del teatro Verdi di Trieste, conducted by Paolo Paroni
  • Bucharest Palace Hall, Romania (2009)
    with Romanian National Radio Orchestra, conducted by Julian Rachlin
  • Vienna, Austria (2008)
    with Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta
  • Parco della Musica, Rome, Italy / BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, UK (2007)
    with Accademia di Santa Cecilia, conducted by Antonio Pappano