All of those who studied the 50 Set Works on the London board for A-Level music came across Berio's Sinfonia. The
A-Level Music course was, for me, a bit of a crash course in music history; I knew very little. I could find requested chords in scores within seconds, I could knock out a fancy chorale. My understanding of harmony and theory was there but I lacked the background knowledge of the repertoire, the canon.
The piece therefore was a bit lost on me. I liked what I was told about it, I liked what I saw and I was attracted to the fact that it seemed a challenge to understand, but I certainly didn't 'get it'. I don't fully now, but I've been privileged to sit within it 12 times now so I'm getting there. It's like Mary Poppin's handbag with its endless fruits -- it just keeps giving you things to understand and to discover.
John Axelrod (Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai, Turin x 2)
Ingo Metzmacher (La Scala, Milan x 3)
Edo de Waart (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra x 2)
Marin Alsop (Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra - Brazil x 3, Royal Festival Hall London x 1)
Nicola Marasco (La Fenice, Venice x 1)
The piece was written for the Swingle Singers in 1967 and the knowledge of the typos in the scores, what Berio meant, how it should be performed, what the markings mean, the best way to be conducted for different passages, has been passed down through the group as individuals have left and others joined. Jo Goldsmith Eteson, who has done it 35 times or more, must have the most knowledge in her head at present (I don't think the others will mind me saying that!) and effortlessly does the scarily exposed aria-introduction to movement five. Legend.