Luciano Berio's success as a theorist, conductor, composer, and teacher has placed him among the leading representatives of the musical avant-garde.
His style is notable for combining lyric and expressive musical qualities with the most advanced techniques of electronic and aleatoric music. Berio's logical and clear constructions are considered highly imaginative and poetic, drawing elements of style from such composers as Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern. Berio's early studies were with his grandfather Adolfo and father Ernesto, both of whom were organists and composers. His nascent career as a pianist was cut short in 1944 by a hand injury suffered during World War II. After the war, he studied counterpoint with Giulio Cesare Paribeni and composition with Giorgio Federico Ghedini at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi in Milan. In 1952 he received a Koussevitzky Foundation scholarship to study at Tanglewood under composer Luigi Dallapiccola. That same year he attended the first American concert of electronic music, given in New York by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky. Soon thereafter, with composer Bruno Maderna, he founded the Studio di Fonologia Musicale at Milan Radio. Under Berio's direction until 1959, it became one of the leading electronic music studios in Europe. There he attacked the problem of reconciling electronic music with musique concrète (i.e., composition using as raw material recorded sounds such as storms or street noises rather than laboratory-created sounds). Berio and Maderna also founded the journal Incontri Musicali (1956-60; "Musical Encounters"), a review of avant-garde music.
Berio taught at Tanglewood in 1960, at Dartington in 1961-62, at Mills College from 1962-64, and at the Juilliard School from 1965-71, where in 1967, he founded the Juilliard Ensemble. In 1972, he returned to Italy, and worked in collaboration with Pierre Boulez at IRCAM from 1974-80, as director of the electroacoustic department. In 1993-94, he was Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University and in 1999, he took over as interim director of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (and was elected its President and Artistic Director in 2000).He has received numerous awards, including Honorary Doctorates from universities in London (1980), Siena (1995) and Edinburgh and Turin (1999). He has also received the Ernst von Siemens-Musikpreis (Munich, 1989), the Prize of the Wolf Foundation (Jerusalem, 1991), the Leone d'oro from the Venice Biennale (1995), and the Praemium Imperiale (a Japanese arts and culture prize, 1996). Most recently, he received the Premio Internazionale Luigi Vanvitelli (Caserta, 2001). His works have been performed across the world by many leading ensembles, including l'Ensemble InterContemporain, l'Ensemble Musique Vivante, the Juilliard Ensemble, the King's Singers, the London Voices, the Pierrot Players, the Raschèr Saxophonquartett, and the Swingle Singers. Conductors of his music include Daniel Barenboim, Bruno Bartoletti, Pierre Boulez, Ernest Bour, Marcello Bufalini, Riccardo Chailly, Michael Gielen, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel, Diego Masson, Eduardo Mata, Hans Rosbaud, Paul Sacher, Leif Segerstam, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Ward Swingle, Edo de Waart, and David Zinman.