But there wasn't a note of music in John Cage's Song Books - lots of gibberish, plenty of nonsense, and a whole lot of balderdash, but no music whatsoever. There were texts "sung" by three women to any random vocal noise that went through their heads. In the case of Jessye Norman, that'd be quasi-operatic howling. In the case of Joan La Barbara, that'd bleeps, bloops, and burps. In the case of Meredith Monk, that'd be screams, screeches. and shrikes. These noises were accompanied by a handful of musicians from the orchestra making occasional noises on their instruments or anything else that came to hand, including a basketball. And for all the work's half-hour duration, the performers wandered aimlessly across an onstage set reminiscent of a very cheap off-off-Broadway production.
The first two minutes of this farrago was fairly funny - especially Monk's chicken-imitation. But it was annoying after five minutes, irritating after ten minutes, infuriating after fifteen minutes, and it lasted half an hour. The Hill Auditorium audience gave it a standing ovation. I booed long and loud, the first time I've ever booed at a classical concert. Apparently, this cracked up Jessye Norman. I'm glad one of us was having a good time.
The second half of the concert was much better mostly because it featured real pieces of music. Henry Cowell's Synchrony based on a theme familiar from Stravinsky was essentially a one-movement Russian symphony tarted up with tone clusters. It was no better than Cowell's Piano Concerto performed the night before, but no worse, either.