We caught the second orchestral program of the American Mavericks Festival at the SF Symphony and what an eclectic, puzzling, and overall exhilarating show it was. (The third program repeats tonight through Saturday). Chronologically, it was rather straightforward: from the most recent Cage Song Books (1970) back towards Carl Ruggles 1931 Sun-treader. In terms of dynamics, it was progressively ordered from very soft to very loud. But any other classification attempt fails, as each of the four pieces had a very strong, very idiosyncratic personality.

John Cage's most famous piece is of course his 4'33" where a pianist comes up on stage, sits at the piano, opens the lid of the keyboard, and then stays there for the duration of the title before taking a bow. Song Books requires more musicians, scores and stage directions, but it's related. It's a cross of performance art with reflection on the meaning of music. Some of it is overtly plain non-sense, or rather homage to dadaists and surrealists. Marcel Duchamp, he of the Fountain objet trouvé, is quoted by a musician spelling out his name with giant letter cards projected on a screen. Ready-made art, art found in common objects, it's all included in the piece.