It was "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" with a vengeance yesterday, with "Sweeney Todd" in the afternoon and "Coro" at night.
Boos and bravos mingled in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall when Lorin Maazel ended the first (and probably last) Washington performance of "Coro" by Luciano Berio. The bravos outlasted the boos. But by that time more than 70 people had gotten up and left during the course of the hour-long avant-garde score.
Maazel conducted 44 members of the Cleveland Orchestra and the 40-voice Cologne Radio Chorus in a reading that was at once explicit and expressive. But there are problems in the work itself that militate against its ever becoming even an occasional visitor to the repertoire. Inspired by texts drawn from folk poetry and the writings of Pablo Neruda, the music is so constructed that the words are nearly always unintelligible. Even though the audience heard the text read before the performance and had most of it in their programs, there was no way of keeping in touch with what was going on. It was like trying to follow an unfamiliar road without map or markers.
The music exists in space in a way unlike any other. Each singer sat next to the instrument his voice most closely matched. Players and singers were spread out across the stage on risers. Many singers had tuning forks with which they checked from time to time. One of their more unusual techniques involved singing while patting their mouths as rapidly as possible.
Often the music was one hugh cloud of sound, seemingly suspended in time and space. There were moments of great beauty in choral writing and now and then from a solo flute, cello or the pivotal piano. But there were also vast eruptions of sound that were to many ears sheer noise. It was at these moments that the unhappier patrons got up and left.