Reprinted from late editions of yesterday’s Globe.
The first half of Thursday night’s Boston Symphony Orchestra subscription program was incredibly refreshing, and it’s not hard to see why. After the Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly withdrew from both of his scheduled subscription weeks, the most recent in a seemingly endless spate of cancellations, the orchestra summarily scrapped the entire first half of Chailly’s scheduled program and replaced it with four conductorless works. That must have felt good. It also projected a message.
This orchestra has been officially without a music director for five months, but many of the players have felt leaderless for far longer than that. Thursday night they stepped out on their own, sounding at least a small symbolic note of independence and, through their choice of pieces, showcasing the ensemble infrastructure that functions reliably every week as star conductors come and go, or don’t come at all.
Lending to the night’s democratic feel, members of the orchestra introduced each work themselves from the stage, casting aside the feudal code of silence that holds whenever a conductor is presiding. Principal horn James Sommerville’s deadpan remarks at the outset even got the whole hall laughing. The BSO brasses and percussion opened the night with ringing accounts of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man’’ and Henri Tomasi’s “Good Friday Procession’’ from “Fanfares Liturgiques,’’ a rarity never played before by the BSO.
The woodwinds followed with a warm and buoyant rendition of Strauss’s early Serenade in E-flat (Op. 7), and then the strings took on Tchaikovsky’s weightier C-Major Serenade, with the musicians standing up. That such a simple move appeared as liberating as it did - other ensembles play standing up all the time - hinted at the hunger these musicians must feel for a break from the entrenched routine. The Tchaikovsky was the best thing played all evening, with the strings sounding rich and full, plush but never without definition. The ensemble work was generally excellent, with a delicately-spun third movement that showed a self-reliance born of professionalism but polished by necessity.
After intermission, the Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero led the one work that remained from Chailly’s original program, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.’’ Using a repertoire of gestures seemingly inspired by his personal take on primitivist ballet, Guerrero led a performance that clearly aimed to return this score to its roots in dance. It was a vibrant account, stronger in the bold and flashy moments than in the fine details or underlying organic coherence.
But it was the humanizing first half that left the lasting impression. The players were clearly energized; you could hear it in the lift of the sound.