The conductor Richard Pittman could easily fill his New England Philharmonic season exclusively with performances of well-known symphonic staples, but he instead chooses to infuse his programs with a spirit of inquiry and exploration. It’s an approach that speaks for itself. Last year, when ASCAP presented 26 ensembles from around the country with its annual awards for adventurous programming, Pittman’s NEP won the first-place award in its budget class.
In addition to maintaining a healthy commitment to music by living composers, Pittman has occasionally tackled landmark 20th-century masterworks that might be seen as lying outside the purview of an orchestra with a modest budget, a handful of performance dates per year, and a mixed roster of professional, amateur, and student players. In 2007, for instance, the NEP gave the first performance of Berg’s “Wozzeck’’ heard in Boston in two decades.