Nothing in Boston feels routine this week, and this applied to Thursday night’s BSO concert as well. Wearing a bright colored Marathon jacket, assistant principal violist Cathy Basrak, who ran in this year’s race, explained from the stage that the BSO was dedicating its performance to all those affected by Monday’s bombings. (The orchestra also made free tickets available to that group.)
The program itself, devised long before the week’s tragic events, also happened to be highly unusual as it was performed primarily without a conductor. Modeled on a similar program last season, different sections of the orchestra were showcased separately, each in its own choice of repertoire, and then the BSO as a whole came together for the final work — Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” — itself a piece about the sections of the orchestra.
Throughout the night, spoken introductions from members of the various sections lent the concert a personal and refreshingly unscripted touch. In the classical music world, the relentless hyping of conductors alongside the formal choreography of concert life often has the effect of obscuring the rather obvious fact that orchestras are collections of individual musicians with their own distinct personalities. Hearing violinist Haldan Martinson speak with sincerity about his own epiphany in a Brahms symphony, or bassoonist Suzanne Nelsen joking about her childhood on a pig farm in Alberta, Canada, helped bring that point home to Thursday’s audience, which seemed to relish the night’s departure in tone.
There was also, by the way, a lot of enjoyable music-making. Trumpeters Thomas Rolfs, Thomas Siders, and Benjamin Wright teed off on Britten’s “Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury,” placing the final chord with impeccable ensemble, despite the fact that two players were separated on opposing balconies and the third was onstage. An octet of BSO wind players sauntered through Mozart’s Serenade No. 11 (K. 375), finding particularly winsome shapes in the long-breathing melodies of its central Adagio. The strings, for their part, delivered a tonally rich and palpably committed account of Dvorak’s Serenade (Op. 22).
For the “Young Person’s Guide,” the BSO tapped its own assistant conductor Andris Poga, leading the orchestra for the first time here with unflashy sensitivity and drawing a nicely pointed performance, with a few in the orchestra symbolically wearing running shirts. The evening’s other unconducted piece was Tippett’s dark-hued and thorny “Praeludium,” bravely taken on by the brass and percussion. Having Tippett represented was itself a fortuitous turn, as the three remaining performances of this program will be dedicated to the memory of Sir Colin Davis, who died on Sunday, and who, during his years as the BSO’s principal guest conductor, introduced so much of Tippett’s music to the Boston public.