The odd program began with Weber's exhilarating and lyrical Euryanthe Overture (once a familiar concert piece) and the Norwegian virtuoso Leif Ove Andsnes in a sparkling Beethoven First Piano Concerto, and ended with a truly musical (rather than cartoonish) performance of Richard Strauss's famous, darkly comical tone poem, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks.
The following week, in response to the unfortunate cancellation of Riccardo Chailly, one of the leading candidates to replace James Levine as BSO music director, the BSO came up with another unusual program. The first part of the program consisted of conductorless performances by sections of the orchestra. Principal horn player James Sommerville, pointing out that there would be "no guy on a box with a stick," introduced Copland's ubiquitous Fanfare for the Common Man and the very first BSO performance of Henri Tomasi's Good Friday Procession, the fourth of his 1947 "Fanfares liturgiques" from his opera Don Juan de Mañera (brass and percussion). Principal flute Elizabeth Rowe was more excited about the wind section performing Richard Strauss's early Serenade in E flat for 13 Wind Instruments than I was about hearing this mild piece, however refined the performance. Most remarkable was Tchaikovsky's gorgeous and moving String Serenade in C, which George Balanchine choreographed in his famous ballet Serenade. The large contingent of strings, everyone but the cellists standing (a first for BSO strings), with Malcolm Lowe as concertmaster, was virtually impeccable in coordination and intonation, and was given intense emotional charge. All the players in this part of the program seemed to be having a field day.
The second part of the program was unchanged: Stravinsky's Lesacre du printemps, which despite its numerous BSO performances still requires a taskmaster conductor to get through its rhythmic and sonic intricacies. The BSO invited the young Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero to replace Chailly, and he did a literally sensational job, sensation itself being one of his major intentions. From the moment of principal bassoonist Richard Svoboda's opening lament, there was always something percolating, something not only happening but about to happen. Tingling bells and demonstrative bass pizzicatos seemed to wave at us from the orchestra, as if for the very first time. The weighty percussive tread and ferocious, almost maniacally primitive discords took us back to pagan Russia, and maybe even earlier. Guerrero's sweeping gestures were always pointedly aimed at often-overlooked orchestral details, now suddenly sounding. This was not exactly the most refined Sacre, but it was refreshing and powerful, a reminder of what might have been going through the minds of the original audience at that notorious 1913 Paris riot. At Symphony Hall, the audience seemed blown away.
David Hoose called his latest Cantata Singers program "The Astonished Breath." Moving from their usual Jordan Hall venue to the First Congregational Church in Cambridge, not one of the area's better acoustical environments but less bad for choral than instrumental works, the 16-voice chorus — a cappella in the transliterated Russian of Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Choir (1984-85) and lightly, astringently punctuated by Ian Watson's organ in Arvo Pärt's Berliner Messe (a 1997 revision of his piece from 1990) — faced enormous rhythmic and especially harmonic challenges.