The Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra's season premiere at Sanders Theatre Saturday night looked ordinary enough: a new work by a local composer, several songs and dances of Schubert, and yet another outing of Beethoven's Third Symphony which, for all its towering greatness, seldom gets played right.
But who could have guessed what surprises lay nestled in these straws?
Some promise lay in the fact that David Hoose - who last season led the American premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies's volatile opera ''The Lighthouse'' here - would guest-conduct. Hoose is a meticulous, inspired musician. On Saturday night, it became apparent that he is a young man we should, by all rights, soon be losing to a wider audience.
If truth be known, the Pro Arte doesn't quite have the horses to bring this program off; and there was some pretty shameful fiddling in one of Schubert's dances. But the orchestra played generally far above itself, as well as it did in a powerful Bach ''St. Matthew's Passion'' a couple of seasons ago.
Richard Cornell's new symphony, the program opener, marshals a brilliant collection of colors from the chamber-orchestra palette. Underneath the almost silken surface of the piece, the composer develops a good deal of energy and occasional power.
Later, Sanford Sylvan's light baritone ranged effortlessly and convincingly through the measures and emotions of Schubert's imagining. At times, his voice acquired an almost translucent beauty. Sometimes, it got into breathy affectation; but more often voice and orchestra joined in a moving unison.
The real surprise of the night came in Hoose's handling of the Eroica, the symphony that turned Western music on its ear. Hoose showed us a Beethoven who was not some Nietzsche-esque superman, but a Viennese composer with revolutionary ideas.
He moved into the piece quickly, almost tossing off the first two chords and sweeping through the four-measure opening theme. The fast tempo made increasing sense as one watched the movement unfold. The second movement, taken at an almost excruciatingly slow pace, showed a deliberate care in describing its mournful figures. The scherzo emerged from this melancholy setting - crisp, forceful, and life-affirming. Finally, in the fourth, came a compact, vigorous fulfillment of promises.
In the end, I was convinced that the performance Hoose conducted came closer than most to what Beethoven wrote.