The Handel and Haydn Society: 200 Years of History


Founded in Boston in 1815, the Handel and Haydn Society (H+H) is considered America’s oldest continuously performing arts organization and will celebrate its Bicentennial in 2015. Its Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus are internationally recognized in the field of Historically Informed Performance, using the instruments and techniques of the composer’s time. Under Artistic Director Harry Christophers’ leadership, the mission of the Handel and Haydn Society is to enrich life and influence culture by performing Baroque and Classical music at the highest levels of artistic excellence, and by providing engaging, accessible, and broadly inclusive music education and training activities. H+H’s Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus present live and recorded historically informed performances of this repertoire in ways that stimulate the musical and cultural development of our Greater Boston community and contemporary audiences across the nation and beyond.

H+H’s esteemed tradition of innovation and excellence began in the 19th century with the US premieres of Handel’s Messiah (1818), Haydn’s The Creation (1819), Verdi’s Requiem (1878), and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (1879). In 1967, Artistic Director Thomas Dunn transformed the chorus into a small, expert ensemble, and in 1986, Christopher Hogwood became Artistic Director and added period instrument performances. Music Director Grant Llewellyn (2001–2006) and Artistic Advisor Sir Roger Norrington (2006–2008) continued this tradition, as Harry Christophers, appointed in 2008, does today.

H+H is widely known through its concert series; tours; 99.5 WCRB, NPR, and American Public Media broadcasts; and recordings. Its nine-program series, held at Symphony and Jordan Halls in Boston and Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, reaches 2,700 subscribers and 15,500 single ticket buyers from throughout New England. The orchestra comprises a core group of period instrument specialists and the chorus is a fully professional ensemble. H+H consistently presents world-renowned guest artists.

H+H made its European debut in 1996 at the Edinburgh International Festival with a fully staged production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with the Mark Morris Dance Group. Recent tours have taken H+H to the Haydn Festival in Esterházy, Austria, in 2006; to the BBC Proms Festival, London, which the London Telegraph named one of the top musical events of 2007; and to the West Coast in April 2013.

Over the past 20 years, H+H has presented interdisciplinary programs featuring dance, opera, jazz, and theater. In 2003, it performed the first fully-staged performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers in collaboration with Chinese stage director Chen Shi-Zheng. H+H and Shi-Zheng premiered two more fully-staged productions, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (2005) and Monteverdi’s Orfeo (2006). Other collaborators include Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, David McCullough, and Claire Bloom.

H+H won a Grammy award for its recording of Tavener’s Lamentations and Praises, co-commissioned with Chanticleer. In fall 2005, its recordings All is Bright and Peace were in the Top Ten on the Billboard classical music chart together. Since the release of its first collaboration with Harry Christophers on the CORO label in September 2010, it has made available three live commercial recordings of works by Mozart—Mass in C Minor (2010), Requiem (2011), and Coronation Mass (2012)—as well as the critically acclaimed Haydn, Vol. 1 (September 2013) and the best-selling Joy to the World: An American Christmas (October 2013).

H+H places a high priority on its role as educator, resource center, and community partner. As it entertains and inspires audiences, its development expands to unique educational experiences for people of all ages. It includes all citizens in the community through broad outreach efforts. Established in 1985, H+H’s award-winning Karen S. and George D. Levy Education Program reaches 10,000 students each year throughout Greater Boston, many in underserved communities. H+H also maintains partnerships with area cultural and higher education institutions, including Boston Public Library; the Museum of African American History; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; New England Conservatory; and Harvard University.

Historical Highlights

Visit our Performance History Database.