The Handel and Haydn Society: 200 Years of History


For 200 years the Handel and Haydn Society has enriched life and influenced culture by bringing vocal and instrumental music to America. Founded in Boston in 1815, H+H is considered the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the US and is celebrating its Bicentennial this season with special concerts and initiatives to mark two centuries of music making. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Harry Christophers, H+H performs at the highest level of excellence and also provides engaging, accessible, and broadly inclusive music education in Greater Boston and beyond.

H+H’s Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus are internationally recognized for historically informed performances of Baroque and Classical music that use instruments and artistic techniques from the time period in which the music was written. H+H presents a nine-program subscription series at Boston’s Symphony Hall, NEC’s Jordan Hall, and at Sanders Theatre, reaching nearly 3,000 subscribers and over 18,000 single-ticket attendees each year. Listeners can also hear H+H on 99.5 WCRB, National Public Radio, and American Public Media broadcasts, and the organization maintains an active touring schedule including performances this season in California, Montreal, and Washington, D.C.

In addition to concert and broadcast performances, H+H reaches a worldwide audience through its ambitious recording projects. Recent releases on the CORO label include Mozart’s Mass in C Minor (2010), Requiem (2011), and Coronation Mass (2012), as well as the critically acclaimed Haydn, Vol. 1 (2013), the best-selling Joy to the World: An American Christmas (2013), and Handel’s Messiah (2014), recorded live under Christopher’s direction at Symphony Hall. Releases for the 2015-2016 Season include Haydn’s Creation and Haydn, Vol. 2.

H+H’s esteemed history began in 1815 when a group of middle-class Bostonians formed  a choral society to bring the best music of Europe to their growing American city. They named the organization after two composers—Handel and Haydn—to represent both the old music of the 18th century and what was then the new music of the 19th century. In the first decades of its existence, H+H gave the US premieres of many iconic works including Handel’s Messiah (1818), Haydn’s Creation (1819), Verdi’s Requiem (1878), and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (1879).

In 1967 Artistic Director Thomas Dunn turned the chorus into a smaller expert ensemble, and in 1986 Artistic Director Christopher Hogwood embraced the historically informed performance approach. Music Director Grant Llewellyn (2001-2006) and Artistic Advisor Sir Roger Norrington (2006-2008) continued this tradition, as Christophers, appointed in 2008, does today.

H+H’s Bicentennial celebration began during the 2014-2015 Season and continues into the 2015-2016 Season. The celebration has inspired critical praise and feature coverage from the international press. The New York Times called it “an anniversary genuinely worth toasting” and The Economist wrote that “for a classical arts organization, 200 years of continued existence is in itself worthy of a party.” As part of the celebration, H+H released a retrospective book, The Handel and Haydn Society: Bringing Music to Life for 200 Years, and opened a Bicentennial Exhibition at the Boston Public Library featuring musical memorabilia and interactive displays. In 2015 H+H also commissioned and premiered My Angel, his name is freedom, a new work from award-winning American composer Gabriela Lena Frank.

Over the past 20 years, H+H has presented adventurous programs featuring dance, opera, jazz, and theater, with collaborators including the Mark Morris Dance Group, stage director Chen Shi-Zheng, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, and David McCullough. H+H won a Grammy Award in 2003 for its recording of Tavener’s Lamentations and Praises, co-commissioned with Chanticleer, and in 2005, had two recordings on the Billboard Top 10 classical music chart. The ensemble made its European debut in 1996 at the Edinburgh International Festival with a fully staged production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Mark Morris, and subsequent tours have taken H+H to the Haydn Festival in Esterházy, Austria (2006), to the BBC Proms Festival (2007), and to Cal Performances in Berkeley and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles with Handel’s Jephtha (2013).

In 1985 H+H established the Karen S. and George D. Levy Education Program and now reaches over 10,000 children each year through public school visits, chorus partnerships, in-school music instruction, and a Vocal Arts Program that includes five youth choruses. H+H also maintains partnerships with higher education institutions including New England Conservatory, MIT, and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, giving college students opportunities to learn about and develop mastery in Baroque and Classical music. The Heartstring program gives free concert tickets to children and adults who could not otherwise attend performances, and H+H presents free concerts and lectures at local libraries, community centers, and museums.

The Handel and Haydn Society is supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency, and by the National Endowment for the Arts.


Historical Highlights

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