As a city, Boston is immersed in rich tradition and a profound heritage dating back to the birth of our nation. Music is no exception to the deep long-standing history of the city, and the Handel and Haydn Society is one of our greatest examples. Founded by a group of local musicians and merchants in 1815, the Society is the longest currently performing ensemble in America. Originally established as an oratorio Society dedicated to performing the works of Handel and Haydn — among other composers — with the overarching goal of performing Baroque and Classical pieces at a pristine level the compositions deserved. In the mid-20th century, the Handel and Haydn Society adopted a practice aimed at preserving the authenticity of the works they performed. Known as historically informed performance, or HIP, this practice focused on the stylistic nuances of the piece, as well as the use of period instruments in an effort to re-produce the work in its original form. The society has continuously prided itself on a lasting commitment to HIP throughout the years.
The H and H Society has endured many challenges throughout its history. The financial crisis of the 1930’s greatly impacted the Society’s audience and World War II created membership issues, as the number of choristers dropped to 206 — its lowest number in over a century. To overcome these challenges the resilient organization had to rely on sponsorship from local charities, who at one point had to underwrite ticket sales for the Society.
The Handel and Haydn Society has seen several artistic directors over the years, each of whom has contributed to the organization in their own unique way. Christopher Hogwood, who took the reins of the Society in 1986 to 2001, was responsible for the H and H Society’s first performance out of the country in 1996. Hogwood also highlighted programs that tied Baroque improvisation to contemporary jazz artists Gary Burton and Chick Corea. Grant Llewellyn directed the society from 2001-2006, and became principal conductor for three more seasons through 2009. The Society received its first Grammy under the tutelage of Llewellyn. Harry Christophers is the current artistic director of the Society, joining in 2008, and has recently announced he will be stepping down after the 2020-2021 season. Christophers conducted the Handel and Haydn society’s first appearance on the European continent and has since recorded twelve albums with the Society — more than any other musical director in its long history.
The Handel and Haydn Society continues to entertain audiences across the globe and is on the verge of beginning the 2019-2020 season; the full programming schedule is available here on the Society’s website handelandhaydn.org. Also available on the website, is an accessible online searchable archive of all of its performances and an artist archive; the archive has performances dating all the way back to 1815. The organization also continues to present exhibits and lectures — along with free concerts — to inform and educate the public of the society’s rich history and time tested presence as a true Boston music institution.