166 years and counting: Handel and Haydn Society keeps “Messiah” going with filmed, socially distanced production

Posted on: December 22, 2020

Musicians of the Handel and Haydn Society record Handel’s Messiah for broadcast and streaming at GBH studios in Brighton, Mass., November 16-19, 2020. Photo by Meredith Nierman/GBH

“The Handel and Haydn Society … first performed the resplendent ‘Hallelujah’ chorus during its inaugural concert in 1815, presenting the American premiere [of the full Messiah oratorio] three years later,” writes Malcolm Gay in Friday’s (12/18) Boston Globe. “H+H has often performed the storied oratorio, including, for the past 166 years uninterrupted, annual holiday performances [during] the Great Depression, two World Wars, 32 presidencies, the Civil War, and the Spanish Flu pandemic. But this year … not only has the state placed strict restrictions on indoor concerts, but singing itself … is verboten at many indoor venues…. David Snead, president and CEO of H+H … began casting about for ways to present the beloved work, eventually approaching Anthony Rudel, general manager for music at GBH [television]…. After months of planning, eight H+H choristers arrived at GBH’s Brighton studios [in November] to record ‘Handel’s Messiah for Our Time,’ a slimmed-down, socially distanced joint production set to premiere Sunday … To win state approval, the production brought on a pair of infectious disease specialists to craft safety protocols…. Associate conductor Ian Watson … said that although he missed the physicality of in-person performances, the recording sessions created ‘a kind of freshness.’ ”