The Handel and Haydn Society has announced a return to live performances this fall, unveiling a season of eight programs to take place at Symphony Hall and elsewhere. The season juxtaposes many staple traditions (“Messiah,” “Bach Christmas”) with several new sights and sounds, with guest conductors and historically overlooked pieces taking their first turn with the ensemble. What’s more, if subscribers can’t make it to Symphony Hall, the venue for all but one Boston program this season, they can now tune into a livestream of any H+H Sunday performance there, or watch it later online.
In a phone interview, H+H president and CEO David Snead laid out the goals of the upcoming season: to celebrate artistic director Harry Christophers’s last hurrah after 13 seasons at the helm, to search for a possible successor while inviting numerous guest conductors, and to welcome back audiences with familiar favorites while also continuing the ensemble’s commitment to broadening the repertoire.
Christophers, who oversaw a golden age of expansion and ambition for the 206-year-old organization, will take his final bows with two major choral works: a H&H holiday tradition, Handel’s “Messiah” (Nov. 26-28); and the season finale, Haydn’s “Creation” (April 29, May 1).
Christophers originally intended to step down after the 2020-21 season, but with those programs canceled because of the pandemic, he agreed to stay on for one more. “The past twelve years have flown by. Yet when I look back at all we have accomplished together, I feel an immense sense of both pride and gratitude,” he said in a statement.
“Speaking personally, he has created an ensemble that I find tremendously exciting to listen to and watch,” said Snead. “I think we’ve really developed a performance style that’s really about engagement. There’s an energy that you feel that you don’t get in every classical music organization these days.”
The guest conductors that will pick up the baton this season begin with Laurence Equilbey, of Paris’s Insula period instrument orchestra, conducting works by Beethoven and Louise Farrenc (Nov. 5, Nov. 7). Also from France, Raphaël Pichon will direct the “Bach Christmas” performances at Boston’s St. Cecilia Parish (Dec. 3) and First Church in Cambridge (Dec. 5). Václav Luks, artistic director of Prague’s Collegium 1704, begins the new year with music by Beethoven, the Czech composer Jan Václav Voříšek, and Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (Jan. 7, Jan. 9); and Jonathan Cohen, the last to conduct H+H before the pandemic stopped live performances, returns to the podium for a program featuring music by two Bachs (J.S. and C.P.E.) and Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” (April 1, April 3). The H+H Chorus will also make its Carnegie Hall debut alongside the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and La Chapelle de Québec chorus as Bernard Labadie leads J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” (April 7)
But before all that, concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky will lead the orchestra in its first live performances since March 2020, in a program featuring Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and Jonathan Woody’s Suite for String Orchestra, a 2020 H+H commission that received its initial premiere online (Oct. 8, Oct. 10). Woody, a bass-baritone who has performed with H+H, based his piece on musical themes by Ignatius Sancho, a writer and composer who was born into enslavement and later became the first known Black person to vote in Great Britain.
The orchestra plans to schedule additional events as circumstances allow.
HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY
Subscription packages available now at www.handelandhaydn.org; single tickets on sale in August.