The Handel and Haydn Society has received a surprise donation of approximately $10 million from a single anonymous donor in honor of artistic director Harry Christophers, whose tenure will end at the close of the 2021-22 season. H+H board of governors chair Robert Shapiro planned to announce the gift on the Symphony Hall stage on Friday evening before Christophers conducted the Handel and Haydn Orchestra and Chorus in H+H’s annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
“[Christophers] has fulfilled the mission of the Handel and Haydn Society,” read a letter accompanying the Nov. 18 donation, the largest in the organization’s history. ”The donor wishes to ensure that the next artistic director propels the magic, joy, and learning Harry Christophers created to new levels, and that she or he knows the Society supports her or him in every way, including financially.”
The donation was earmarked for the Harry Christophers Fund for Artistic Excellence, a new capital campaign that the organization had planned to announce to the general public alongside Friday’s “Messiah” performance, where it was already intended that Christophers would be given the honorary title of Handel and Haydn Society conductor laureate.
Reached via phone, Shapiro indicated that the $10 million windfall will go into the organization’s endowment, increasing it by nearly 60 percent to approximately $27 million from its previous $17 million, which was already roughly quadruple what it was at the beginning of Christophers’s tenure in 2009. The gift will provide a “foundational financial boost” to all of H+H’s initiatives, from hiring musicians and researching works to its youth choruses and community outreach programs, said Shapiro.
“To have a stable, strong endowment means that you can broaden your reach, you can be more creative, and you know you have that stability underneath,” he said. “You can hire the very best musicians, you can pay them appropriately — all that stuff is enabled by a stronger permanent financial base.”
In an e-mailed statement, Christophers expressed his gratitude for both the establishment of the fund and the significant gift, saying “it has been a privilege” to be part of the institution. “I feel very confident that H+H can look forward to a bright and exciting future and with the support of this gift H+H can continue its pursuit of excellence.”