The Handel and Haydn Society has announced British conductor, cellist, and keyboardist Jonathan Cohen as its next artistic director, starting in the 2023-24 season. Cohen will fill the leadership position vacated by Harry Christophers, who led the organization through an era of prosperity and stepped down at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Because the Christophers era helped establish the orchestra’s outgoing approach to performances and audience engagement, the search committee felt it was important to select someone who would continue emphasizing “connection, not just playing the notes,” said H+H president and CEO David Snead in a phone interview. “I think with Jonny . . . musically, he really was where the musicians are. He’s about what we’re about.”
Cohen has already conducted the orchestra in three performances, including a short-notice substitution for Bernard Labadie in last month’s “Glories of Bach” concert. Musician feedback was consistently positive, said Snead, and the board voted unanimously in favor of appointing him music director. “There’s a strong optimism about what we can do together,” said Snead.
Cohen, 44, already sports a lengthy list of qualifications as a leader of period instrument ensembles. He’s also the founder and artistic director of the UK-based group Arcangelo, and succeeded Labadie as the second-ever director of Quebec City’s chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy. His recordings with both ensembles have been nominated for Grammy Awards. He is also the artistic director of the Tetbury Music Festival in southwest England, and one of several artistic partners of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota.
But another decisive factor in the choice of Cohen was his pledge to spend extra time in town on H+H projects, said Snead. “He’s committed to six weeks a year starting in 2024-25, which is more than we’ve had in the recent past . . . he is really interested in spending the time in Boston we think is necessary to build H+H.”
Cohen is scheduled to conduct the Handel and Haydn Orchestra with soprano Robin Johannsen in this year’s “A Baroque Christmas” concert, with performances at Jordan Hall on Dec. 15 and 18.