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Handel and Haydn Society raises more than $13.5 million

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

David Snead, president and chief executive of the Handel and Haydn Society, says donors are “responding to what’s happening onstage.”

By Globe Staff 

The Handel and Haydn Society will mark the opening of its 202nd season on an auspicious note Friday, as the orchestra celebrates the conclusion of a capital campaign that raised more than $13.5 million from more than 600 donors.

The period-instrument orchestra and chorus — the nation’s oldest continuously performing arts group — exceeded its original fund-raising goal by $1.5 million.

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“It’s a real landmark moment,” said David Snead, president and chief executive of Handel and Haydn. “It was the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of generosity by donors, but I also think they’re responding to what’s happening onstage.”

Snead said that the bulk of the cash infusion is going toward the organization’s endowment, bringing it to a projected $13.5 million, an increase of more than 300 percent.

“It gives you stability in good times and in bad when there’s a steady stream of revenue,” said Snead, who estimated the endowment would eventually generate roughly $550,000 annually. “It will support the organization and fund growth, as well as help us get through those occasional choppy waters.”

Snead said Handel and Haydn has added roughly 880 new subscribers in the past year, a more than two-fold increase in new subscriptions over the previous year.

Among its initiatives, the organization is releasing a CD titled “The Old Colony Collection,” featuring choral works published by the Handel and Haydn Society in the 1820s-40s.

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“The collection is one of the earliest examples of H+H’s commitment to education and introducing classical music to new audiences,” Snead said in a statement, noting that it went through 22 editions and became “a standard in churches throughout the country.”

“It became a key contributor to H+H’s financial survival in those early days.”

Handel and Haydn artistic director Harry Christophers added that the orchestra plans to give a concert this spring at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and will also perform at Tanglewood next summer.

“We’ve been working really hard at bringing period music to the forefront of people’s minds,” said Christophers, who added that they hoped to appeal beyond the “open-toed sandal brigade.” “We’re getting to a wider audience, and that’s the main thing. We don’t want to be this intimate, slightly insular, and only for the cognoscenti [organization]. This is music for everybody.”

To that end, the orchestra also plans to increase its Web presence, launching a service that will feature free webcasts of recent live performances, and a video series that focuses on the period instruments of some orchestra members.

“You have [principal cellist] Guy Fishman talking about his cello that was built in Rome in 1704,” said Snead. “Handel was in Rome at that time. You wonder if maybe he heard this instrument.”

The marketing efforts are part of a push by the 200-year-old organization to make itself more accessible and reach 21st-century audiences.

“Classical music is not different from pop music. We just need to take the barriers away and get people excited,” said Christophers, who added that he was “always conscious of ever-aging audiences.”

“We’ve been too prim and proper about it.”

Snead added that although the orchestra is shifting its marketing stance, the core product remains unchanged.

“We’re talking much more about the emotional experience of the music — how it matters and moves you,” said Snead. But “we don’t give great concerts because we’re 200 years old. We’re 200 years old because we give great concerts.”


Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @malcolmgay.