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Christopher Hogwood, 73; ex-artistic director of Handel and Haydn Society

Christopher Hogwood directed Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society for 15 years.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File 1996

The conductor, scholar, and harpsichordist Christopher Hogwood, a pioneer of the early music movement who led Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society for 15 years, died at his home in Cambridge, England, Wednesday. He was 73.

In the late-1970s and ’80s, Mr. Hogwood was one of the early music movement’s brightest stars, rising to international prominence after founding in 1973 the Academy of Ancient Music, with whom he made more than 200 recordings, including the complete symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven.

His career was largely based in Europe, but included a significant American chapter, when he directed Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society from 1986 to 2001. It was under his watch that the orchestra completed its transition into a period-instrument ensemble, a major step that repositioned the venerable orchestra and pointed it toward its own future.

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“By turning the orchestra into a period orchestra, he laid the foundations for excellence in scholarship and stylish playing,” British conductor Harry Christophers, the Handel and Haydn Society’s current artistic director, said in a statement. “He redefined our mission — to make the old sound new. We will miss him greatly.”

Under Mr. Hogwood’s directorship, the orchestra boosted its international profile and broadened its repertoire in multiple directions, including the addition of several Handel operas (among them “Giulio Cesare,” “Semele,” and “Acis and Galatea”). Mr. Hogwood’s tenure was also remembered for a series of high-profile collaborations, including a production of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” with the Mark Morris Dance Group, which toured internationally.

He enjoyed a close musical partnership with Boston-based pianist Robert Levin, with whom he recorded the complete Mozart Piano Concertos (with the Academy of Ancient Music).

At the Handel and Haydn Society, he also introduced regular partnerships with high-profile jazz artists including Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, and Gary Burton. When he stepped down in 2001, his tenure was hailed by two of the city’s most prominent musicians.

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“The Boston musical community owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the creation of a high quality historical performance group, for imaginative programming, and for consistently high standards of performance,” wrote composer John Harbison and conductor Craig Smith, in a cosigned letter published in the Globe.

“For Hogwood,” they wrote, “music is a natural activity, both intricate and broadly communicative, and his leadership, musicianship, and good fellowship have left us richer.”

That sense of gratitude was not always present in the reviews Mr. Hogwood received during his time in Boston, in which critics not infrequently sought more personal insight and emotional investment from his performances. For his part, Mr. Hogwood defended a “noninterventionist” approach to conducting, suggesting that the figure of the grand maestro imposing a highly subjective interpretation on a score was itself a creation of a more recent era, and therefore not appropriate to early music. His fiercest critics were unappeased. Writing in the magazine Opus in 1987, musicologist Richard Taruskin dismissed Mr. Hogwood’s recording of Beethoven symphonies with the Academy of Ancient Music as “dull run-throughs, devoid of detail, with nothing at all to impart to anyone who is really listening.”

Nevertheless, during his years with the Handel and Haydn Society, Mr. Hogwood “remained a big personality with a lively musical mind,” Globe critic Richard Dyer wrote in 2001 as the conductor prepared to leave his post in Boston. “He is an intelligent, witty speaker and writer about music, a persuasive advocate both for his own beliefs and for the proper place of music in the surrounding world.”

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Mr. Hogwood was born in Nottingham, England, and studied classics and music at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He left behind a substantial discography as a keyboard player, and was active as an editor and author.

His scholarship extended well into 20th-century music, though his best-known work remains a respected biography of Handel that was reissued in a revised edition in 2007. The following year, he passed the directorship at the Academy of Ancient Music to harpsichordist Richard Egarr.

At the time of his death, he held the title of conductor laureate at the Handel and Haydn Society, and was scheduled to return for performances of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” during the society’s upcoming 200th anniversary season.

Those performances, on March 6 and 8, 2015, will now be led by former music director Grant Llewelyn and will be dedicated to Mr. Hogwood’s memory.

Details of a memorial service were not immediately available.

The musicians who worked closely with Mr. Hogwood in Boston recalled him this week with gratitude.

“It was thrilling to work with Chris,” Handel and Haydn Society principal flutist Christopher Krueger said in a statement.

“He brought so many new ideas and so much energy to the projects, that one couldn’t help but feel swept up in a new wave of music-making.”


Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com.