Encore! Handel & Haydn Society Bicentennial Display at BPL

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/31/encore-handel-haydn-society-bicentennial-display-at-bpl/

With only one week left, the Boston Public Library’s exhibit on the Handel & Haydn Society provides a fascinating retrospective of the illustrious group’s 200 year history. It is the oldest performing arts organization in the country.

The choral society began on February 16, 1815, when the Second Baptist Singing Society performed the music of George Frideric Handel and Joseph Haydn at a concert in Boston. The performance was such a success that a second concert with 250 singers and musicians followed on February 22nd to celebrate George Washington’s birthday and the end of the War of 1812. Later that year, the H+H Society was formally incorporated, taking its name from the two great composers.

With a repertoire that draws mostly from the Baroque and Classical eras, the H+H choir ranks among the best in the world, and has a very fine period orchestra as well. The current artistic director, Harry Christophers, is an excellent conductor with a penchant for unearthing lesser known works.

H & H photo 2

The BPL exhibit has an interesting feature on the history of their Vocal Arts Program, which began in 1994 in response to major funding cuts in public school arts programs. Over the years, it has grown to include a Youth Chorus for middle school students, a Young Women’s Chorus and Young Men’s Chorus for high school students, and the H+H Singers for elementary schools. The students come from a variety of school districts, such as Brockton, Lawrence, Malden, Peabody, and Cambridge. They perform with the Handel & Haydn Society during their regular concert season. I have attended many concerts featuring these remarkable young singers, and each time I am amazed at how well they sing a variety of complex pieces.

One of the more surprising exhibit displays is on Amy Beach (1867-1944), a local female composer whose only musical training was piano lessons. Ms. Beach wrote choral works, an opera, and a number of other pieces for voice and piano. The Handel & Haydn Society presented the world première of her Mass in E-flat on February 7, 1892. It was their first performance of a work by a female composer, and left me curious to know more about her — especially since female composers seldom receive recognition.

Another fact I learned at the BPL is that the H+H Society tried to commission a new oratorio from Beethoven. Although he was interested, he died before he could compose it. The group also performed the Boston première of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in 1853.

The exhibit has a time capsule dating from their 50th anniversary in 1865. The box was meant to be opened for their 100th anniversary in 1915, but was lost until 1940. The contents include newspapers, journals, and other notable artifacts.

H & H photo 3

There are a number of artistically displayed cases that include original scores, concert programs, and other memorabilia. A 19th century Mozart Requiem score and old tickets provide a glimpse into early performances.

H & H photo 4

For 200 years, the Handel & Haydn Society developed their international reputation by performing and mastering the most demanding pieces in the canon. Their Bicentennial Celebration continues this year with Mozart’s Requiem on October 2nd and 4th at Symphony Hall.

For about the same price as a movie ticket, popcorn, and drink you can be treated to some of the finest music available, and experience part of Boston history. There is also a convenient Symphony Hall T stop and parking nearby.

The Bicentennial exhibit is on display at the Boston Public Library through Saturday.