Innovative Collaboration Ensures 167-Year Tradition Continues
With Broadcast and Streaming on December 20, 2020 at 7 pm
Boston, MA November 20, 2020 -- Handel’s Messiah, one of the most beloved holiday traditions, begins with the phrase “Comfort ye my people.” In a year when people need comfort more than ever, GBH and the Handel and Haydn Society today announced a collaboration to create a transformative take on the holiday tradition for television and video streaming. “Handel’s Messiah for Our Time” will premiere on GBH 2 on December 20, 2020 at 7 p.m. and stream on YouTube, Facebook, wgbh.org, classicalWCRB.org, and handelandhaydn.org.
The oldest continually performing arts organization in the United States, the Handel and Haydn Society has a long history with Handel’s Messiah. H+H performed the “Hallelujah” Chorus in its first concert in 1815 and held the American premiere on Christmas Day in 1818. Since 1854, H+H has performed Messiah for 166 straight years, in spite of a Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, 32 presidencies, and the 1918 pandemic. More than 7,000 people attend performances every year and the concert has reached more than a million people in Boston over the past two centuries. Yet in 2020, in light of COVID-19, this spectacular holiday tradition was in jeopardy.
“This year, we are facing a holiday season unlike any other we have seen in our lifetime. We were determined to find a way to bring Messiah to the community, to hold on to this tradition which has stood as a source of joy and comfort for so long,” said David Snead, president and CEO at the Handel and Haydn Society. “We are honored to work closely with GBH to ensure the continuity of this holiday tradition and to bring this gift to the community.”
The program was recorded at GBH’s Brighton Studio while closely adhering to Massachusetts COVID-19 protocols. Safety for the musicians and the production staff was a top priority and required the use of innovative technologies and production efforts.
The production employed robotic cameras; special singing masks worn by the chorus and soloists during the performance; and individual COVID testing twice prior to the taping. The protocols were developed in collaboration with doctors of infectious disease from Boston University and Harvard. A variety of studio spaces were used, ensuring the chorus and instrumentalists were kept separate and safe during the taping. The orchestral portion was recorded in sections by a 10-piece ensemble, creating an audio bed to which the chorus recorded separately in two groups of eight singers each, socially distanced. The audio was then layered together, creating the sound of a complete chorus.
“The production of Handel’s Messiah for Our Time required an unmatched degree of collaboration, innovation, and resilience, on behalf of the partners, the musicians, and the production team,” said Anthony Rudel, general manager for music at GBH. “The project was an artistic and technological challenge but one worth achieving. The resulting show will help keep one of Boston’s best-loved holiday traditions alive, even as we adapt to challenging times.”
Since its 1742 premiere, Handel’s Messiah has captivated concert-goers around the world. It is one of the few compositions in the history of music that has never waned in popular and critical appeal and is highly anticipated every year by families, friends, music lovers, and those just looking for a holiday experience.
General Manager of TV Liz Cheng opined, “While the difficulties for audio were daunting, those facing video and television seemed insurmountable at first. How to keep audiences engaged and focused on the music despite masks, social distancing and sequestering the orchestra and chorus in separate studios? We hope our innovative approach transcends the challenges and allows audiences to be transported by the pure joy of H+H’s Messiah.”
In the hour-long broadcast featuring the H+H Chorus and the unrivaled period instrument H+H Orchestra, spectacular soloists will bring to life Part One of Messiah plus the “Hallelujah” Chorus. The performance will be led by conductor Ian Watson and will feature solos from soprano Joélle Harvey, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Aaron Sheehan, and baritone Sumner Thompson.
Handel’s Messiah for Our Time is supported in part by Cambridge Savings Bank. The program will premiere on GBH2 in Boston on December 20, 2020 at 7 pm. It will air on NEPM-TV on December 24 at 11:30 pm and December 27 at 7 pm. The broadcast also will stream on Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo as well as the GBH and H+H websites. Thereafter, the special will be repeated throughout the holiday season on 2 and 44.
About the Handel and Haydn Society
Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society is dedicated to performing Baroque and Classical music with a freshness, a vitality, and a creativity that inspires all ages. H+H has been captivating audiences for 206 consecutive seasons (the most of any performing arts organization in the United States). Today, H+H’s Orchestra and Chorus delight more than 50,000 listeners annually with a nine-week subscription series at Boston Symphony Hall and other leading venues. Through the Karen S. and George D. Levy Education Program, H+H supports seven youth choirs of singers in grades 2-12 and provides thousands of complimentary tickets to students and communities throughout Boston, ensuring the joy of music is accessible to all. H+H’s numerous free community concerts include an annual commemoration of the original 1863 Emancipation Proclamation concert on December 31. The artistic director of the Handel and Haydn Society is Harry Christophers. Under Christophers’s leadership, H+H has released 13 CDs on the Coro label and has toured nationally and internationally. In all these ways, H+H fulfills its mission to inspire the intellect, touch the heart, elevate the soul, and connect us with our shared humanity through transformative experiences with Baroque and Classical music.
GBH is the leading multiplatform creator for public media in America. As the largest producer of content for PBS and partner to NPR and PRX, GBH delivers compelling experiences, stories and information to audiences wherever they are. GBH produces digital and broadcast programming that engages, illuminates and inspires, through drama and science, history, arts, culture and journalism. It is the creator of such signature programs as MASTERPIECE, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, FRONTLINE, NOVA, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, Arthur and Molly of Denali, and a catalog of streaming series, podcasts and on-demand video. GBH’s television channels include GBH 2, GBH 44, and national services WORLD and Create. With studios and a newsroom headquartered in Boston, GBH reaches across New England with GBH 89.7, Boston’s Local NPR®; CRB Classical 99.5; and CAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® station. Dedicated to making media accessible to and inclusive of our diverse culture, GBH is a pioneer in delivering media to those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired. GBH creates curriculum-based digital content for educators nationwide with PBS LearningMedia and has been recognized with hundreds of the nation’s premier broadcast, digital and journalism awards. Find more information at wgbh.org.