“Messiah for Our Time” On Time

Reginald Mobley masked

In a year when “Comfort ye my people” means more than ever, WGBH and the Handel and Haydn Society have transformed the holiday tradition for television and video streaming.

The redoubtable associate conductor and keyboardist Ian Watson leads “Handel’s Messiah for Our Time” on GBH 2 on December 20th at 7 pm in an hourlong broadcast featuring the H+H Chorus and period instrument H+H Orchestra, in Part One of Messiah plus the “Hallelujah” Chorus. Soloists include soprano Joélle Harvey, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Aaron Sheehan, and baritone Sumner Thompson.

Streaming on YouTube, Facebook, wgbh.org, classicalWCRB.org, and handelandhaydn.org  will continue for some time thereafter.

Under Massachusetts Covid protocols, the show was recorded at GBH’s Brighton Studio using robotic cameras; chorus and soloists wore special singing masks and underwent individual testing twice prior to the taping.

Recording engineer Antonio Oliart Ros began with the reduced ensemble and soloists in a socially distanced environment of eight or fewer musicians at any one time. Watson set the tempo and created an audio bed. Video of his conducting obviated the need for a clicktrack when, in the next session, Ros staggered a second group of eight vocalists in a new arrangement in the studio, allowing for a layered full-chorus sound to emerge in the final recording. On the third and final day Ros recorded two period trumpets separately to reduce the chance of spreading Covid in studio space.

The Handel and Haydn Society Perform at the GBH Studios in Brighton, Mass. November 16-19, 2020.

“The production of ‘Handel’s Messiah for Our Time’ required an unsurpassed 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 these challenging times.”  

General manager for 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 of 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.

‘Handel’s Messiah for Our Time’ is supported in part by Cambridge Savings Bank. The program will premiere on GBH2 in Boston and at the same time on WGBY in Springfield Mass., December 20 at 7 pm. The broadcast also will stream on Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo as well as the GBH and H+H websites, and will be repeated throughout the holiday season on channels 2 and 44.

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.

WGBH 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

The Handel and Haydn Society Chorus (Meredith Nierman / GBH)