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Singing in the new year with Handel and Haydn Society

Emancipation Proclamation Concert moves online

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Singing in the new year with Handel and Haydn Society
Emancipation Proclamation Concert conductor Anthony Trecek-King. PHOTO: COURTESY of HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY

The Handel and Haydn Society and the Museum of African American History welcomed the new year with their traditional Emancipation Proclamation Concert on Dec. 31. Part of the robust First Night cultural roster, the concert was conducted by Anthony Trecek-King.

This year, Trecek-King conducted for an empty room at Trinity Church. Due to increased COVID-19 cases, the performance, previously scheduled to be in person, was recorded and will be released online shortly. This concession to caution will allow the hour-long musical celebration to be streamed multiple times in homes anywhere, increasing access to the event.

Members of the H+H Chorus. PHOTO: Chris Petre-Baumer

“The Emancipation Proclamation Concert is one of the truly special events at H+H that we look forward to every year,” says H+H President and CEO David Snead. The concert celebrates the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation speech in 1863. The Handel and Haydn Society and the Museum of African American History have been hosting the concert for nine years.

The performance not only commemorates the abolitionist movement in Boston and the ongoing work towards racial equity, it examines the role of music in forging alliances and creating cultural space. The Handel and Haydn Society performed at the original Emancipation Proclamation celebration in Boston in 1863, then known as the Grand Jubilee concert. Now, 160 years later, its singers continue to belt out notes.

This year’s concert program includes “My Lord What a Morning,” A.G. Duncan’s “My country! ‘Tis of Thee,” Felix Mendelssohn’s “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich,” “Oh, Freedom,” R. Nathaniel Dett’s “America the Beautiful” and Handel’s “Hallelujah, Amen” from “Judas Maccabaeus.” Highlights of the program also include “Song of the Abolitionist” with lyrics written by William Lloyd Garrison and the annual chorus of “We Shall Overcome,” which seems increasingly poignant as the pandemic continues.

Poet and orator Regie Gibson. PHOTO: Chris Petre-Baumer

The show is accented with performances by tenor Marlon Matthews and members of the H+H chorus. As has become tradition, National Poetry Slam champion Regie Gibson reads passages from the Emancipation Proclamation to narrate the performance. Additional speakers include Charmane Higgins, Executive Director of Trinity Boston Connects, Rev. Patrick C. Ward, Senior Associate for Program at Trinity Church Boston and Leon Wilson, president and CEO of the Museum of African American History.

Though celebrators were not able to attend the concert in person, the sponsor organizations hope it will be equally impactful when viewed in music lovers’ homes. Snead says, “We commit ourselves once again to working together toward liberty, freedom and equality for all.”

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