Hogwood takes the helm at Boston's Handel & Haydn

English conductor Christopher Hogwood chalked up two firsts in one program last weekend: He made his initial appearance as the new artistic director of the city's venerable Handel & Haydn Society.

And he led the first concert by the largest ``authentic instrument'' orchestra yet assembled in this country, performing a symphony and a mass by Haydn.

Musicmaking on authentic classical- and baroque-era instruments, rather than on the ones in standard use today, is a specialty of this Nottingham-born, Cambridge-educated conductor, who founded the Academy of Ancient Music in England in 1973 and has won international acclaim through the meteoric success of its recordings. As a result, he is much sought after as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States.

Now he has high hopes for giving national visibility to the orchestra and chorus of the 171-year-old Handel & Haydn Society (H&H). He succeeds Thomas Dunn, who began the task of revitalizing H&H 19years ago.

Besides the customary seasons at Symphony Hall, Mr. Hogwood's medium-range plans include chamber concerts, tours, recordings, minifestivals, and maybe even videos, he told reporters over lunch last Friday.

``I think videos should accompany practically everything nowadays,'' he said. ``On the whole, the best images go with rather tedious pop music.'' He feels the classical-music films so far produced are poor. Viewers have moved beyond being satisfied watching someone conduct an orchestra, he added. Now they may be open to serious music packaged with interesting images.

The maestro, who has recorded the music of Purcell, Handel's ``Messiah,'' the Mozart symphonies, and parts of an ongoing Beethoven cycle with the academy, sees performance and recording as two different art forms.

``A lot of people would like to see recording as a photograph of a live event,'' he explained. ``These are like records of the royal wedding -- nice as souvenirs, but I can't really see them as something to sit down and listen to -- even live Horowitz recordings. I would rather they had been done in the studio, without the audience coughing and the wrong notes. The idea of bringing the whole philharmonic into your sitting room, anyway, is so outrageous. You can't maintain it is a lifelike experience. It's like having a very good book of color reproductions by your favorite artist. You sit and study, and probably learn more sitting and studying than running around the gallery with a lot of other people oohing and aahing.''

Hogwood is gratified by the growing acceptance of authentic-instrument performance. He believes baroque and classical music have suffered from being played by today's 110-piece orchestras, which date from the lush musicmaking of the late romantic period at the turn of this century. He finds the 40-piece ensemble used in his Friday concert (repeated Sunday) far better suited to the contours and subtleties of 18th-century compositions, and perhaps even to Beethoven.

Most of the differences in the instruments can be seen in the horns. Performers often must take out one crook and insert another between movements. The visual differences in the strings -- more compact, with shorter bows -- are probably imperceptible from the audience.

Hogwood, whose biography of Handel has been well received, is at work on a book of ``orchestral guidance for anyone who conducts. In it, one ``can look up, for instance, Mozart, Schubert, Dvorak, or Stravinsky. You can see how many violins Brahms had, where they sat, what went into the program of the First Symphony . . . . Of course a conductor has no obligation to find this out, but what seems very funny is that you can't.''

The weekend concerts presented Haydn's ``London Symphony'' (No. 104) and his ``Lord Nelson Mass,'' with Sylvia McNair, Sharon Munden, Jon Humphrey, and David Thomas as soloists. The orchestra included the Amadeus Winds, a New York City chamber group that has toured widely. In the symphony, the clean, sonorous sounds of Haydn filled the hall with well-sculpted, perfectly shaded lines. In the mass, the chorus displayed excellent diction and tone control, and soloists shined in solo and quartet quartet passages as well as in dialogue with the chorus. As a whole, the performance made quite clear that this ensemble will add a new dimension to baroque and classical performance in this city.

Hogwood will be back to conduct Stravinsky's ``Pulcinella'' and Pergolesi's ``Stabat Mater'' Nov. 5 and 7, works by Mozart, Dvorak, and Britten Mar. 23 and 24, and Handel's ``Athelia'' Apr. 10 and 12. David Hoose will conduct the H&H ``Messiah'' performances Dec. 5, and Thomas Dunn will conduct works by Haydn, Copland, and Mozart Jan. 21 and 23.

Bruce Manuel is the Monitor's Arts/leisure editor.

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