Conductor Jeanette Sorrell and countertenor John Holiday at a New York Philharmonic performance of Handel’s Messiah, December 2021. Photo by Chris Lee.

Orchestras had to forego seasonal performances of Handel’s Messiah in December 2020 due to the pandemic. Grateful audiences returned this December for a brief flowering of Messiahs around the country, following the implementation of vaccine and mask requirements for singers, musicians, and audiences—just prior to the arrival of the virus’s Omicron variant. Among orchestras performing Messiah were the Knox-Galesburg Symphony in Illinois, the Erie Philharmonic and Johnstown Symphony in Pennsylvania, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. At New York City’s Riverside Church, the New York Philharmonic and singers from the period-instrument ensemble Apollo’s Fire performed Messiah led by Jeannette Sorrell, artistic director of Apollo’s Fire. Leading up to Messiah, the Philharmonic and John Jay College of Criminal Justice co-presented “The Unanswered Questions: Handel and the Royal African Company,” a discussion exploring whether or how to separate a work of art from the morality of its creator, given Handel’s investments in the transatlantic slave trade. Panelists included Handel scholar and professor emeritus at MIT Ellen Harris; ethnomusicologist and Juilliard professor Fredara Hadley; composer, vocalist, and librettist Imani Uzuri; and Philharmonic Vice President of Artistic Planning Patrick Castillo. WQXR’s Terrance McKnight moderated. “The Unanswered Questions” series was launched in October with a conversation on how and why artists and institutions address issues in the criminal justice system, complementing Philharmonic performances of Anthony Davis’s You Have the Right to Remain Silent.