Some 270 years ago, George Frideric Handel composed one of the most famous oratorios written in English, "Messiah."
This weekend marks the 102nd anniversary of its first performance in Minot, and the 82nd consecutive performance, taking place this year at Ann Nicole Nelson Hall at Minot State University on Sunday at 4 p.m.
The audience will see between 150 and 200 performers -- singers from the Heritage Singers, Voices of Note, the MSU Concert Choir, 15 invited high school singers and 25 to 30 community members.
"I'm thinking there will be fewer than last year," said Ken Bowles, director of the annual project. "But this has been kind of a rough year all around.
"The performance is free and open to the public," he said, "Our sponsors' contributions (are) going to the John and Pat Strohm and Joseph Hegstad scholarship funds."
Just as the premiere in 1742 was presented as a benefit to local charities, so this performance is using any freewill offerings by patrons to supplement the Heritage Singers' new fund for Minot area flood relief.
Handel was born in Austria in 1685 and moved to England at age 27, becoming a naturalized British subject, and he wrote exclusively in English from 1736 until his death in 1759. He composed several oratorios based on mythology and religion, with "Messiah" using passages from the King James Version of the bible and the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.
The music, perhaps remarkably, was finished in 24 days, but this was Handel's usual pattern. As soon as he completed one commission, he began the next, so he'd already had some of the themes in mind.
"'Messiah' is written in three parts, to follow the life of Christ," Bowles said. "Our music is taken from the first, with a number of soloists drawn from the college and community, then we pull forward the 'Hallelujah Chorus' from later in the work."
The sopranos are Alyssa Beyer, Karen Niewoehner and Terri Rubbert, with Claire Hoselton singing the alto solo. Doug and Bruce Wolff are the tenor soloists, and Tim Olson sings bass.
There is an orchestra specially assembled for this event to accompany the singers, under the direction of Jon Rumney, concertmaster for the Minot Symphony Orchestra.
"One of the highlights (is) we have received a generous gift from a family with close ties to Minot," Bowles said. "Wilbur and Grace Lippert, who now reside in Chicago, have donated a harpsichord, and this will be its maiden voyage.
"The Lipperts' daughter Muriel, who works in the area, has been instrumental in putting this together," he added, noting that Arnola Leverson will be playing it. "We have used a digital harpsichord in the past, but this is the real deal."