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The Palm Sunday production of the classic will be the first time for the group since 1993.

Among musical offerings, George Frideric Handel's Messiah is the ultimate of classical works. For members of the Richey Community Orchestra and their supporters, a Palm Sunday offering of the inspirational Baroque-era oratorio of the life and death of Jesus Christ, is a highlight of this performing season.

"It's certainly our biggest production - particularly with the amount of people we have (performing) in it," said Denise Isaacson, Richey Community Orchestra's executive director. "Orchestral musicians love playing it, choral groups love singing it and the audience loves listening to it."

Since February, the 50-piece orchestra, under the direction of Derek Weston, along with some 30 members of the newly formed Richey Community Chorus led by choral director Charlie Jones have been chipping away at Handel's sacred masterpiece.

The concert also features four guest soloists - Samuel Hild, Hannah Mae Schmidtke, Dawne Eubanks and Lothar Bergeest.

"It's very challenging," Isaacson said. "The music is not easy for the musicians or the singers, so to be able to present it on a professional level is thrilling."

It's been awhile since the Richey Community Orchestra has taken on Messiah. The last time was in March of 1993 - smack in the aftermath of the no-name storm that flooded the Pasco coastline before moving up the eastern seaboard.

"We had 4 feet of saltwater in our house, but the production still went on," Isaacson said.

In a stroke of better timing, this year's concert will be held on the 272nd anniversary of Messiah's first outing that was performed for an audience of 700 on April 13, 1742, in Dublin, Ireland.

Isaacson sees that as a good sign along with a very smooth last rehearsal that had the two directors sporting ear-to-ear grins.

"It's coming together in more than a nice way," she said, noting the hard work put forth by volunteer musicians, singers, the music directors as well as the hospitality of the First Baptist Church of Elfers, which donates rehearsal space and will host the Messiah performance in the church sanctuary.

"This production really comes together through the generosity of so many people," Isaacson said. "I hope people come out and support this because it will truly be a treat and it's a great way to celebrate the beginning of the Easter season."

Michele Miller can be reached at

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Handel's Messiah

- The Richey Community Orchestra and the Richey Community Chorus present Handel's Messiah at 3 p.m. Sunday, at the First Baptist Church of Elfers, 4050 Redleaf Dr., New Port Richey. Tickets are $15 for open seating. Tickets may be purchased at the door the day of the concert if available. For information, call Denise Isaacson at (727) 919-3866.

About the soloists:

Soprano Hannah Mae Schmidtke will receive her Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Clearwater Christian College upon the completion of her internship at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts in St. Petersburg. She was named among the elite vocalists for the Michigan Youth Arts Festival and was a recipient of the David V. Jones Memorial Vocal Scholarship.

Tenor Samuel Hild is completing his junior year at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts in St. Petersburg. He has been a member of the Florida All-State Reading Chorus, the Pinellas All-County Chorus and Center Stage and Troupe with Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Alto Dawne Eubanks teaches voice at Eckerd College, and the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School and has been a guest performer with The Florida Orchestra, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Florida Orchestra Master Chorale and the Turtle Creek Chorale.

Bass singer Lothar Bergeest has performed in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera at Carnegie Hall, the New York Pops and guest performances with a orchestras in Dallas, Buffalo, Louisville, Milwaukee and the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.