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Thursday, September 19, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Classical Music

St. Mark's cancels Handel's 'Messiah'

Seattle Times music critic

There will be no room in the inn for the "Messiah" at St. Mark's Cathedral. For the first time in more than a quarter-century, the Handel oratorio won't be performed at the cathedral, which has long been famous locally for hosting performances of the "Messiah" the first weekend in December.

The reason, not surprisingly, is money. "We've been losing serious money on this for the past three years," explains Heather Hodsdon, administrator of Cathedral Associates — the independent arts organization that produces musical events at the cathedral and also manages the gift shop.

"The 'Messiah' has lost about $17,000 annually, of a total $70,000 annual budget. Attendance is down from the good, old days when all three performances sold out. Now there are 'Messiahs' at Benaroya Hall, and everyone is doing a sing-along one."

In the past three years, the 800-seat cathedral has been about three-fourths full for the Friday and Saturday evening performances, Hodsdon said, while the Sunday afternoon performances sold out. It's expensive to put on the 'Messiah' because the orchestra (Seattle Baroque) and the Tudor Choir, both professional organizations, must be paid — as must professional vocal soloists.

"We love doing it, and we're very sorry we can't continue this year," Hodsdon said. "The board of directors have formed a committee to see if there is some way to get underwriting for the future, so we will have the 'Messiah' not just next year, but in perpetuity."

The cathedral will offer a slide and music presentation based on the Nativity, set for Dec. 14, with organist J. Melvin Butler at the Flentrop pipe organ. The Cathedral Associates' popular holiday boutique also will continue.

Cathedral Associates will present other concerts, including an Oct. 4 organ recital by Butler. For information: 206-323-0300.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com.

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