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A Messiah for Ground Zero

You don't know what you've got until it's almost gone.

Trinity Church’s annual Messiah performance--the country's oldest, first performed here in 1770, had been cancelled. After the attack on the World Trade Center, just up the street from the church, many wondered whether or not to bring the event back. But the disruption caused by the attacks--physical displacement, emotional weariness, and budgetary concerns, kept the Messiah at bay.

But WQXR, the classical-music radio station owned by The New York Times, stepped in for its first event-underwriting ever, and at 2 pm on Sunday December 16, Owen Burdick, Trinity’s choirmaster, began conducting this year's performance by the Trinity Choir and Rebel Baroque Ensemble.

Tom Bartunek, WQXR’s president and general manager said of the decision to fund the concert, “It seemed logical that we step in-–to maintain another important New York music tradition, to broadcast a great performance to our audience, and to assert the value and necessity of music in challenging times.”

Burdick was "overjoyed" to be performing the Messiah. "It's a resurrection piece," he said, written to be played in Lent or Easter to celebrate Christ's rising from the dead.

On September 11, Burdick was among 25 or so gathered inside Trinity Church for shelter from the falling tower. The church and everyone in it survived, although non-structural damage has been costly. It has taken more than 2000 hours in total to clean the church. The organ, clogged by smoke and debris, has yet to be played at a worship service.

WQXR has hailed Trinity's previous rendering of the Messiah as “one of the best performances of its kind to be found in the city”. On December 17, The New York Times said that in this year's performance, the orchestra was "lean and vivid," and that the choir was a "precision instrument with smooth, gentle sopranos soaring through the high notes."

The Rector of Trinity, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Paul Matthews, summed up the importance of the event: "This year, above all others, our annual performance of Handel’s Messiah speaks to our city's pain, its hope, and its desire for forgiveness, healing, and faith.”

Posted on Trinity News December 17, 2001

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