Handel's

Messiah

is a choral masterpiece often heard around the winter holidays, though not many choirs attempt the complete version of this venerable, but long, work.

This weekend, the Chester County Choral Society will perform Part 1 of

The Messiah

, plus the stirring "Hallelujah" chorus from Part 2 as well as some Christmas carols, at the United Methodist Church in West Chester and Ardmore Presbyterian Church in Ardmore.

The group will be accompanied by a chamber ensemble, including a string quartet, along with four guest soloists.

The society hasn't performed

The Messiah

since December 2000. "I felt it was time to do it," said Gary Garletts, the conductor. "We only perform it on a periodic basis, [but] I do enjoy it."

Garletts, 47, of Haverford, is also director of music and organist for Ardmore Presbyterian Church, where one of the Christmas concerts will be held.

"I tell the singers the best thing about it is you've sung it before and worst thing about it is you've sung it before," he said with a laugh. "There are different interpretations. Certain mistakes are hanging on. But the group's very cooperative."

George Frederic Handel wrote

The Messiah

, or

A Sacred Oratorio,

in 1741, basing the libretto on biblical passages. It was first performed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742. Originally, the piece wasn't intended as Christmas music, but for the time around Lent and Easter. Many people are familiar with the "Hallelujah" chorus, often excerpted for holiday concerts.

Celebrating its 35th year, the Chester County Choral Society originally began as the Exton Chorale. In 1999, it became the Choral Society. The group includes 70 volunteers, most from Chester County.

Each year, the group presents two major concerts, attracting audiences of up to 300 people. In addition to the Christmas concert, there will be a spring concert in May, featuring the premiere of

Our Poets Sing

. Chester County composer David Bennett Thomas is working on a choral work based on John Russell Hayes, a 19th-century poet known as the "Brandywine Bard."

Garletts commissioned Thomas to create a work for two choirs, specifically a high school choir and an adult choir. "Part of our mission is to encourage young people" to stay interested in music, Garletts explained. A high school choir will accompany the Choral Society in the spring.

The society also awards a scholarship every year for "high school seniors who are interested in improving their singing and vocal skills," said Phoebe Shields, who's been a member of the choir for four years.

Shields said the Choral Society performs in the area to provide "good music" for people "who can't necessarily get to Philadelphia to hear a concert."