What people are saying about the PSO’s “Messiah”

It is important for artistic institutions to try new approaches. When we do, we often get very strong reactions both positive and negative, and clearly this was the case here. The following is the reaction to the December 3-5 performance of Messiah.


A modern ‘Messiah’ that (like Jesus) provoked
Monday, December 12, 2011
By Ruth Ann Dailey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Read the article here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11346/1196319-152-0.stm


I love going to a show not knowing what to expect and then just being blown away by the performance and certain nuances that sometimes can take a known piece of music to a new level. This was one of those times and we are so glad we decide…d to go at the last minute. Brilliant interpretation on stage, top notch performances by all and we’ve been talking about it since Saturday. Congrats to all involved and kudos to the PSO and Mendelssohn Choir for hitting this one out of the park!

Dave G.


I have talked to numerous people about Messiah, and not one person had a luke-warm reaction. Instead, everyone was at an extreme. Some loved it, while others hated it. I was delighted to see such a reaction. Let’s face it. Nothing like …this production has ever been done, and I applaud the PSO for taking such a large risk, both artistically and financially. I am so very proud to have been a part of this performance. It’s something I’ll never forget.

Ryan K.


I’ve seen and heard the Messiah at least a dozen times. This Staged version was VILE. It was disgusting and disrespectful. The Red Solo Cups were gross as was the kick dancing with the Candy Canes. The Couples who danced during the Pastoral Symphony were DISGUSTING. The audience clapped for the Emperor and his New Clothes, but I wanted to shout that he was naked. It made me glad to be from Pittsburgh because they will clap for anything. Other cities would have booed and walked out, however Pittsburghers will clap out of politeness and then complain all the way home.


Messiah is a 20 year old tradition for us. We’ve seen Medieval interpretations, Contemporary interpretations, we’ve seen it at the Kennedy Center. WE’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS. We were so inspired. The Mendelssohn was great! This was just so Pittsburgh. So inventive. Our 11 year old son dreaded going, but loved every second of it. He actually wanted to see it again! The Mendelssohn performed as a Broadway-caliber chorus.


Just a note to follow a phone message I left you regarding Sunday’s performance of “The Messiah.” I hope they’re NOT planning anything else like it!! I really didn’t like it and I attend alone, so I listened to the comments of others and they were mixed. For myself, I can turn on the local news and see all the violence I want to see. I REALLY want to hear the entire orchestra, not a few members, and I really want to hear the entire choir, not fragmented pieces of it. Both, together, are magnificent, as are each of the components, but added to what amounts. in my opinion, to poor off-Broadway stuff, just didn’t measure up. I did not feel uplifted at all. I have seen the orchestra and the choir perform “The Messiah” before and loved it. I am very glad my son was in from Florida last week-end and attended that performance and NOT this one.

Just wanted to share my thoughts with someone from the symphony. I didn’t even remain in my seat for the appluase after it was over, I left immediately. Sorry!

Kathryn M.


The Messiah was one simply amazing. It was unique, thought provoking and moving. I am so glad that the PSO is willing to take chances on a work like this. Bravo Maestro Honeck!

Rose C.


Just left HH. I feel nothing. Perhaps dissapointment. Perhaps I realize that text and words and music speak to my soul and tug at my heartstrings. I did look at the pso blogs and tried to learn about the performance beforehand. Went to the preconcert lecture. I was looking forward to the performance. It seemed like the sacredness was taken away. For example the offering plate juxtiposed perhaps with the text. I did take notes to review with my professional singers. I did go with an open mind. I felt like it was a circus. The voices were good but the action took away the meaning. Maybe I will go to the real messiah concert in bedford tomorrow nite. Thanks for listening.



Last Friday, Erika and I attended the Messiah production of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

The dean of the NY Times music critics, James Oesterreich, came to Pittsburgh. Today his review was published.


While I did not agree with all the theatrical stagings, the total visual and audible experience was radically different from the usual pre-Christmas-feel-good ritual. The familiar music sounded totally fresh and immediately relevant to the text, which was shown on side screens. I was so moved by the experience that the chorales Worthy is the Lamb and Hallelujah brought tears to my eyes. The Hallelujah chorale, played ad nauseam in every mall, department store, elevator, even while you are on hold on the telephone, moving me to tears! Amazing!

Erika and I are grateful for the experience. Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony made us a musical gift, which will always stay in our memory.


This year’s performance of the Messiah was totally shocking and offensive to me. To have the choir disrobing during the Hallelujah chorus was the epitomy of disrespect for the majestic music. I was unable to watch the second part of the music after watching drunken Santas sing “Behold the Lamb of God” while couples were lying on the floor of the stage simulating sex. I closed my eyes and tried to only hear the music. The party of four of us walked out in disgust after the end of the second part. Read more.

Carol E.


Forgive me for being honest and telling this like it was from the audience. Never Have I been so appalled by a performance in my life. No I was no alone. People walked out! What were they thinking? Did OWS write this or did they just take over the minds of the choreographer?

What were they thinking? At first I was a bit perplexed as it opened. Why was this staged in in old immigration office? Oh that was soon to be revealed quite dramatically by the obvious political bent of whoever. Read more.

Frank G.


I attended this evening’s concert (Friday, Dec. 2).

I came away with mixed feelings. The orchestra was, as ever, superb. The choir was, as ever, beautifully together. The soloists were, on the whole excellent, though one or two, here and there, were sharp, which may have been an acoustic problem.

The sound production was not so excellent. I had occasional difficulty hearing soloists (particularly the contralto/tenor duet towards the end). Read more.

Bernard P.


As a follow up to the above response. Yes, there were cheers from the crowd at the end. At least, from those who didn’t walk out prior.

In all my years attending Messiah at PSO, I have never seen people walk out DURING a performance until now. I’ve seen people leave and not come back at the intermissions, but never during the performance. Read more.

Thomas W.


Your advertisement for the Messiah on your website states, “This is a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed.”, and it certainly was that. Unfortunately for us, the “once in a lifetime experience” was true. However, “not to be missed”, not so much.

First, let me say that the lead and choral singers were exceptional. The orchestra outdid themselves as usual for this production which we have seen many times. We only wish that the extensive description of this version was available to peruse prior to us wasting $300.00. Read more.



This comment from my son on his Facebook page. He was visiting for the weekend. “saw a really cool staged version of the Messiah last night at Heinz Hall.”

Annette S


Yesterday’s performance of Messiah was spectacular. I have been telling all of my friends they need to see the music performed in this manner. I hope the PSO decides to keep this intepretation as a yearly tradition. Bravo Manfred Honeck for such an artistic and inspirational interpretation!

Linda F.


Handel’s Messiah…Dec. 2, 2011. My fiance and I attended the 8:00 performance on Friday night. I guess that I should have checked, but when I saw “Handel’s Messiah” down at Heinz Hall…I immediately knew that I wanted to see it…got tickets and was very much looking forward to the performance!! I was looking to kick off my holiday season with an inspirational and uplifting performance of the Messiah. I had no idea that it was a stage peformance. None…!! I have seen the Messiah performed several times and have never been
disappointed. This performance however, was thoroughly disappointing. It was like “Hair” for Handel’s Messiah! I suppose that it was my mistake, I should have checked the information…but when I saw Handel’s Messiah I just assumed that it was the normal, enjoyable chorale presentation. My fiance and I were just recently engaged…and I got it for him and I as a celebration. We left after the first act. I’m not sure what feedback that you have had from other people, but I just wanted to voice my opinion. If I would have known, I would have gotten tickets for the Pops performance the weekend of Dec. 17th…I am sure that that will be more “holiday like!”

Merrilee G.

14 thoughts on “What people are saying about the PSO’s “Messiah””

  • I for one, will not be contributing to the PSO further.

    This performance was lunacy!!!

    Get the politics out of the arts – particularly unlawful immigration issues tainted with socialistic non-sense!

    The problem is that these superficial, predictable, childish, utopian approaches to life do not stand!

    The PSO should l have made a decision to give a free performance at “occupy wall street” rather than “rip off” the public eager to participate in the classical “Messiah” experience.

    I must say that the “Lunatics are running the Assylum” at Heines Hall!!

  • It sounds like you are quite pleased with having such a strong response to the program, both positive and negative. That confirms my decision not to consider attending future events put on by the Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall.
    Your performance has colored forever my view of this sacred music in a ruinous manner.
    It’s a shame as I have appreciated some enjoyable evenings there.

  • I feel compelled to make one more comment about your Messiah performance.

    You should have given the R rating warning on your pre-production advertising. It was only as we exited the theatre that I noticed your signs warning that the program contained feigned violence. Right, someone who has already had their ticket torn as they enter are going to turn around and home after reading this warning, if they could even see it.

    I’m sure you have no intention of refunding the cost of the tickets to the many who were so offended by your desecration of this Biblically based oratorio. Well, enjoy spending that last bit of money which we so regret having given.

    This production has certainly put a negative smear on the Christmas season for me this year. You obviously intended to offend those of us who believe the message of “The Messiah”.

  • I suggest that we write to the Board of Directors of BYN Mellon and have them explain how they can support such fraud. Ask them if they will be ready to answer questions about this at the next shar holders meeting.

  • I found the PSO’s production of the Messiah to be the most memorable and moving production of a standard classic, either of music or drama, that I have seen or heard. It compelled the audience to think about the actual meaning of a familiar line such as, “He was despisèd and rejected of men: a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The quality of the vocal and orchestral performance was excellent, and the PSO displayed self-confidence in its willingness to go down into the pit.

  • As my friend and I prepared to leave following the second section of the piece, she said, “There’s a reason why Messiah has been performed the same way for over 200 years.”

    Unlike some of the commentators above, I didn’t particularly disagree with the political statements, but they seemed like distracting non sequiturs. The time-travel aspect was, as the NYT critic says, ultimately an unsuccessful ploy, and the juxtaposition of stories was simply bizarre.

    What is the problem with a purely musical Messiah? Does Honeck think that Handel’s music isn’t sufficiently interesting to keep audiences in their seats, or that modern concertgoers are too unfocused to appreciate a drama without visual content? There’s a kind of arrogance in taking such liberties with a piece that is particularly near and dear to people’s hearts. If I’m reading the responses aright, about a third of those in attendance are saying, “Don’t mess with Messiah.” That’s a big enough proportion that the PSO front office should be worried.

    It’s a shame because the music itself was stunningly done (not sure how, given the positions and actions the singers had to contend with – the choreography was just BAD). I hope that the PSO’s next foray into innovation will involve a less noble and emotionally freighted tradition.

  • This performance was ONEROUS for 3 reasons: #1 – We purchased our tickets last summer with the concert billed simply as the classic MESSIAH, with the actual performance something much different. #2 – The musical performance by the symphony, choir, and soloists was far beneath their norm. #3 – Conceptually, and in the details as they were played out, the performance was AMATEURISH. We’ve been supporters and regular attendees for years. We feel that you’ve made a critical mistake. This is the beginning of the end of the PSO for us — we refuse to support you any further.

  • To Maestro Honeck:

    We’ve heard that you are a devout Roman Catholic. Would you be proud to perform this interpretation of MESSIAH for Pope Benedict XVI or Blessed John Paul II?

  • I have an idea for your next foray into Leftist politics and Liberation Theology: 1) recruit about 100 Occupy Pittsburgh protesters; 2) let half of them play your pricey musical instruments; and 3) let the other half perform a chorus line extravaganza choreographed to Joan Tower’s monumental works “For the Uncommon Woman” and “Sequoia.”

  • Would Maestro Honeck — a practicing Roman Catholic — perform this interpretation of MESSIAH for Pope Benedict XVI or for Blessed John Paul II? I bet NOT. So how does he justify performing this interpretation for anyone?

  • I Feel very sad even knowing that this sacrilegious performance even occurred in my fair city. I had forewarning from newspaper articles. Sad, very sad.

  • It is somewhat amazing to see the objections to political undertones in The Messiah. The Biblical texts themselves are filled with political undertones if not direct statements to the kings in power, to the Romans and to others. The question is whether the texts are only ancient history, or whether they speak today. One may, of course, interpret them differently.

    The performance brought about days of conversation with the person with whom I attended, uncovering more and more insight. Thanks to the PSO for having the courage to create this performance.


  • Gordon – You don’t get it. MESSIAH is about eternal life — something rather heavier than superficial good, bad, or politics. This performance was simply good, bad, and politics … and lacking the divine birth and subsequent resurrection. As for “courageous”, I’d consider their act as courageous if they performed an act that was “thought provoking” about Islam. I wonder if you or any of your elitist friends would serve as their bodyguards(?).

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