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November 2, 2010

Indisposition season strikes early, affecting soloist for Baltimore Symphony program

Usually, illness-caused cancellations don't start hitting orchestras and opera companies until the winter, when flu bugs seem to target singers, instrumental soloists and conductors with particular vengeance. But the indisposition season has begun to affect our part of the world already.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Tuesday that mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has had to cancel her scheduled appearance with the ensemble and music director Marin Alsop on Thursday, when she was to have performed rarely encountered songs by Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav.

(Gustav famously made Alma give up composing when they married, but relented after a session with Sigmund Freud -- a topic that will be explored in greater detail over the weekend in a BSO program called "Analyze This").

Stepping in on short notice for Thursday's concert is

another excellent mezzo, Susanne Mentzer, a regular at the Metropolitan Opera (her many credits there include a role in the premiere of Tan Dun’s "The First Emperor" with Placido Domingo). Luckily, Alsop is still scheduled to be on the podium, even though the conductor is getting over her own bout with illness.

In addition to the Alma Mahler songs, Thursday's fascinating program includes the Adagio from Gustav's unfinished Symphony No. 10 and his arrangement of Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture No. 3. In keeping with the unfinished there, there will also be what you could call a conjectural performance -- the first movement of what would have been Beethoven's Symphony No. 10, reconstructed from fragments by Barry Cooper.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:58 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: BSO, Classical, Clef Notes


Another reason not to miss Analyze This: Peabody's only contralto, Master of Music candidate Kristina Lewis, will appear as Alma Mahler and sing Die Stille Stadt and an excerpt of In diesem Wetter from Kindertotenlieder at both presentations (at Strathmore on Friday and at the Meyerhoff on Saturday).

With all due respect to Ms. Cooke (an excellent young singer), I think this is an instance where the "substitute" may be an improvement over the originally scheduled singer. Ms. Mentzer, who I saw perform in recital some years ago in Frederick, Maryland (a benefit for the now-defunct Maryland Lyric Opera) should be perfect in these songs - though best known for her Met appearances, she is utterly charming and winning in song and brought a perfect combination of warmth and femininity to her songs at her Frederick recital. She recorded some of Alma Mahler's songs quite a while ago on an album called "The Eternal Feminine" and so brings a long familiarity with the composer to her work. The BSO surely landed on it's feet with this shakeup!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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