You might suspect some strange jinx, or wonder if the third time's the harm. But the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is taking a rash of high-profile artist cancellations in stride.
On July 29 came the news that actor/singer and star of Showtime's "Homeland" Mandy Patinkin had withdrawn from his BSO SuperPops program scheduled for January "due to a schedule conflict." He would be replaced by "Seinfeld" veteran Jason Alexander.
On Sept. 15, three days before the opening night of the season, the orchestra announced that Baltimore's own Hilary Hahn would not be on hand to play Beethoven's Violin Concerto as planned because the popular artist needed "to recover fully from a muscle strain." Distinguished violinist Pinchas Zukerman would take her place.
Last week made three. Broadway star Patti LuPone, the BSO said Tuesday, had bowed out of the cast for the semi-staged production of Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" in June "due to a scheduling conflict." A search for her replacement is underway.
"This probably is a higher number of cancellations than our average, but we have a very low average," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham. "Talk to the Metropolitan Opera. Never mind three in a season; they have three in a week."
Time was when BSO cancellations had to do mostly with conductor Yuri Temirkanov. He missed several weeks during his tenure as music director because of health issues and administrative crises back home in Russia at his other orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. He also canceled subsequent appearances as music director emeritus.
That's one issue the BSO has not had to deal with since Marin Alsop took the helm. "We have a very healthy music director who never cancels," Meecham said.
Alsop injured her hand in Brazil in 2013 and had to cancel a month's worth of concert engagements, but that happened in summertime, when she had no Baltimore performances.
Every performing arts organization faces the occasional no-show for one reason or another, especially during flu season. And injuries of one kind or another are hardly uncommon.
The Shriver Hall Concert Series, for example, was to have opened its season a week ago with keyboard artist Helene Grimaud, but she injured a finger and was told by her doctor to rest (pianist Angela Hewitt came to the rescue).
A few years ago, violinist Midori injured her back and canceled a BSO engagement; the next season, conductor Jiri Belohlavek didn't make his BSO performances for the same reason.
"These things happen, and it keeps you on your toes," said Nigel Boon, director of artistic planning at the National Symphony Orchestra.
The NSO faced a tricky situation last season as it prepared to present a concert version of Richard Strauss' opera "Der Rosenkavalier" starring Renee Fleming and conducted by music director Christoph Eschenbach.
"The evening before the first scheduled rehearsal," Boon said, "we lost [the mezzo singing the pivotal role of] Octavian. And then the day before the performance, [the tenor in the role of the] Italian Singer had to pull out. But it allowed us to find and present some new artists, which is always an exciting opportunity."
In the case of the BSO's Hahn, Patinkin and LuPone, they were three of the biggest names on the orchestra's 2014-2015 lineup. No one would have expected to see their names taken off that roster so quickly.
"The timing of the announcements this season was relatively close together, but the events are not," Meecham said. "One was last week; the others are in January and June. And the cancellations were all for very genuine, good reasons."
Hahn issued a public statement in late July that she had an inflamed muscle and was dropping all engagements for six weeks, which would have had her back on the circuit in time to appear with the BSO. The orchestra was informed less than a week before the season opener that she would not make it after all.
"The doctor told her to take more time off to recover," Meecham said. "What choice did we have?"
Eileen Andrews, the BSO's vice president of marketing and communications, said that there had been "very few ticket exchanges" because of the Hahn cancellation.
"This is not to say there wasn't some disappointment," Andrews said. "But our tickets sales exceeded our goal for those concerts. If a person very eager to hear Hilary Hahn was devastated by the replacement, the box office would offer to exchange the ticket for another concert. The box office's attitude is that the customer always walks away happy."
Andrews did not rule out the possibility of a refund after a major artist cancellation, though there is no requirement to do so. Concert tickers issued by the BSO, like those typically issued by performing arts organizations, contain this note on the back: "Tickets are not refundable. Program and artists are subject to change."
On the other hand, as Meecham notes, "artists aren't looking to get out of contracts." Things happen, perhaps a bit more often to those outside the classical realm.
Performers with busy stage or screen careers are particularly susceptible to receiving offers for much more than three or four nights with a symphony orchestra.
"The bigger the name, the bigger the risk," Meecham said. "Mandy Patinkin thought he had a window open on his schedule, but a Broadway production came up. Patti LuPone was offered an opportunity to do a one-woman theater show and told us, 'I'd really like to do this.' She was giving us nine months' notice. It didn't seem right to stand in her way."
The BSO has sought to hire artists of similar caliber to those who cancel, Zukerman and Alexander being prime examples.
"Since the pops show with Mandy Patinkin hinged on a star, we made sure before we released him that we had secured another star," Meecham said. "And we're very happy with Jason Alexander. He may draw a different audience."
Could a conspiracy theorist turn the rash of no-shows at the BSO this season into a dastardly trend of great artists snubbing their noses at the orchestra?
Meecham just laughed.
"Pinchas Zukerman came to us at the drop of a violin," he said.