“I’m in full ‘punt’ mode,” U-M conductor Jerry Blackstone emailed in February. For more than five months, Blackstone had been rehearsing the Choral Union for a pair of March performances of Mahler’s Eighth–the biggest, longest, loudest symphony in the standard repertoire. It was a huge effort, enlisting not only the Choral Union but also the U-M’s University Choir, Chamber Choir, and Orpheus Singers, and even the MSU Children’s Choir. But the production’s linchpin was the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the DSO, caught in a bitter musicians’ strike, hasn’t played a note all season. When it became clear that even if the strike were settled the DSO wouldn’t have time enough to prepare the piece, the University Musical Society cancelled the show. “We’re all very disappointed,” Blackstone emailed. “It’s incredible music, very difficult for the chorus, and we were just beginning to get to the point where we could make music.”

Still, the show must go on, and the UMS has scheduled a free replacement concert for March 19 (see Events). Blackstone will direct the Choral Union in five English choral classics, the Chamber Choir in Durufle’s exquisite Requiem, the MSU Children’s Choir in selections yet to be announced, and as a climax, three excerpts from Mahler’s Eighth: the blazing opening chorus, the heaven-storming Part I finale, and the transcendental final chorus, when 384 singers will assemble on Hill’s stage. Filling in for the strike-bound symphony, Blackstone emails, “Scott VanOrnum will accompany at the organ which is ALMOST as loud as the orchestra; maybe louder … ” He hopes the dispute will be settled in time for the Choral Union’s other gig with the DSO this season: they’re supposed to do Beethoven’s Ninth together at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall in April.