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James Levine: 1943-2021


We expect many encomia and thoughtful first-person accounts to follow this official BSO statement.

“The Boston Symphony Orchestra extends its sincere condolences to the family of James Levine at the news of his passing. One of the most profoundly gifted musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, James Levine led many extraordinary performances during his tenure as BSO music director (2004-11), including most memorable interpretations of the works of Beethoven, Schoenberg, Mahler, Ravel, and Brahms, among others, as well as composers he championed, including Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen, and John Harbison; he also led the BSO in an acclaimed tour of European summer festivals in 2007. The last period of his tenure as BSO music director was plagued by ill health, which resulted in his resignation in 2011. Subsequently, there emerged allegations of sexual improprieties which virtually ended his career as many musical institutions severed ties with him, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra.”

The essential blog Slipped Disc already has posted several interesting articles:

The dark side of James Levine by Norman Lebrecht

An American maestro remembers Jimmy Levine by Leonard Slatkin

James Levine: An unaffectionate tribute by the Metropolitan Opera by Norman Lebrecht

Tim Page on the magnetism of James Levine


3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Encomia? My blushes, Watson! I can’t think of any conductor since Furtwängler whose legacy was as mixed as Levine’s.

    Comment by Vance Koven — March 19, 2021 at 12:07 pm

  2. I met Jimmy Levine in the summer of 1958 at the Aspen Music Institute where we were roommates, and colleagues in Rosina Lhevinne’s piano class. I was 16 and he 15. He was one of the most fabulously talented musical minds I have ever encountered and a fine pianist. On one occasion, after ripping off a pearly passage from Mozart’s C major Concerto (K. 467) which he was learning that summer, in reaction to my very positive response he said: “Yeah, it’s pretty good, but I am just not able to make it any better, which is very frustrating for me, and that’s why, in addition to the unparalleled repertory, of course, I plan to go into conducting.”

    I recall also a non-musical episode from that summer. This was a time when Aspen boasted only one paved road, and on that road sat the storied Hotel Jerome which offered a fairly fancy (all you could eat) buffet every Sunday, and which we attended faithfully. But otherwise, the food situation was difficult. A local eatery, the Roaring Fork, held the contract for feeding the student body. Many found their offerings, if not actually inedible, at least rather too close for comfort; there was, however, a terrific and very friendly hamburger joint in town (whose name escapes me) which led us to hatch a plan. Jimmy & I went to find the administrative head of the school and demanded (!) a refund of the board portion of our fee so that we could afford to eat elsewhere. He refused, of course, although we persuaded him to concede that if we could get our parents to agree, he would relent. Those agreements were indeed forthcoming and when we took our letters back to that rather dapper man, in granting our refunds he commented:
    “I can’t believe that two fine Jewish boys like you are going to eat hamburgers all summer; I just don’t understand parents these days.”

    And one further matter: Levine often spoke about the man he considered his most seminal mentor, Walter Levin, violinist of the LaSalle Quartet. Jimmy told me many years later that if he had to select the one teacher who was most important in shaping his musical sensibilities (including George Szell), it would be Levin, and this influence, he stressed, went far beyond his introduction to the music of the Second Viennese school.

    Comment by Gregory Biss — March 19, 2021 at 3:51 pm

  3. A fine story, one among many. I trust you read our Fleezanis reminiscence.

    The encomia have been close to zilch. The slippedisc comments are brutal, ‘over a half-century of child rape’ etc., and the same here, plus the charge of major BSO dereliction:

    Comment by David R Moran — March 20, 2021 at 12:23 am

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