Boston lifts the lid on James Levine’s teen sex cult

March 2, 2018 by norman lebrecht


Lynn Harrell is among half a dozen musicians who talks to a Boston Globe investigation about the sex cult that James Levine formed with youngsters in Cleveland when he was a rising star in his twenties.

Another witness, James Lestock, identifies himself as a musician who testified to me more than 20 years ago about James Levine’s sex games and abuses (Lestock was not the only one, and I always protected my sources).

Some members recalled an evening when Levine, sitting in a recliner, groped one of the few female students in the group — an episode Lestock said he shared more than 20 years ago with journalist Norman Lebrecht, who included a similar version of the incident in his book “Who Killed Classical Music?”

“This was not a sexual thing,” said Smith, who said he also witnessed the incident. “It was like a power play, a control thing.”

Lestock, who last saw Levine in 1978, said he received a call from Levine as Lebrecht’s book went to print.

“He voluntarily said that he had abused others,” recalled Lestock. “He didn’t name names; I didn’t ask. He brought up that point and said that out loud.”


Read the full story here.

Levine denies past misconduct. The Met and Boston Symphony are investigating allegations against him.

Comments (77)

  1. anon says:

    So, the Boston Globe piece: in terms of facts, nothing substantively different from what has already been publicly alleged, just more descriptive terms like “cult”, “Levinites” (very biblical).

    The bottom line is this:

    1. Levine will never work again. What he did was, and is, morally wrong.

    2. But, none of the allegations made public thus far, even if proven true and even if statutes of limitations didn’t apply, rose to the level of criminal by the laws at the time (it was the 70s!).

    3. Prediction: All entities investigating him (Met, BSO, Ravinia, Verbier, etc) in their final report will use very strong moral language condemning him, but they won’t find anything criminal.

    1. Mark says:

      I agree with you – but if he doesn’t ever work again, we (the Met audience) will be the losers. After hearing that inane, timid Parsifal conducted by Yannick Nosey-Baboon (or whatever his Frenchy name is), I’ll be buying up all the Met-Levine DVDs I can find … They are cheaper than the Met tickets anyway !

      1. Michael Comins says:

        Did you poll the musicians of the Met and Philly orchestras as well as the singers YNS worked with before making your ludicrous comments? Who died and left you the supreme arbiter of anyone’s musical gifts??

        1. Mark says:

          I don’t give a damn what people who work for the tiny Frenchman think. I buy tickets and give money (the Met will never again get any from me) based on my own impressions.

          1. Jean-Francois says:

            Frenchman? Dude, he’s from Canada.

      2. Caravaggio says:

        Double losers, actually, if last night’s dreadful performance of Elektra is anything to go by. The main culprits for the sorry performance? The soprano manqué in the title role and the highly unbalanced and unidiomatic conducting from YNS. The Klytämnestra and Chrysothemis were not much better.

        1. Mark says:

          @Caravaggio After that Parsifal, I won’t waste my time on Nosey’s Electra. Thank you for confirming my fears ! BTW, do you happen to know if Javier Camarena will be back (he was sick as of February 28) for any of the performances of Semiramide this season ?

          1. Caravaggio says:

            Camarena has withdrawn from the remaining Semiramides. He and DeShong were the only bright lights in it. Speaking of soprano manqués in title roles ……

      3. Caravaggio says:

        And, on cue, here is Tommasini’s latest and misguided cheerleading session on the Met’s behalf and on behalf of his current soprano pet project (remember Voigt and how she ended?). Anyway, a very inaccurate and typically biased review.

        1. Mark says:

          Tommassini is on Gelb’s payroll. What else is new ?

        2. collin says:

          From the review: “Thursday’s extraordinary performance of Richard Strauss’s “Elektra” pointed a way out of the company’s problems: Just keep presenting opera on this level, and all should be fine.”

          This attitude, that great performances is all one needs to “point the way out of the company’s problems” and then “all should be fine”, is precisely the attitude that turned a blind eye to James Levine for 40 years.

          Nice enabling, Tommasini.

      4. Jaypee says:

        How old are you? 6?

        1. Patrick says:

          Oh, be fair…. Mark is 12.

      5. Rodrigo says:

        Yannick Nosey Baboon – LOL!

      6. Amos says:

        Have you no shame? If he doesn’t work again we the Met audience will be the losers! He should be in jail not walking free much less conducting. Has the trump-era perverted any and all sense of decency?

      7. Yes Addison says:

        We the audience will be the losers because we’ll no longer have a bunch of performances per season conducted by an elderly man with chronic medical problems that affect his ability to lead clearly, when he doesn’t cancel? I’ll take that loss.

        Anyway, whether you liked Levine’s glutinous, smoothed-out Wagner or not (I, obviously, did not), he was never going to conduct Wagner again at the Met after those 2015 Tannhaeusers, which truly “took a village” to make happen. Nor was he up for Berg or R. Strauss, obviously. This had nothing to do with the scandal. He was limited in what he could do.

        The difference between the hype for YNS and the hype for Levine is just that you’ve been hearing the latter for longer, and you think of him as one of yours. The next Ring will be conducted by Philippe Jordan, so get started on thinking up a slur for him. You have a year.

        1. Mark says:

          The Ring ? I heard a few performances conducted by Jordan in Europe, and if you think that I will spend money on this hideously ugly piece of Gelb’s folly led by that tedious Swiss Schafseeleguete Kapellmeister, you should have your head surgically removed from your arse.

      8. db says:

        He doesn’t have a Frenchy name anymore than you have a Teutonicky name.

      9. martain smith says:

        Rather try one of several live Knappertsbusch CDs to get the real thing!

      10. martain smith says:

        …rather try one of Knappertsbursch’s live recordings for the real thing!

    2. collin says:

      He will never work again but he’ll continue to collect on his royalties on his recordings and 100 years from now, his only legacy will be his recordings.

      What composer, conductor, orchestra, has been banned from the canon because of moral/sexual failings or even illegality? None I can think of.

      It’s not a moral judgement, it’s a statement of fact: historically speaking, classical music is morally indifferent.

      1. anon says:

        Wagner. Israel.

    3. Alex Davies says:

      Has there actually been much innovation in the laws concerning sexual assault since the 1970s? I rather suspect that the real difference is that the existing laws probably were seldom enforced in the 1970s. That certainly is the case in the UK. Over here one of the main statutes under which people have been convicted for sexual offences committed in the 1970s (and other decades, of course) is the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The Crown also sometimes prosecutes people under the Indecency with Children Act 1960. I’d be very surprised if sexually assaulting people was legal in the USA in the 1970s.

    4. Olassus says:

      The Boston Globe’s report states that John Gidwitz, the promoter and enabler of Levine during what would have been his peak sexual activity, chooses not to comment. Too bad. He could presumably fill in many blanks.

  2. boringfileclerk says:

    More will come to light. This is only just the beginning, and it’s long overdue.

    1. Anon says:

      I have more. A lot more. But I’m still waiting. It was pretty awful at the time. Now there’s an entire field of hostility since we don’t have video. Not ready for it yet.

  3. pooroperaman says:

    Yawn. Is he a good conductor or not? End of.

    1. Mark says:

      He is a great one and his successor isn’t – that’s the truly tragic part.

      1. will says:

        Why on Earth has YNS been hyped to a level that is truly grotesque?

        1. Cubs Fan says:

          For the same reason that a LOT of other younger conductors are being hyped: who else is there and they’re desperately trying to find some way of attracting younger audiences. The NY Phil has a new incoming MD who is vastly over-rated, too. I still am not convinced that the Dude in LA is all that great. We’ve come to a time when good looks, a foreign name and an accent are more important that solid musicianship. There was a reason that for a long time conductors came up through the opera house system and working in smaller cities until they truly learn their craft. Today’s baton wavers are a shoddy imitation.

          1. John Borstlap says:

            Someone with hughe blobs of ear wax and not noticing. The incoming MD in NY is known for his solid musicianship, but of course, that is only audible for listeners who can actually hear.

          2. Cubs Fan says:

            In Reply to Mr. Borstlap: have you heard his Beethoven 5th – either the dreadful Dallas version or the even worse NY? Pales in comparison to the legacy of Bernstein, Maazel, Masur or even Mehta. I have been to Dallas twice to catch the Mahler 3. First was with Litton – tremendous performances and the recording is a great witness. Then 3 years ago with JvZ – not bad, but far from what Litton achieved. Now I get it, JvZ performed one of your works in Dallas, so you might owe him some allegiance and even like the man personally. But love of him in Dallas is not universal, and from what I’ve heard – on and off record – he’s just not that great of a conductor. Maybe someday. At least he keeps his hands off little boys!

          3. Mark says:

            @Harold Braun You are NOT doing a hekuva job, Brounie ;-P
            Mr. Nosey – Baboon is 45. Levine started conducting at the Met in his early 30s.
            Compare Levine’s early recordings (his fabulous Mahler, Schumann and Brahms with Philadelphia/Chicago) with Nosey’s inane HIP-infested Schumann and Mendelssohn or his routine Mozart’s operas.
            A man of 45 isn’t a young conductor, but fully formed musician. And in Yannick’s case, a very good, but not a great one.

    2. Anon! A Moose! says:

      And this is why abuse continues. I really wish our society didn’t enable horrible people just because they are talented. A musician’s first and foremost duty is to… not to the music, it’s to be a decent f***ing human being. I’m tired of conductors who treat people horribly and its waved away with “but they are talented/smart/popular” etc. There are enough nice people in the biz that we don’t have to put up with arrogant assholes if we would just insist that we deserve better, and realize that the person who is .5% less talented but a 100% better person will be better for everyone and for the art form in the long run.

      1. Mark says:

        I don’t know about you, but I care about the music, not the artist’s private behavior. If they commit crimes, they should be prosecuted by the government.
        Aside from that, I don’t give a fig.
        There is this retarded fellow who sometimes wonders through Central Park in the summer – he is very sweet and kind and completely harmless, and he plays a harmonica. He also drools a lot. Sounds like your idea of a great artist …

        1. V.Lind says:

          Rape, abuse, sexual coercion, seduction of minors — all okay with you as long as the guy tosses off a great Beethoven 5? Yikes.

          as for YNC, he seems to have escaped musical lambasting in Philadelphia and Rotterdam,to not negligible orchestras. Perhaps not everything has been as hoped at the Met so far, though it very much depends who you ask, but he is still finding his feet. Maybe the appointment was premature, and maybe, as someone has noted, even Levine took a while to become Levine,musically speaking. Give the guy a chance.

          1. Mark says:

            What rape
            what minors ? Everyone mentioned was of age and all the acts were consensual.
            Levine’s behavior was improper, but not criminal. Yawn …

      2. Sharon says:

        One cannot do one’s best work over the long haul in an atmosphere of intimidation or resentment because of real or perceived unfair favoritism. I believe that the reason Levine was liked so well was that by the time he got to the Met , with a few notable exceptions, he and those Levinites who went with him were keeping his cultic or power abusing activities pretty discreet from the day to day workings of the orchestra and other staff at the Met, and by the time Levine was the lead maestro his power plays and sexual abuse WITHIN THE MET ITSELF had largely ended as had the Levinite cult, although Levine had clearly continued the same type of manipulation on a lesser scale, outside of the MET.
        But, in spite of some sympathy I have to this older, physically challenged man, I agree with Anon A Moose. This whole case gives new meaning to the adage, “It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice.”

        1. Hollyave says:

          In Michigan, when abuse occurs by a teacher or someone in a leadership (conductor) role, the legal of a minor redsorts to 18, not 16. Some of the abused were minors

    3. Cztph says:

      Fortunately, we as human beings have more to consider than if someone is good iot bad in their profession. For me, Abusive actions that are ruinous to others is by far a deeper and important issue than whether someone is good at what they do

  4. torinese says:

    Everyone who has heard personal reminiscences from members of Levine’s “cult” knows about episodes like the ones the Globe cites, and more. He wasn’t the first charismatic and talented person to indulge a taste for controlling others, and won’t be the last. Future ones will have to watch themselves more carefully in the matter of sex with minors, and that’s a good thing. But megalomania will probably not disappear from the bewildering array of human types, nor will susceptibility to the appeal of the gifted megalomaniac. Levine was, in this sense, a sick man, and could at times be an extraordinarily cruel one. He was also brilliant, and gave the world a lot. There are figures all through history in all fields of endeavor whose balance of sin and achievement will fascinate the observers of humankind endlessly. It’s surely good that scrutiny be applied to them and their secretive empires, so as to have a chance at protecting victims when things cross the line into outright abuse. It’s less clear that simply drumming them out of society would be a gain.

  5. Sue says:

    Levine is a common criminal, if all this is true. And those who remained silent and knew are ‘accessories after the fact’. I don’t speak about the victims here either.

    1. Herr Doktor says:

      Sue, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever agreed with you about anything. Although I’ll admit, I feel a letdown that you didn’t follow your comment with a further rant at how liberals have degraded society and are to blame for everything. Hopefully next time you will return to form.

      1. Bruce says:

        She was probably in a hurry to finish typing her message before the light turned green 🙂

        1. Herr Doktor says:

          …or to rush to the TV so she wouldn’t miss the start of Hannity’s program. It’s important, because how else is she to know what she should be thinking or saying to others?

    2. Anon says:

      Sue, you have a heart.

  6. Sharon says:

    Torinese is spot on. In the psychiatric hospital I see less sophisticated versions of Levine’s grandiosity and “manic tendencies” behavior daily from people who cannot get away with it because the are not geniuses. There are many patients who say that they are G-d, or an angel, or a prophet, or that they have won Nobel prizes and are trying to save the world in some way. Some patients try to use manipulative behavior to put together their own “crew” of other patients who do their bidding or follow them around. One also sees less sophisticated elements of Levine’s behavior in the “mean girl” leaders of cliques in early adolescence.
    I wish I could be charitable and say that this behavior was probably a result of some childhood abuse but possibly apart from the manipulative “good cop-bad cop” or “you are one of the chosen few” techniques he may have learned from his salesman father or teachers it probably was a result of everyone kissing his behind from a very young age so he believed that he was above rules of behavior that applied to others, his lack of interaction with anything outside of the music world, and his “manic” tendencies that one sees in many, if not most, creative geniuses which enabled him to be idealistic in the abstract while being unable to empathize one on one with other individuals. We now know that manic behavior, which includes meglomania, hypersexuality and lack of sleep as mentioned in the Globe article, is largely a function of brain chemistry, not upbringing, The intermittent tremors that he had could very well have been a side effect of lithium, although he could have developed Parkinson’s later.
    Ironically in his later interviews (mid fifties and later) he continually humbly attributes his success to his teachers and mentors and sometimes even said that he could not have gotten where he was without a lot of luck (see his NEA interview on You Tube). I do not know if he said this because of the advice of publicity agents or because he had an epiphany after experiencing mental or physical health problems or after too many close calls with getting into serious trouble, or possibly because he was under a better medication regimen.
    The opposite of manic behavior is of course depression. Although his statement in December indicates that at least intellectually he believes that this will pass and at least with regard to media coverage it largely has already, I still believe that he could become suicidal, and this may not happen so immediately. His physical problems may actually be a blessing because it means that someone is with him all or most of the time.
    One of my hobbies is reading biography because I learn so much about life and behavior by reading about other people’s lives and there are many, many lessons to be learned from Levine’s My opinions have become much more nuanced just by blogging about it. It is a metaphor for so many things which is why, as Torinese says, I am so fascinated with this story. I can’t wait for the definitive biography. I also look forward to the play, movie, and dare I say opera, which is sure to follow of this man who is a combination of Don Juan, Falstaff, and Julius Ceasar.
    However, I would only be following Levine’s example if I objectified him as a social, cultural and political symbol who is of educational and, frankly, entertainment use to me and not recognize that behind all the hype is a very human hurting individual who may now be truly repentant of the pain that he has caused so many others.

    1. MichaelNYC says:

      By far the most interesting comment, truly made it worthwhile to wade through all the obnoxious sidebar and off-topic remarks.

    2. Cztph says:

      Thank you Sharon. As an abused person from the late 60’s, it’s interesting to notice that some of the comments here have nothing to do with the article. It’s as though I see right before me how easy it is to be a facilitator of abuse and choose to ignore it.
      Sweep it under the damn rug. By sharing abuse I find it relieves me of keeping it within myself. By the ‘ world’ now sharing these intense, painful memories with me, my pentup emotions are diluting and evaporating into a larger pool of the worlds emotions, not just mine!
      Thank you again

      1. Sharon says:

        Thank you CZTPH. What may be comforting whenever one is abused is whatever way is that almost always, the defect is with the abuser, not the victim

    3. Anon says:

      It was in his childhood. He had something very similar done to him. I don’t get why they haven’t gotten to that yet. And no. It doesn’t excuse it. In any way. But there is an interesting context. You got the closest yet, though.

  7. anon says:

    Levine’s crime was not to have recruited a more talented group of “Levinites” to his “cult”.

    If these bitter septuagenarian complainers had had a successful career, they would have excused all of Levine’s behavior.

    It was the fucking 70’s. People fucked during the 70’s. Even innocent impressionable teenagers fucked during the 70’s. Richard Pryor and Marlon Brando fucked each other in the 70’s (revealed by Quincy Jones and Pryor’s wife recently). That’s how fucked up the 70’s were.

    1. Mark says:

      It was the 60s, actually. I am an attorney, and my mentor in the beginning of my career was a very famous corporate lawyer who went to college in the 60s. He laughs at all the Levine stories and says that compared to what was going on on college campuses in those days, the accusations against Levine sound like a rowdy Sunday school. For crying out loud, even in my day I’ve been to some wild frat parties, where people grabbed anything that had a pulse (if they were drunk enough, pulse was optional …)
      Cue the Angry Unshaven Feminists & Woke Beta-Males chorus !!!

      1. Robert Hairgrove says:

        “(if they were drunk enough, pulse was optional …)”

        Now THAT was funny! 🙂

      2. Hilary says:

        “That’s how fucked up the 70s were”

        Can we be so certain that the 60s/70s had more abandon in this regard than the present day? The landscape has changed somewhat (ie. dating apps etc) but I’m sure plenty still goes on…I’m not berating the fact by the way.

      3. Sharon says:

        Mark, description does not equal prescription. In the mid eighties, when I was in graduate school, I had a roommate who was crying over her abortion. It was her first “fling” that is, casual sex outside a relationship, and she did not know who the father was, the casual fling or a semi-ex boyfriend with whom she had agreed to have an open relationship. She told me “Sometimes you’re so drunk you cannot find the bed, much less the diaphragm”. Drunken casual sex = serious consequences and a lot of pain.

        1. Mark says:

          Sharon, stuff happens. At least your roommate didn’t protest her imaginary “innocence” and invent some silly rape story.

      4. Robert Holmén says:

        MARK’s standard for useful academic interaction is what happens at a frat party.

        1. Mark says:

          Hey, it was very useful to my young horny self

      5. Anon says:

        These were not frat kids. These were anxious kids desperate to feel they were accepted by a superstar young guy who had an official faculty position and preyed on the weaker ones. They thought he was a friend and a mentor. He pushed them very incrementally in a really expert way. They’re the opposite end of the spectrum from your example. He was quite cruel to them and he’s finally paying for it now. He won’t likely conduct again, a huge loss for him as it’s something he devoted his life to. He is quite intelligent so he knew not to go after ten-year-olds. So the courts aren’t likely to touch him. But nothing can get him out of this now. Ultimately that’s all that matters. And he has Harvey Weinstein to thank for it. He’ll live out his last years avoiding people, afraid to be seen in public. People will huddle, whisper, and point. Shame for him. Shame for them. Everyone loses.

    2. Turkei says:

      You must live in an igloo.
      The principals surrounding abuse stay the same no matter what the year.
      I hope you stay warm and protected.

  8. Thomas says:

    Levine*s abuse of young people (and minors) has been common knowledge in the classical community for decades. He should have gone to prison a long time ago.

  9. eric says:

    Let’s not forget that this is not just bad behavior. Some of it was also illegal.

    This article says “Lestock, who said he first had sex with Levine as a 17-year-old cello student at Meadow Brook [Illinois] in the summer of 1968”

    Earlier articles have reported on his having sex with a 15-year-old:

    “Legendary Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine molested an Illinois teenager from the time he was 15 years old, sexual abuse that lasted for years and led the alleged victim to the brink of suicide, according to a police report obtained by The Post.”

  10. M. Renard says:

    Watching classical music snobs, few of whom are actually themselves serious musicians, huffily and pissily moan over the loss to the Met of Levine’s purported “talents,” and bitch about this or that singer or conductor as the death of opera in America, or excusing Levine’s disgusting sexual abuse as the culture of the times or normal in the dissipated culture of effete classical music, just confirms my own view (as a one time serious classical musician and composer who now prefers and professionally plays popular music both as music and for the quality of the company) that the entire edifice of American classical music and its sick culture can’t collapse fast enough. And I t is collapsing. Levine just added his substantial weight to the landslide. Blow it all up. It can’t be saved. It’s fundamentally unpopular, tapped out and repetitious and boring and stiff culturally irrelevant, financially unsustainable without massive public and philanthropic support better spent on wider human needs, and so pompous and elitist and racist and sexist that it no longer makes sense to most young people at all.

    No one is a “maestro” anywhere but at the podium. This is the obvious tip of an iceberg. You know Levine didn’t stop at the cases described because predators never do. And the idea that this was contained to the 1970s is ludicrous, even if it were an excuse.

    1. Mark says:

      So listen to rap. I am sure the crowd there is as sophisticated and manly as you are. Say hi to Jay Z, the Kardashians and other brilliant creative minds for us !

      1. M. Renard says:

        You have no idea how much musical talent resides in the world of hip hop production. That is where talented musicians go these days, just like Haydn worked for a royal household. Only upper class kids go into classical music “professionally,” usually as an accident of their parents’ ambitions for them. . There’s no there there for those of us who want an audience and to make a good living. As it happens, my art is not in the hip hop space, but your racist casual dismissal of the artistry of hip hop says everything about classical music snobbery, and nothing about hip hop.

        Classical music is almost dead, so I won’t pile on. But if I had to I could sit down and improvise a fugue at the keyboard, and I doubt you could get close.

        1. Mark says:

          Thanks for the laugh. You are one amusing fellow ! The very idea that you refer to this asinine clownade of obtuse urban anger (otherwise known as hip hop) as art tells me all I need to know about your taste and intelligence. Only upperclass kids go into classical music ? Tell that to a poor Chinese parent who saves up to buy a piano for their kid. Or maybe to some of the leading opera singers today who grew up in working class families and started their career singing in little provincial churches.
          Classical music will exist as long as there are people whose aesthetic needs require something greater than the nauseating bubblegum of pop culture. And the fact that you didn’t have enough talent to succeed in it doesn’t equal the classical music’s demise anymore that Julia Roberts’ abysmal failure on the Broadway stage portended the death of the American theater.

    2. Sharon says:

      This stuff happens in the world of popular music too all the time. Perhaps in the popular music world they are more open about it.

      1. M. Renard says:

        Would never say it doesn’t. But popular musicians and fans don’t claim their art is morally superior or hella build character or that being good at it excuses being a rapist.

  11. Mathias Broucek says:

    Am stunned and saddened that so many people think that appalling but not necessarily criminal (giving the benefit of the doubt) behaviour is somehow OK if the “product” is good.

    If Levine was inventing a cure for cancer his behaviour would STILL not be OK. And being a 10/10 as opposed to 9/10 conductor is meaningless in the context of this bullying and control.

    And, to be clear, “it wasn’t criminal” isn’t setting the bar very high, is it?

  12. Sir Dempsy Esq. Jr III says:

    James Levine has produced his greatest work ever: American liberalism destroying itself. The “intelligentsia” (one need only look to the New York Times to understand the quotation marks) has drank the feminist Kool-Aid, and now every man’s balls are on the chopping block, for any misbehavior, no matter how slight, no matter how long ago, even beyond statutes of limitations.

    My favorite accusoer, the 16 year old (paraphrase): “I didn’t know how wrong it was until 30 years later when I went to therapy.”

    In 100 years, the history of psychology will have to contend with its manufacture of victims, and James Levine will be given a little plaque in memory of the sex panics that roiled America from 1980 to 2030.

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