Ever since the first allegations broke against the former music director of the Metropolitan Opera, there has been a rustle of hints, whispers and smears to suggest that James Levine’s alleged conduct resembled that of the great New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein.
Coming as they do on the eve of Bernstein’s centenary, these assertions could strip the gloss off what ought to be a joyous year-long reminder of one of America’s foremost home-bred talents.
So what’s the substance?
Bernstein certainly pursued young men all his adult life. He was mostly gay and totally out in all he did. There was no hidden side to Lenny except his business activities, which were handled by Harry Kraut at Amberson Productions. On the personal front, Lenny would kiss orchestra men on the lips, shocking some older members of the Vienna Philharmonic. He was often seen going off with handsome young men for non-platonic discussions. In an age when male sex was unsafe, Bernstein was reckless to the point of abandon.
No complaint ever reached the public domain. No report of a pay-off ever came to light. That’s all we need to know.
The difference between Bernstein and Levine is that Bernstein was, for most of his life, physically attractive and intellectually compelling. His charisma was such that he did not need to proposition men for sex. They flocked to him. There was nothing seedy or underhand about his transactions. All was out in the open for everyone to see.
Bernstein’s life has been trawled by several good biographers, none of whom came up with serious misdemeanour. His letters, published unadorned, reveal nothing untoward.
Any resemblance between Levine and Bernstein is purely superficial. The Lenny Year can go ahead without fear.
Bernstein in his Dakota apartment with Levine, 1987. photo: Music Division, Library of Congress