Does this festival have a James Levine problem?

Does this festival have a James Levine problem?


norman lebrecht

December 05, 2017

The Verbier Festival published next summer’s programme this morning.

It makes no reference to the festival orchestra’s long association with James Levine as music director from 2000 until 2009.

The orchestra is, in the festival’s description, made up of ‘110 musicians aged from 16 to 29 of many nationalities, coached by section leaders from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.’

Aged 16 to 29.

Martin Engstroem the festival, founder, once gave me certain assurances about young people being protected.

No incident has ever come to light at the festival.

However, yesterday, a violinist in the Verbier Festival Orchestra posted the following comment on Slipped Disc:

I am a former member (male, violinist) of the Verbier Festival Orchestra. I was playing concertmaster for one of the concerts at Verbier, and James Levine asked me to come to the conductor’s room to discuss bowings, etc. after a rehearsal. At the end of this short conversation, he invited me to his accommodations later that evening for a drink. (This was in the presence of his brother Tom, who usually accompanied the Maestro everywhere.) Upon arriving, however, I was asked to come to his room. Aware of the rumors, I declined and politely said that I had to go to a chamber music rehearsal. I later mentioned this to Martin Engstroem, who brushed it aside and said “That’s just Jimmy being Jimmy.” Anyhow, the entire incident made me very uncomfortable, and Levine pretty much ignored me for the remainder of his time at Verbier. I am aware of no precautions that were taken by Martin Engstroem or anyone at the Verbier Festival to safeguard orchestra members.

We have asked Martin Engstroem for his response.



  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Apparently, no-one ever had any kind of problem with JL until a couple of days ago…

  • William Osborne says:

    The age of consent in Switzerland is 16. So no one in the orchestra is legally underage, though that still doesn’t solve other issues of abuse of power.

    In Europe, the ages of consent are much lower than in the USA. In Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Portugal, for example, it is only 14. France, Greece, and Poland put it at 15.

    The average for Europe is 15.

    Only Cyprus and Ireland put it at 17. Only Malta, Turkey, and the Vatican City put it at 18.

    • William Osborne says:

      Another odd factoid: In the 1980s, prominent members of the German Green Party advocated the legalization of pedophilia. In the 90s, the party fortunately backed away from this view.

    • William Osborne says:

      Another interesting fact: Until 2013, the age of consent in the Vatican City was 12 (but he or she had to be married.) In 2013, they moved it to 18, the highest age in Europe.

    • Dennis Ferry says:

      William, what is your point?

      • Been Here Before says:

        If you don’t know about William’s passion for statistics, we can see that you have not been here before 🙂

        • Dennis Ferry says:

          Who are you and why are you responding to my question to William? Whether I’ve “been here before” is irrelevant.

          • Been Here Before says:

            I am a nobody with occasional failed attempts at humor. But I have been here before!

      • William Osborne says:

        The point is obvious. There are significant cultural differences in sexual mores and the age of consent, and that evaluations of Levine will thus be different in some countries, including Switzerland.

        • Dennis Ferry says:

          Maybe he can use this technically to avoid prison.

          • Dennis Ferry says:

            Sorry – technicality.

          • William Osborne says:

            It will depend on the age of consent and the statute of limitations which vary by state. Given the much bigger fish to fry in NYC, I don’t think the DA there is going to put much effort into Met scandals or an aging and ailing pederast — unless something more extreme shows up than what has so far.

        • Wolfgang says:

          Who cares what the age of consent is, a creepy, disgusting slob of a man went after young, very young boys who were under his wing. Um, it’s being discussed that consensual sex disappears if the person making you do these things is of enormous power over you. Basically, you are defending a child molester most likely because your favorite book is Lolita and you too have done these things and/or wish you could get with anyone under 18. Abusers ALWAYS defend abusers.

          • William Osborne says:

            I totally condemn Levine, as I state in one my posts in this blog entry. The point is that efforts to have him punished in Switzerland will fail due to their laws.

  • Jon H says:

    Hopefully in addition to the firing and monetary compensation, we will try to fix the problem. Some sort of help should’ve been given years ago. It might take a first time to realize there’s a problem, but that person needs to seek help pretty soon. Nothing to be ashamed of, we’re all human – but there are consequences for not having it treated. And then as more cases are brought to light, there will be a better understanding (and then the young musicians aren’t in as much fear). But right now it’s going after the money, and then firing the 74 year old confined to a wheelchair. Hopefully the musical gift is worth more.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Good for you for asking Herr Engstroem. Looking forward to his response, should he have the courage to come forth.

  • RW2013 says:

    The Festival has more of a proofreading problem –

    Dimitri Chostakovitch (1906-1975)
    Variations sur un thème de Chopin op.22

  • S. Herman says:

    The relevant point to me isn’t statistics or sexual mores in different cultures. Rather, it is that this young mussician’s opportunity, and probably that of others, to work closely with and learn from a great conductor was discontinued and cutoff when he would not submit to Levine’s sexual advances. It is, I believe, similar to one of the other reports published in the press. Whether the musician is 16, 25 or 29, Levine’s behavior is a dreadful abuse of power.

    • Dennis Ferry says:

      Excellent comment! Bravo.

    • William Osborne says:

      I completely agree, but I think the judgment in Switzerland will be a bit different. It’s not only their differing concepts about age of consent, but also sexual mores that vary in numerous other ways from the “Puritanical” English-speaking world. Knowing the Swiss, however, I think they will try to find some sort of diplomatic middle road if pushed on the subject.

      And lest anyone be confused, I am definitely centered in the English-speaking world’s view on the matter. No one should be sexually manipulating 16 year-olds. Not even people similar to their own age, much less adults. Period.

      • Sue says:

        One of them was the son of a famiy friend, if I remember reading it correctly. And he was 15. What teenager is going to discuss his sexuality and anything to do with sex with his family? None!!

        One of my son’s classmates at school was sexually abuse by a catholic priest who has since died in prison. My son’s friend has attempted suicide at least 2 times and the family wears the guilt of being friendly with the priest and feeling they ‘enabled’ it all. The abused man is now at least 40 and his life is punishingly tormented. The family is a basket case.

  • Charles Fischbein says:

    There are a great many rumors that have been somewhat substantial saying that The Met.has given money to families of children that Levine abused.
    Aside from a legally oriented investigation of his actions I would suggest the Met board require a forensic accountant to pour over the books to determine if in fact this is true.
    Even cash payments from phantom checks or to third parties to pass on to victims most likely could be found by a brisk audit.
    If true Levine should be forced to pay back the funds with interest.
    This I Believe is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    If everyone who said “there are rumors” would say who they heard the rumor from it might be possible to ascertain the origin and merit of them.

  • Martin Engstroem says:

    The Verbier Festival is aware of the recent allegations of sexual harassment made against conductor James Levine. We are profoundly disturbed and saddened by these accusations.

    James Levine participated in eight consecutive editions of the Verbier Festival (1999-2006). He has not returned to the Verbier Festival since 2006 and no future engagements are either confirmed nor anticipated.

    The Verbier Festival maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy in regard to sexual harassment. Since the Festival’s founding in 1994, it has not had any such incidents. Were an allegation to occur, the Festival would treat the report seriously, support the victim, and act swiftly in compliance with its sexual harassment reporting protocol.

    Sexual harassment is abhorrent. We are committed to reviewing and, as necessary, strengthening our current policies and procedures in light of current events.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you, Martin.

    • Andy Lim says:

      VFO_Violin: “I later mentioned this to Martin Engstroem, who brushed it aside and said “That’s just Jimmy being Jimmy.” Anyhow, the entire incident made me very uncomfortable, and Levine pretty much ignored me for the remainder of his time at Verbier. I am aware of no precautions that were taken by Martin Engstroem or anyone at the Verbier Festival to safeguard orchestra members.”

      If the statement of VFO_Violin is true, this does not sound like “Since the Festival’s founding in 1994, it has not had any such incidents.”