James Levine: A note of caution

James Levine: A note of caution


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2017

Over the past month, I have been contacted by at least half a dozen news organisations and journalists, all of whom request my help on investigations they were conducting into allegations of misconduct against the emeritus music director of the Metropolitan Opera. They included Reuters, AP, BBC Newsnight and other well-known operations.

I refused, with one exception, to respond to any request since it was clear to me that these were no more than speculative fishing expeditions. There was, and remains, no evidence to substantiate a welter of suppositions against Mr Levine. Like everyone in the music world, I have heard rumours and investigated some of them. None has been supported by independent third-party testimony.

The accuser whose story is told in the New York Post contacted me many months ago and several times since. I advised him at first contact to report the matter to the police, which he did. I have his deposition. It is alarming and unpleasant. It is backed by a diary the kept at age 16. It is not, however, substantiated by any other witness.

On this basis, I declined to publish his allegations. So, too, did the New York Times, which (I am told) is conducting its own inquiry into an incident, possibly related to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The rumours about James Levine remain rumours until proven. Unless they are, he has no case to answer.

In these extraordinarily dangerous times, when superpower leaders are wilfully blurring the line between truth and lie, there is a duty on journalists to stick to the facts, the whole facts and nothing but the facts. That rule applies in James Levine’s case as it does in every other.


UPDATE: Boston Symphony statement

UPDATE: The Met suspends Levine

UPDATE: Who has questions to answer?


  • William Osborne says:

    It should also be noted that the alleged victim’s testimony is quite plausible. If it turns out that the rumors that have circulated for decades are true, the Met should be held accountable for having not investigated them.

    • William Osborne says:

      We also might note that the nature of sexual assault is that it most often occurs with only the perpetrator and victim present. If the standard of “independent third-party testimony” were applied, the crime would generally be unprosecutable. Far more important is the plausibility of the victim’s testimony.

    • Paul Emmons says:

      The Met is not equipped for such investigations, nor are they part of its mission. The only reason it would be any of the Met’s responsibility to investigate would be if other individuals employed by or associated with the Met were involved.

      • William Osborne says:

        Nonsense. Levine deeply affects the image of the organization and the Met has the financial resources to hire investigators. This was a question of basic due diligence.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Irony: on its stage the most disrespectful situations are presented to the audience. Maybe some conductors have difficulty dinstinguishing between art and life.

    • harold braun says:

      Yes,very plausible.He continued visiting Levine,took the 50.000 bucks,and,in his own words,only recently became aware that the incidents afflicted his life in a bad way(maybe because he spent the 50.000 up….)
      A hustler having gone out of business,trying to make a fast buck with the help of some shuysters and the bigotry and hypocrisy of people patting their own shoulders for being crusaders against discrimination and sexual abuse.Laughable!

      • William Osborne says:

        Your attitude is appalling. A child groomed with gifts and sexually assaulted by an adult is not a hustler. And yes, these victims are often much older when they finally understand what was done to them, which is why most states, like NY, do not have a statute of limitations on the sexual abuse of children.

      • Olassus says:

        Shame on you.

        • harold braun says:

          Put your brains on,gentlemen!He went on for 8 years to visit Levine and take the money.Levine didn´t visit him,he went to meet him!

          • Pamela Brown says:

            With all due respect, I don’t think we can expect someone who has been abused as a child to behave in a manner we would consider ‘normal’ in all instances as an adult. Their perception is skewed, and their emotions have been played with.

          • With knowledge of the facts says:

            Levine did visit him

      • Robert Holmén says:

        You really can’t make a child exploitation legal by seeing him after he turns 18.

    • AMetFan says:

      If, if, if,..all conjecture at this point. Thank goodness we live in a country of laws. Mr. Lebrecht offered a a sensible and intelligent message. Quite frankly, it doesn’t require further comment at this juncture. If there are further facts (FACTS), they will come out. Until then, better to follow the Mueller investigation.

    • Mark says:

      No DA in their right mind would charge anyone just on the basis of a statement. Much more is required – wintnesss, evidence etc. Given that the investigation has been going on for a while, I wonder if the detectives from Illinois ever interviewed Levine – after all, he visited their jurisdiction at least twice recently (in the summer of 2016 and 2017). If they didn’t, it’s the first sign that they are not taking this alleged victim too seriously.

    • Earl Rockwell says:

      Actually, his story doesn’t make sense.

      He claims that Levine had “hundreds” of assignations with him, especially at one particular hotel, and then goes on to claim that on at least one occasion he “kissed his penis.”

      Only one time of note? That’s unbelievable. Just once that you’d mention? Sorry, it would have happened hundreds of times.

    • laurie says:

      Met Opera Suspends James Levine After New Sexual Abuse Accusations
      By MICHAEL COOPERDEC. 3, 2017

      James Levine leading the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2016. Credit Robert Altman for The New York Times
      The Metropolitan Opera suspended James Levine, its revered conductor and former music director, on Sunday after three men came forward with accusations that Mr. Levine sexually abused them decades ago, when the men were teenagers.

      Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, announced that the company was suspending its four-decade relationship with Mr. Levine, 74, and canceling his upcoming conducting engagements after learning from The New York Times on Sunday about the accounts of the three men, who described a series of similar sexual encounters beginning in the late 1960s. The Met has also asked an outside law firm to investigate Mr. Levine’s behavior.

      “While we await the results of the investigation, based on these news reports the Met has made the decision to act now,” Mr. Gelb said in an interview, adding that the Met’s board supported his actions. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”

      The accusations of sexual misconduct stretch back to 1968.

      Chris Brown, who played principal bass in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for more than three decades, said that Mr. Levine masturbated him that summer — and then coaxed him to reciprocate — when Mr. Brown was 17 at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan. Mr. Levine, then 25, was a rising star on the summer program’s faculty. James Lestock said that Mr. Levine also masturbated him there that summer when Mr. Lestock was 17 and a cello student — the first of many sexual encounters with Mr. Levine that have haunted him. And Ashok Pai, who grew up in Illinois near the Ravinia Festival, where Mr. Levine was music director, said that he was sexually abused by Mr. Levine starting in the summer of 1986, when Mr. Pai was 16 — an accusation he made last year in a report to the Lake Forest Police Department in Illinois.


      Ashok Pai on Sunday. He accused Mr. Levine of sexually abusing him for years, starting when Mr. Pai was 16. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times
      “I don’t know why it was so traumatic,” Mr. Brown, who is now 66, said in a recent interview at his home in St. Paul, Minn., fighting tears at the memory, which he said he was moved to share as part of the national reckoning over sexual misconduct. “I don’t know why I got so depressed. But it has to be because of what happened. And I care deeply for those who were also abused, all the people who were in that situation.”

      Told of the accusations, a spokesman for Mr. Levine did not comment on Sunday night.

      Speculation surrounding Mr. Levine’s private life has swirled in classical music circles for decades as he rose to a position of unprecedented prominence at the Met, leading more than 2,500 performances there. Though he stepped down as music director last year after a long struggle with health problems, Mr. Levine had been scheduled to lead a highly anticipated new production of Puccini’s “Tosca” starting New Year’s Eve and two other productions in coming months.

      Continue reading the main story

      Met Opera to Investigate James Levine Over Sexual Abuse Accusation DEC. 2, 2017

      James Levine, Transformative at the Met Opera, Is Stepping Down APRIL 14, 2016

      Continue reading the main story

      But now the Met — the nation’s largest performing arts organization and one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses — finds itself in the position that Hollywood studios, television networks and newsrooms have confronted in recent weeks, answering questions about what it knew about allegations of sexual misconduct against one of its stars, and what actions it did and did not take.

      Mr. Gelb said allegations about Mr. Levine had reached the Met administration’s upper levels twice before, to his knowledge.

      One was in 1979, when Anthony A. Bliss, who was then the Met’s executive director, wrote a letter to a board member about unspecified accusations about Mr. Levine that had been made in an unsigned letter.

      “We do not believe there is any truth whatsoever to the charges,” Mr. Bliss wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, which said the Met had spoken “extensively” with Mr. Levine and his manager. “Scurrilous rumors have been circulating for some months and have often been accompanied by other charges which we know for a fact are untrue.” (Mr. Bliss died in 1991, and there is no record of the original, unsigned letter, so the specific accusations against Mr. Levine in it remain unclear.)

      1979 Metropolitan Opera Letter on Accusations About James Levine
      Anthony A. Bliss, then executive director of the Met Opera, wrote this letter to a Met board member who had received anonymous accusations about James Levine, the music director at the time.

      And then in October 2016, after Mr. Levine had stepped down from his position as music director, Mr. Gelb said he was contacted by a detective with the Lake Forest Police asking questions about Mr. Pai’s report.

      Mr. Gelb said that he briefed the board’s leadership and that Mr. Levine denied the accusations. The company took no further action, waiting to see what the police determined. Then, on Saturday, the Met decided to investigate Mr. Levine after media inquiries about his behavior with young men.

      Mr. Gelb said that the Met had appointed Robert J. Cleary, a partner at the Proskauer Rose law firm who was previously a United States attorney in New Jersey and Illinois, to lead its investigation.


      Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
      The men coming forward now said that some of the abuse started years ago, at the beginning of Mr. Levine’s career, and that this sort of behavior had been widely rumored in music circles.

      Mr. Brown, the former bass player in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, said that he had been surprised in the summer of 1968 when Mr. Levine made him principal bass at Meadow Brook, given that Mr. Brown was only 17 and had just finished his junior year of high school, while other players were older and more experienced. He said that he was initially flattered when Mr. Levine, the conductor of the school’s orchestra and the director of its orchestral institute, began to invite him to his dorm room late at night.

      At their third meeting, Mr. Brown said, Mr. Levine began talking about sex.

      “At that point I think it was basically a combination of fatigue and being young that allowed me to go to the bed — it was the bottom bunk — and have him masturbate me,” Mr. Brown said. “And then, almost immediately, he asked for reciprocation. And I have some very, very strong pictures in my memory, and one of them was being on the floor, and he was on the bottom bunk, and I put my hand on his penis, and I felt so ashamed.”

      “The next morning I was late to rehearsal,” said Mr. Brown, who had been raised a Christian Scientist and recalled that he had received little sex education. “I was in a complete daze. Whatever happens when you get abused had happened, and it wasn’t just sexual.”

      At their next meeting, Mr. Brown said, he told Mr. Levine that he would not repeat the sexual behavior, and asked if they could continue to make music as they had before.

      “And he answered no,” Mr. Brown said, adding that Mr. Levine hardly looked at him for the rest of the summer, even while conducting him. “It was a terrible, terrible summer.” (That fall, after he returned for his senior year of high school, at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Mr. Brown told his roommate about Mr. Levine’s sexual advances at Meadow Brook, the roommate confirmed in an interview.)

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      Mr. Lestock, the teenage cello student at Meadow Brook, said in a telephone interview that he had a similar experience that summer in Mr. Levine’s dorm room.

      “During the discussion, he suggested that I take my clothes off, because this would be natural and honest and expand my outlook on the world,” Mr. Lestock said. “My initial response included the word ‘no.’ I was not interested in that. But he ignored that, and pursued the point, and convinced me to let him masturbate me.”

      Mr. Levine at that point was also an assistant conductor at the Cleveland Orchestra, and was surrounded by a tight-knit clique of musicians who were awed by him and followed him as his career took off. Mr. Lestock joined that group, whose members studied music together, traveled together, ate together, and sometimes lived together. But he said that over the years he was sometimes subjected to humiliating sexual encounters with Mr. Levine.

      At one point in Cleveland, where he moved in 1969 to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he said that Mr. Levine encouraged the members of the group to put on blindfolds and masturbate partners they could not see. They did, Mr. Lestock said.

      “This was the extent to which he had control,” Mr. Lestock said. Another member of the group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to guard his privacy, said that he had also taken part in a blindfolded masturbation session.

      A few years later, in a hotel near the Ravinia Festival, Mr. Lestock said that Mr. Levine caused him physical pain, telling him that he should “expand” his “range of emotions” and pinching him — repeatedly and hard — on his legs.

      “Once I started to break down and cry, he continued to try to hurt me,” Mr. Lestock said of Mr. Levine, who was music director of Ravinia from 1973 through 1993.

      But Mr. Lestock said he felt powerless to leave. “If I had left the group at the point, I would have had no career, no income, no friends, and have been totally alone in the world,” he said. After following Mr. Levine to New York in the early 1970s, Mr. Lestock, who is now 67, eventually left the group, and music.

      Mr. Pai said that he first met Mr. Levine when he was four years old and his parents took him backstage after a Ravinia concert. In 1985, when Mr. Pai was 15, he said, Mr. Levine gave him a ride home and began holding his hand in an “incredibly sensual way.” The following summer, he said, Mr. Levine touched his penis in a hotel room near the festival, beginning what he described as years of sexual encounters.

      “I was vulnerable,” said Mr. Pai, who is 48. “I was under this man’s sway, I saw him as a safe, protective person, he took advantage of me, he abused me and it has really messed me up.”

      He said that the relationship continued for years and that his feelings were complicated: He shared a copy of a Western Union Mailgram he had sent to Mr. Levine at the Salzburg Festival in 1988 that contained the postscript “P.S. I love you.” But Mr. Pai came to realize that, in those early years, he had been too young to give consent.

      Speculation about Mr. Levine’s private life has occasionally come into public view. In 1987, Mr. Levine dismissed talk of wrongdoing in an interview with The Times, saying that “both my friends and my enemies checked it out and to this day, I don’t have the faintest idea where those rumors came from or what purpose they served.”

      A decade later, more rumors circulated in Germany, when politicians and media outlets debated his appointment to become the music director of the Munich Philharmonic, beginning in 1999. In an interview in The Times in 1998, Mr. Levine declined to respond to the speculation.

      “I’ve never been able to speak in public generalities about my private life,” he said.

      Officials at Ravinia, where Mr. Levine is scheduled to begin an ongoing annual residency next summer, said on Sunday that they first learned of the accusations through the media this weekend. “Ravinia finds these allegations very disturbing and contrary to its zero-tolerance policies and culture,” Allie Brightwell, its media manager, said in an email. “Ravinia will take any actions that it deems appropriate following the results of these investigations.”

      The Boston Symphony Orchestra, which Mr. Levine led from 2004 through 2011, said in a statement Sunday that it had conducted “a personal and professional review of all aspects of James Levine’s candidacy” before naming him its music director, and that it had never been approached during his tenure with accusations of inappropriate behavior.

      For the three men, unburdening themselves after decades has meant delving back into some of their most painful memories.

      Sitting in his home in St. Paul, Mr. Brown looked over old documents from Meadow Brook, including a program for a starry concert performance of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” featuring Cornell MacNeil, Roberta Peters and Jan Peerce in which he played under Mr. Levine’s baton. He said his abuse had left scars for years.


      A program for the Meadow Brook School of Music’s 1968 production of “Rigoletto.” Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times
      “I’m still trying to figure out why it’s so incredibly emotional, and sticks with you for your whole life,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s shame, a lack of intimacy and sheltering yourself from other people.”

      Zachary Woolfe contributed reporting and Susan Beachy contributed research.

  • herrera says:

    In other words, you got scooped.

    You could’ve broke the story ahead of the NYT and the NY Post.

    You had the material, had direct contact with the source.

    A good editorial team, like the one at the New Yorker, which scooped NBC News on the Weinstein story, would’ve been very resourceful for you to break the story first.

    • J. says:

      I’m not a fan of Norman’s journalist procedures (the clickbait posts etc.), but I think he was right here. The material is not enough, you have to investigate too, talk to some people, and this is easier to a reporter with a whole newspaper structure. Especially a reporter living in the US, close to the facts.

      • Nick says:

        I am a fan of this blog and so I do not agree with the first part of the response. With the latter, I entirely agree!

  • Daisy C says:

    It’s clear from this Norman that you haven’t spent much time dining out in New York over the years. Those of us who have, have often had our dinners spoilt by catching sight of Levine entertaining an underage boy, who was usually wearing a touchingly ill-fitting blazer. The boys changed more often than the blazers. The question isn’t whether Levine did it, and often, but how he could have been so blatant about it for so long.

    • Broccoli Rob says:

      I am fascinated by this comment and cannot stop rereading it….jesus! I must know more!

    • Wurm says:

      Going to dinner is not illegal

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Daisy C, what you wrote is one of the most interesting things I’ve read in this whole saga.

      Wurm, having dinner with boys is not illegal. But if you are unable to see how 1+1+1=3, then something is wrong with you. The vast majority of adult men, straight or gay, including ones who are truly doing selfless, altruistic, wonderful work with boys such as being a Big Brother (which I have been), are not interested in having extended personal time let alone dinner with said boys unless it’s in some specific context–and then often other people will be involved. If what Daisy C wrote is true (and I suspect it is), and this is a pattern that repeats itself over and over again, then there’s likely something untoward going on here.

      Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

  • V says:

    So why did you mention this in the “Maestro Myth” Norman? In the book you didn’t out the conductor but the details led one to believe that it was J. Levine. I think you owe it to your readers to explain this.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I named no-one, and have continued to name no-one, for the very good reason that the incident was not atypical and could have applied to any one of three conductors known to me at that time. And it was not in The Maestro Myth but in my followup book on the music business.

      • V says:

        My apology, I mentioned the wrong book. The book was “Who Killed Classical Music.” I have that book somewhere and should have re-read the passage before I posted the query.

    • Nick says:

      I have looked through “The Maestro Myth” and can find nothing about your reference. Funny how memories deceive us, isn’t it? That said, however, there is a reference in “Who Killed Classical Music?” (also published under the title “When the Music Stops”). The specific sentence states –

      “Levine’s foes were murmerous, among them some board members who barely suppressed their outrage at extra-mural activities that, according to TIME magazine, involved ‘liaisons with people of every age and hue.'”

      That was a direct quote from a distinguished publication. Under such circumstances I cannot see it requires any explanation whatever. V would be far better taking up the matter directly with TIME.

      • William Osborne says:

        Fully understandable that a journalist without documentation could not report the name. Less understandable that the Met did not investigate years ago and set the matter straight.

        If the rumors of pay offs are true and this comes to light, the repercussions will be enormous. If there were payoffs, I suspect they will be protected by an impermeable wall of silence and hidden trails that even the police will have difficulty clarifying.

        There is no statute of limitations for the sexual assault of a child in the state of New York.

  • Ukranian James Bond says:

    What on earth does that photo have to do with any if this? Why not post this photo? Oh, I see, because the magic negro can do no wrong. Brainwashed sheep.


  • Philip says:

    “In these extraordinarily dangerous times, when superpower leaders are wilfully blurring the line between truth and lie” – Jesus Christ. Everyone understands that until proven in the court of law, allegations are just that. Insert as many qualifiers as you like and say you couldn’t independently verify the claims, but why resort to these silly, ham-fisted pomposities about Putin/Trump? It comes off incredibly sleazy given what is construed by many as your past insinuations re Levine

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The photo denotes the evil times in which we live and your racist comment demonstrates that. Shame on you keep trolling out of this site.

    • Steve P says:

      It is your opinion the photo of Trump and Putin denotes evil; some may see it as NL merely engaging in more cheap character assassination by association.
      Your point about unnecessary racial comments is valid, however: everyone knows Obama was half white and Not in the least bit magical.

  • Sam says:

    NL: “I have his deposition. It is alarming and unpleasant. It is backed by a diary he kept at age 16. It is not, however, substantiated by any other witness.”

    Respectfully, Norman, sex abuse tends not to be a spectator sport. This is WHY he kept a diary, to be his own witness and his own chronicler. There was nobody else in the room when the priests were groping our genitals at boarding school, either. As in all of these cases, the very modus of the crime is the carefully guarded secrecy of power-abusing manipulation behind very closed doors. They use any number of lures: the promise of career opportunity, money, or, in our case, the simple attraction of chocolate digestive biscuits during private, Sunday evening “Pastoral Care” sessions. All the victim can do is deal with it mentally, until one day he no longer can. Yes, that often takes decades, and requires a concurrent, supporting wave of public value-shifting, as we are seeing these days.

    Of course, to your point, it is undeniable that we can not allow social media to act as police, judge, jury and hangman, all in one fleeting swoosh of accusation. But what we are seeing today is the use of this democratizing technology for victims to post their protest – often held within for years and years – that there is no legal avenue available to them, that they can not seek justice in any other way for unwitnessed, unspeakable acts of indecency. Trees that fall in the night make no sound.

    Finally, for those on this blog who have expressed a chilling lack of understanding or empathy for the victim in related threads – characterizing him as a complicit “rent boy” – I suggest you read one of the most compelling and courageous articles ever published on the matter of dependency in longterm, adult-on-child sex abuse, written by the British film director Don Boyd.


    An except from Mr. Boyd’s testimony: “…Even if you buy into the myth that corporal punishment, bullying and sex between consenting teenagers is OK as long as it stays within the dormitory, nobody could seriously argue the same for the cynical, deliberate sexual manipulation of a child by an adult charged with that child’s spiritual, educational and physical welfare. We have never talked about the paedophiles in the public-school system because I suspect that, like me, those who have been harmed by them were firstly too scared and ashamed to admit that anything took place at all and, secondly, wanted to bury the memory so aggressively that the psychological wound it caused would not be blamed for the consequential behaviour and anguish. And because these crimes have been so repressed and denied, nobody has really assessed what damage they did to their victims. I can only guess at the damage it has done to me and the misery I have experienced living with the impact.”

    • Earl Rockwell says:

      Yes, except the allegation go WELL into adulthood. No one would allow this to happen “hundreds” of times. Sorry, don’t buy it.

      And, why did he wait 30 years to say anything?

      • Daisy C says:

        So: here is someone who thinks that abusive relationships cannot continue in adulthood? Or begin in adulthood? In middle age? In old age? There is nothing one can do about that except sigh in outrage and sadness.

  • BP says:

    When people on previous threads say “everyone knew about Levine”, do they mean everyone knew he may have been an abuser and manipulator or everyone knew he went out with young boys/men ? (honest question)

    • mr oakmountain says:

      Exactly. If “everyone knew”, how come no-one called the police?
      Another point: Assuming this is all true, where did the young man’s parents think he was when these encounters took place?

      • Daisy C says:

        It wasn’t the young man’s parents. It was the young men’s parents. If you have never encountered dysfunctional parents, even as an idea, it’s time for you to do some research on google. This level of innocence (or denial) is not congruent with the reality of life today.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    I think Levine played the fiddle for the last time yesterday, for himself and for Gelb. It is being reported, after all, that Gelb and the Met board had been informed of the police report sometime in 2016. And yet, Gelb and the board did nothing about it and continued engaging Levine at the Met. This is clearly a case of protecting their boy and outright complicity with crime. So, this requires house cleaning: Gelb and the entire board must resign immediately. And good luck to Levine, who ought to be banned everywhere for life, and I mean the world over, effective immediately.

    • Been Here Before says:

      Entirely agree. The institutional cover up is even more disconcerting than the man himself.

      My only question – how could it go for so long?

    • Stephen says:

      Let he who be without sin cast the first stone.

    • Thornhill says:


      First, it’s shameful that NL is discounting the police report and police investigation a “rumor.” That word should not be used now that someone has gone on the record.

      Next, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Gelb and many board members need to go. Horrifying that they were made aware of the police report and did nothing because Levine told them he was innocent. If this any other Met employee the situation obviously would have been handled completely differently. The irony is that had they put Levine on administrative leave back then while they investigated, they wouldn’t even had to explain why he was dropping out of concerts — everyone would have assumed it was for health reasons.

      • Edgar says:

        “First, it’s shameful that NL is discounting the police report and police investigation a “rumor.” That word should not be used now that someone has gone on the record. ”

        Fully agree. Yet I would use stronger words. The word “rumor” is the crual slap in the face of the victim.

        My respect for Mr. Lebrecht has sunken very low indeed.

        Shame on him.

    • Earl Rockwell says:

      So, a police report on 30-year-old accusations = grounds to fire a great conductor.

      What nutty times we’re in.

  • Sana says:

    Sorry, this is the most strange article I´ve read about Mr Levine. Appart from accusations that circle, as being noticed in other comments, for decades stating that there was a settlement reached between MET (Levine lawyers?) and the alleged victim, I don´t really understand, what the picture of Putin and Trump has to do with Mr Levine case? Maybe this is an attempt to politicise the case that has nothing to do with international politics? Or maybe just to attract readers, since there are no real facts presented? -;(((

  • John Doe says:

    A note of caution is important. But the problem is that the mixture of caution, the many barriers to victims coming forward, and the difficulty in producing supporting evidence means that these kinds of things can go on for years or decades as a kind of ‘open secret’ without anything happening to stop it.

    Social media is no place to discuss the guilt or innocence of Levine. But if Levine turns out to be guilty, it is a place to discuss what the hell we can do to prevent more of these ‘open secrets’ (like Phillip Pickett) where lots of people knew and yet it didn’t make any difference. Too much caution is good news for powerful abusers.

    I’m sure that classical music is full of these stories. There is a conductor who went on to become one of the world’s most famous music educators, revered by followers around the world. But he is also notorious for his casting couch and sex parties with his students. There are lots of rumours about complaints hushed up, victims and families paid off, even files disappeared. Lots of people knew something and lots more had suspicions, but ultimately nothing happened, and unless some very determined and brave person comes forward, nothing ever will.

    • Earl Rockwell says:

      If they were consenting adults to these sex parties and casting couches, what are they complaining about now?

      They didn’t complain then. What is it, the regrets of old age? Sorry, too bad.

  • John Borstlap says:

    All this throws-up the question whether practicioners of high art (like classical music) are supposed to be, or at least to behave like, people with a superior sense of morality and civilization, and – if possible – spiritual responsibility? It seems to me that the obvious answer is ‘yes’, in spite of all the abberations of both performers and composers (Wagner immediately comes to mind). Performing a work of high art (yes, that really exists) simply requires to be taken seriously in its appeal to the better sides of man to be credible. What would be the point of art if not stimulating the best in the human condition?

    • Thornhill says:

      I expect all people, whether or not they are artists, to abide by the law.

    • Dirk F says:

      John, I think the reverse should be considered first – should we hold people in the high arts in such high esteem, that we consider them of a high moral and intelectual standard? My experience is that there is no such relationship whatsoever, with a tendency in these times to enlargen the gap. In other words, one should not be surprised that someone who can play an instrument divinely can also be a plan a-hole.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Agreed. But that does not in any way diminish the obvious requirement. And there are many many performers who are more than decent people. I met a lot, really a lot, in my life.

        Beethoven had an uncontrollable temper and threw food and other objects at his housekeeper, but tried his very best to be ‘a good man’ inspired by the highest ethical ideals (hence his rejection of Cosi fan Tutte because of its subject). In the 9th symphony, he embraced the whole of humanity, from which his housekeeper and a number of copiists seemed to be excluded, but he tried, and struggled, to implement such ideals, let it be a symbol for all musicians – and other people for that matter. For instance, I know that mr [redacted] chases the pretty girls in his orchestra, to their great embarrassment, but he is a great conducting talent. Not to speak of the late mr [redacted] who was, at guest appearances with the greatest international orchestras, escorted by an echelon of male longhaired teens, probably spreading his enthusiasm beyond the boundaries of decency, but nobody complained about. And so on…. it is never in the scores, though, not even in Tchaikovsky’s.

  • harold braun says:

    NL.the self appointed,righteous fighter for human rights,gender equality,morality above his head.This kind of self aggrandization,hypocrisy and self glorification makes me throw up.

  • harold braun says:

    Although,i must say,NL is right here.So far,nothing but allegations…

  • Charles Fischbein says:

    If your readers recall Slipped Disc has worked around the edges if this story for years.
    When in Grad School for Historical Musicology in New York City decades ago Me..Levine’s behavior with young boys was well known.
    This goes back to The Volpe era also.
    Many things are true that at not proven in a court of law.
    An independent forensic auditor should examine the Mets financial records and if rumors of the Mets payoffs to protect Levine are true then he should be made to repay the Met with interest and and never again be permitted in the house.
    As President Trumps daughter said
    There us a special place in Hell for people who harm children.
    Well said.

    • Been Here Before says:


    • William Osborne says:

      Any pay offs would have surely been off the books. They will be difficult to trace without specific testimony that is unlikely to appear.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed… I cannot imagine an entry in the books like ‘Pay-off of $ 25,000.– to compensate for the MD’s sexual assault on an under-aged audience member.’

      • Daisy C says:

        It was said, in New York, at the time,that Renata Scotto’s hugely successful role of Vitellia in 1984 was Scotto’s payoff for providing Levine with an alibi for an incident that the Philadelphia police were investigating. That was a very hard time for Scotto who was then nobody’s favourite. I have no idea whether that specific story has a basis in fact. But everyone in New York, including, certainly, Met management, knew that James Levine was a chronic, uncontrollable abuser of underage men. Given the long history, and the widely accepted legal doctrine of respondeat superior, one must wonder about the Met’s future viability.

    • Fafner says:

      “the edges if this story”?

      “When in Grad School for Historical Musicology in New York City decades ago … Levine’s behavior …” Levine was not a graduate student in historical musicology.

      “Mets financial records”?

      “There us a special place in Hell”?

    • Pamela Brown says:

      It would appear logical that if a forensic accountant can locate any payoffs the claims of the accuser are validated. And of course, should this end up being the case, both the Met and Mr. Levine will need to take responsibility for this

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Well said: “In these extraordinarily dangerous times, when superpower leaders are wilfully blurring the line between truth and lie, there is a duty on journalists to stick to the facts, the whole facts and nothing but the facts.”
    This blog post is slipped disc at its best. We look forward to seeing that quality more consistently in this blog.

  • anon says:

    So, the classical music industry is going to sweep this one under the carpet, and Mr. Lebrecht, one of the first to write about this years ago, is now backtracking as well. How bloody predictable. If he might take the time to read Daisy C’s comment — she saw with her own eyes, on many occasions, JL dining in public with young boys–were all of these youngsters his “nephews”??? Not all abuse victims, even after many decades, want to speak out. For many, there is still a very deep shame in what happened to them. That said, one person did speak out. He kept a diary. Perhaps, he was too ashamed and confused to share his experience with a friend or responsible adult. There are things I wish I could say but I’d be slapped on this forum for making unsubstantiated statements. And, I suppose they would be. Funny though: there are SO many of us in the industry who heard the SAME stories over the decades. Now, everyone’s afraid to comment. And, yes, I’ve posted as ANON. I too don’t want the backlash.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Norman has already alluded to James levine’s alledged shennanigans years ago in several of his books on the Classical music industry. These allegations have been common knowledge in the US for a long time. Less so in the UK where I suspect only by orchestra bosses & promoters- why haven’t the Philharmonia for one- engaged him in recent years as he was a regular guest at one time? Now this coming to light is a great shame for Levine- one of the most prodigiously gifted conductors of the last 50 years.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Levine was, allegedly, not invited again after he left the country in a hurry. The other London orchestras didn’t invite him in solidarity since they don’t like rumours.

  • Nemesis says:

    It is difficult to imagine that anyone over the age of 25 and involved in the music business in any way could not have been aware of rumors about Levine (and others), but of course for most of us they were nothing more. In view of their proliferation it seems a trifle bizarre, to say the least, that no proper investigation was ever undertaken but in view of the astonishing arrogance of some of our supposedly great musical institutions it is sadly far from surprising. If there is any foundation to the stories though – and I do say if but it does seem unpleasantly probable – then my view is that those who protected or turned a blind eye are at least as guilty as he who is accused. Perhaps the more so since I think perpetrating evil arises from some form of mental blindness or disability whereas facilitating it indicates a depth of cynicism which is beyond normal understanding or sympathy and certainly should have no place anywhere near any artistic organisation.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It should not be forgotten that the musical institutions of classical music are very fragile organisations: financially, musically, philosophically, politically, especially in these times when they are under threat from populism, eroding audience attention and attendance, and subsidy/funding cuts. The heart of their problems is the notion of ‘relevance’. This means that they are inclined to react neurotically to any threat to their ‘raison d’existence’.

  • anonymous says:

    Memories of Levine at Verbier, children watching open rehearsal – L’s brother, his “minder” of sorts – having metaphorical aneurysm while screaming at all children to get out of the hall, NO CHILDREN AT REHEARSAL…

  • Lawrence C. says:

    If Peter Gelb was, in fact, informed of this over a year ago and did nothing to look into it, he needs to be fired by the board IMMEDIATELY. Levine’s guilt or innocence aside, in a case like this, simply asking the accused whether the charges are true doesn’t cut it. Ignoring the possibility that a pederast works in a house with a children’s choir is beyond inexcusable.

    • Ross says:

      If you read the facts, you’d see that the alleged victim contacted a Met board member.
      This is far above Gelb’s head.

  • Michael says:

    Nobody wanted to be the first to publish an official report is what it seems like to me. But the existence of a police report carries some weight…there are after all penalties for filing false reports…so although not definitive evidence, it would be enough to write a story on. Police reports are public record after all. If one dug hard enough, I’m sure there are paper trails out there to try to back up the story…i.e. Funds transfers, receipts, etc.

  • Robin Worth says:

    Mr Lebrecht is right and the others (too many, to their shame, to mention) are wrong

    You must not rush to judgement on any matter, and certainly not on an issue which affects the integrity and honour of another person

    To criticise the Met, or any other institution, for failing to react to an allegation flies in the face of basic principles that have been at the core of our society’s judicial, moral and political foundations.

    Wait until the individual is found at fault by a proper authority. Act then, if you must, but for the time being keep your peace and hold your tongue and pen

    • Earl Rockwell says:

      Who cares about principles when it’s a lot more fun to be scurrilous.

      Or, self-righteous and oh-so-moral. That’s what’s most appalling about all of this — the tsk-tsking self-satisfaction of the pious. It’s like something out of Dickens.

  • tif robinson says:

    I’m not sure why NL and others are so intent on protecting the reputation of such figures like JL and Benjamin Britten when usually happy to dish the proverbial on others.
    Norman says……” The rumours about James Levine remain rumours until proven. Unless they are, he has no case to answer.”…. But the reported historical accusation and the rumours, form the case. It has to be assessed and if regarded by the legal system as solid, then a process in law has to be followed. Guilty if proven, but it has to be tested by the due legal system and not by the press, music fraternity, or those organisations that embraced him. The fact he is in a wheelchair now is irrelevant, as it is too for the English theatre director Max Stafford Clark who is also being forced to face his own historical demons.

    The great and good of the classical music world admit that Britten clearly had a preoccupation with the subject of young boys but as with others, stories of blind eyes being turned and silences being kept shroud his past. His charisma was legendry; stories of even his closet collaborators having to be watchful, even one reportedly having to safeguard their son by sending him thousands of miles away to boarding school persist. Such reports clearly cast doubt over his passions. Yet no one, no matter how they are perceived to be essential to the establishment of any particular facet of society, should be untouchable.
    As within other cultural and entertainment industries, revelations reporting to the predatory and disgusting behaviour of highly regarded luminaries are now being exposed. Yes due process has to be respected but these untouchables, be they conductors, composers, professors, titans form film industry, and senior parliamentarians or clergy, need to be held accountable.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Norman. Is that why you published these rumors twenty years ago in Who Killed Classical Music? I have vacilated for years between admiration and rage at your journalism. Everyone knew who you meant in that book, and then you stayed silent on it for twenty years. Levine should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court, but the case goes on in people’s minds. The only way to get at the truth of something discussed in gossip for a half century is to discuss it in public with journalists of repute and record investigating it. Every major music journalist is complicit in covering this up for fear of legal reprisal. The traumatized will always have mixed motivations and just because they took money does not make them unreliable. Very few victims would undergo the trauma of their claims and character being questioned unless they were already traumatized. We music lovers and writers, amateur and professional, are all guilty in keeping this secret and by doing so we are helping to kill the institutions we claims to love.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      See my earlier comment.

      • Evan Tucker says:

        One of three conductors? Really? You gave him the pseudonym ‘Jack’ and said he ran a prominent opera house! You cannot possibly plead plausible deniability here. What makes it still more disingenuous is that you then raised it once only to stay silent about it for another twenty years. It would appear, as it has many times in your career, that you were provocative just long enough to serve your own self-aggrandizement and got the classical establishment to fear you enough to make you one of them. You have the right to conduct your journalism any way you like within what’s legally permissible, but telling people to be cautious now that you’re a member of the classical music establishment rather than a young bomb-thrower is the lowest kind of self-interested bullshit. The entire establishment is complicit in covering this up, and you are now covering for them.

  • tif robinson says:

    Yes I have and indeed, it was that obsession with those like the young Hemmings, until the moment his voice broke, that is so uncomfortable.

    It is reported that Britten was apoplectic with anger and personally devastated by the breaking of Hemmings voice and with it, the idolisation and usefulness of a boy ended.

    Sharing a bed with a young boy as an unrelated adult is clearly a bad idea. Encouraging an infatuation by a child, plying them with toys and the excesses of fame and success is intoxicating and dangerously spellbinding.

    Clearly, as the adult, Britten knew what he was doing, as I suspect his circle did too. He was in a very powerful position and was allowed to indulge in his creative and personal fantasy of “boy”. The tissue thin boundary between playing the role of a surrogate doting and sexually benign father and mentor, with that of being an adult fully in love with a minor seems to be the tragedy for both adult and child.

    Many reportedly watched uncomfortably but failed to protect, as they should.

    It is unthinkable today, for any person to be allowed to behave in the predatory and grooming way that Britten displayed a generation ago, even under the banner of art, culture or innocence.

  • Hilary says:

    Here’s a nice tribute to Levine. I’m appreciating his positive approach with the singers : https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dhFnj0ZkJGQ

  • Thornhill says:

    The NYT just published a new article. More accusers. Confirmation. Met administration warned as early as 1979. Levine suspended.


    Levine is toast. He’ll never conduct again.

    Only a matter of time until Gelb is gone.

  • Edgar says:

    Norman, your statement adds another abuse to the one suffered by those who have been molested by Mr. Levine.

    It takes many years, and even decades, for victims to muster the courage to speak out. Their voices must be heard, and they, the victims, must be believed. They MUST hear someone say: I believe you.

    Your response is quite the opposite: I do NOT believe you unless you have proof.

    That utterly insensitive attitude is very likely understood by any victim as being told again to shut up, or come up with a witness who can confirm what the victim says.

    That is is another cruel act of abuse, as terrible as the one suffered years ago.


  • Alex Davies says:

    This case shows why statutes of limitations can be a bad thing for all concerned (and I do understand from the above that statutes of limitations may not apply in all cases). I live in a jurisdiction (England and Wales) where there is no limitation period for serious crimes, and that arrangement seems to work perfectly well here. If a prosecution is brought a very long time after the alleged offence it is possible (and indeed more or less routine) for the defendant to make an abuse of process application, i.e. to allege that because of the length of time that elapsed between the commission of the alleged offence and the complaint being made to the police a fair trial is not possible. This argument is sometimes accepted, although in most cases it is found that the delay in reporting does not make a fair trial impossible. Judges take considerable trouble to ensure that trials are fair, and I personally have considerable faith in the English criminal judicial process.

    I had always assumed that a statute of limitations was essentially something that served to protect the accused, but cases such as this one make me realise that sometimes a limitation period can be as harmful to the accused as to the alleged victim. If I were myself to be accused of a crime, especially a sexual offence, where mere accusation can entail a stigma that lasts a lifetime and beyond, I think I’d want to stand trial before a jury and have the opportunity to prove my innocence. If a case can’t be tried because it’s out of time, it seems to let down the accused, whose reputation may be forever tainted by allegation which, if tried in a court of law, may have been comprehensively demolished.

    I fear that James Levine will inevitably now live and die under a cloud of suspicion. Should he be guilty, I’d happily see him cast into the outer darkness, so to speak, but should he be innocent, I’d expect to see his good name restored and all taint of suspicion lifted from his reputation. Should a criminal trial prove impossible, we will all live with the uncertainty that he may be guilty of the most heinous crimes or the victim of a horrific calumny. This does not seem to be good for him, for the complainant, or for the public and the upholding of the law.

  • laurie says:

    from Vulture

    The Met May Not Survive the James Levine Disgrace
    Justin Davidson

    The investigations have begun, three victims have stepped into the light, and, while his crimes remain in the “alleged” column, James Levine’s career has clearly ended. If the now 74-year-old high priest of the Metropolitan Opera’s pit did what he has been credibly accused of doing, the principal casualties are his victims—three who have identified themselves, those who may soon do the same, and others who never will.

    Since the New York Post first reported the existence of a police report in Lake Forest, Illinois, and the Metropolitan Opera announced it would look into the accusations, many music-world insiders have snorted that Levine’s child molestation has been an “open secret” for decades. But for most, “knowing” really meant that we had heard fourth-hand mutterings, with few details and no corroboration. Publications that tried to nail down the story found it slipping away.

    There are some, probably many, who cannot believably claim ignorance. So far, his alleged victims have described encounters during long-ago summers at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan and the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago. But it seems highly unlikely that Levine, who lives a few blocks from Lincoln Center, confined his molestation of teenagers to out-of-town trips or stopped decades ago. Even if that were true, Levine has spent virtually his whole adult life as a celebrity in the insular world of opera and classical music, and during most of that time, he has been protected by an elaborate apparatus centered at the Metropolitan Opera. Ever since he became the company’s music director at 26, he has had an army of assistants, Met staffers, managers, and publicists whose job was to keep him happy. We will soon find out exactly how far they went.

    For decades, the Met was essentially the Levine Company. Its identity was intertwined with his. His taste in composers, his relationships with singers, his hires, orchestra, conducting style, and even, for a while, his eye for productions all shaped what happened onstage in seven performances a week. Divas remained loyal to the Met because they felt safe onstage so long as he was in the pit. Audiences burst into applause as soon as his corona of springy curls bobbed into the spotlight. Critics—and I include myself—lauded his leadership as well as his musicality. His cheery, seemingly eternal presence thrilled the board and helped keep the spigot of donations open.

    I’m not sure the Met can survive Levine’s disgrace. The company is an outgrowth from, and a uniquely regressive example of, the 19th-century commercial opera houses that flourished through specialization, activity, and growth. August companies erected massive buildings, mounted expensive shows, packed in audiences, and concentrated prestige in the hands of very few gatekeepers, all of them men. That power structure produced a century and a half of lavishly misogynistic operas in which women are constantly going mad, turning into prostitutes, dying, or all three. Many companies in Europe and around the U.S. have somehow managed to find their way to the 21st century. But the Met, the world’s largest and busiest opera house, is also among the most cumbersome and conservative. In the past 40 years, it has hired just four female conductors and performed exactly one opera by a woman composer. With a crushing overhead and too many seats to sell every night, the company survives on a diminishing diet of good will.

    In his heyday, Levine was the antidote to decline—the star-maker, prestige keeper, and donation magnet who could keep an antiquated system from showing its age. Over the last 15 years, his health and the Met’s fortunes have dimmed in sync. Soon it will all be gone: Levine; those who protected him; Peter Gelb, the executive director who ignored last year’s Lake Forest police report and launched an investigation only after the news came out; the donors who ignored the possibility that their hero might be a pedophile. Will the Met be able to build back from that catastrophe? I hope so, but the company was already having a tough time surviving well before Faust finally showed up to collect on that decades-old deal.

    • Thornhill says:

      The fate of the company really rests with Yannick.

      He should cancel his current bookings with other orchestras, take over all of Levine’s scheduled appearances, and temporarily assume some administrative duties. Gelb will be gone soon and Yannick needs to make sure that all complicit board members go too.

      I will be extremely disappointed with Yannick if he tries to ride this out in the background while the MET implodes.

      • MWnyc says:

        Yannick is not the board’s boss. The board is Yannick’s boss. (Gelb outranks Yannick as well.)

        And no, he should not cancel his performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Orchestre Metropolitain in Montreal. In any case, Levine did not have that many scheduled performances for which he’d need to be replaced.

  • Linda W says:

    I’ve read the NY Times description of Levine’s behavior provided by three of the alleged victims and, so far, it seems to be a slightly softer shade of what Kevin Spacey has been accused of. But how much worse it can be, or will become, depends on more information coming out.

    I don’t feel that Levine should receive gooey benefit of the doubt from people, just as I don’t believe the 3 accusers should be treated as though they’ve gone through what certain women dealing with Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer have described.

    A lot of this isn’t too surprising since humans are sexualized by nature. But the permissiveness of modern culture has gone too far. Normal boundaries have been ripped to shreds during the past few decades.

    If various people take advantage of that, why is that more unexpected than keeping the front door of your home always unlocked and one day finding the place has been burglarized?

    • Anon says:

      I believe you are very wrong with your conclusion that modern culture’s permissiveness has gone too far. Do you really believe that in the older, sexually much more repressed days, there was less sexual abuse? To the contrary, by all we know about human psychology and primal instincts.
      It is just something that is more talked about these days, since the society exactly has become culturally more permissive and shame and social repercussions are not such fatal issues anymore for the victims anymore than they used to be.

  • Anon says:

    Question: what does the law in the US say? What constitutes a misdemeanor or crime, and what is legal and maybe just morally considered wrong?
    Is consensual sex between a 16 year old and an adult forbidden by law in the US?
    Depends on state law as well?
    Sorry if this is obvious to you, but to the observer from outside the US this is anything but clear.

    • laurie says:

      it does depend on state law but 16 is too young to give consent. the age of consent in Illinois is 17.

      in Michigan it’ s16 but when the older party is an authority figure – as he clearly was – the age of consent is 18.

  • Anon says:

    Not getting you. So if they had semitic blood in them, it would be ok to have sex with children for them since the Talmud allows it, but only “real” Jews are allowed? Or what are you confused about? I find your comment very disturbing.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Norman writes: “The rumours about James Levine remain rumours until proven. Unless they are, he has no case to answer.”

    While they are rumours until proven, I am afraid this does not mean that there is no case to answer. When someone is charged they are still “innocent until proven guilty” but making the charge is making the statement that there is a case to answer. The accused may or may not be able to answer the accusation. I think in this case, there is clearly a case-to-answer, but he has not yet been proved to be guilty.

  • Susan Mitchell says:

    This is the most intelligent exchange of views about Levine’s alleged sexual misconduct that I’ve read anywhere, online or in printed media. I’m deeply troubled by the rush to condemn Levine before there has been a proper investigation. This can lead to the horrific. Only today a GOP lawmaker accused a Democrat of sexual misconduct just because he touched his arm. How easy it will become to dismiss and indirect anyone. So thank you Peteos Linardus for calling attention to this disturbing possibility. Like Harold Braun, I’m troubled that someone who accepts $50,000 and also returns to visit with his “abuser” again and again would years later make accusations and blame Levine for his depression. So a big thank you to Norman Lebrecht and slippedisc for your logical, sane, and courteous discussion.