James Levine: Boston shows some passion

James Levine: Boston shows some passion


norman lebrecht

December 06, 2017

Unlike lawyer-vetted statements by other orchestras distancing themselves from the disgraced ex-music director, the Boston Symphony has let its feelings show in a belated announcement last night.

It calls his alleged conduct ‘horrific’ and says Boston will never work with him again.


In light of the recent horrific allegations against James Levine outlined in various media accounts since December 2, there is no doubt that the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the classical music industry must seriously reflect on this moment and determine ways to ensure sexual misconduct has no place in our industry. Though the Boston Symphony Orchestra (including Tanglewood and the Boston Pops, among other programs) meets top industry standards on all issues of employee safety, the orchestra is reviewing its policies regarding work place abuse and harassment issues to make certain they continue to meet and exceed the highest standards. In the new year, the BSO plans to convene a symposium with human resource experts who specialize in policy-making around these relevant issues to ensure the safest possible environment for all involved in our organization.  
The BSO is committed to a zero-tolerance policy towards anyone who exhibits inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Behavior by any employee of the BSO that runs counter to these core values would not be tolerated and would be met with the most serious consequences. 
While considering hiring James Levine as music director, through a third party, the Boston Symphony Orchestra adhered to due diligence in line with its employee hiring process, including a background check with a criminal screening and an analysis of any possible civil claims, as well as numerous conversations with music professionals across the country associated with Mr. Levine throughout his long career. Although the current allegations paint a different story about Mr. Levine, the BSO’s vetting process in 2001 did not reveal cause for concern.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has not worked with James Levine since he stepped down as music director in 2011; he will never be employed or contracted by the BSO at any time in the future.

Clearly, it’s not enough just to go through an HR vetting procedure. As several of us wrote at the time, Boston’s hiring of Levine as music director was a spectacularly obtuse decision.



  • William Osborne says:

    A strong and appropriate statement by the BSO.

    • Olassus says:

      Of course, the “human resource experts” could end up creating so many booby traps an ordinary person would be foolish to apply to work there.

    • QUODLIBET says:

      The BSO’s statement is designed to limit the BSO’s liability in terms of workplace policy. It very carefully crafted to limit its scope to “the workplace” and to “employee safety” and conveniently ignores the larger questions about Levine’s alleged behavior outside the rehearsal room, concert hall, board room, donor parties, etc.

      This statement would be more meaningful if it concluded with a strong statement along the lines of “In the context of what appear to be well-founded allegations, we regret having placed Mr Levine in a position of leadership and trust, particularly as the BSO’s primary representative of our noble art.”

      In addition to working as a classical musician, I work as a writer/editor in risk management for the insurance industry; I have developed a habit of reading these sorts of statements very closely and with an eye toward limiting liability.

      • QUODLIBET says:

        NL says that the BSO’s statement is “Unlike lawyer-vetted statements by other orchestras”

        On the contrary, I am sure that this statement was indeed heavily vetted (and perhaps written) by the BSO’s legal counsel. The BSO surely has a policy that no statement on a personnel matter may be released without such vetting. It was probably also reviewed and approved by the Board’s executives and their PR consultant. And that is why it is limited only to discussion of the BSO workplace and does not address the larger issue of leadership qualities, etc.

  • Jan Bouman says:

    Why condemn someone before he is judged by the law? Americans are totally hypocrits when sex is in order.

    • Sweethomechicago says:

      There may be no record of alleged activities while working for the BSO. However Levine shafted the BSO itself by canceling too many performances, many on very short notice. I suspect that’s the reason why he hasn’t worked there for these past years.

  • Marcus says:

    I’m shaking my head in astonishment at the BSO’s ‘faux’ shock and outrage. I’ve been in the classical music business for 45 years, and I can’t remember NOT knowing about Levine’s sexual predilections. If I had to bet on it, I believe I first learned of them in the mid-1970’s from a neighbor who worked with a number of prominent MET singers. By the time Levine was appointed as music director of the Boston Symphony, his perversions were pretty much a given. The orchestra now claims to have done an exhaustive review at the time he was hired. I suspect it was more of a benefit-versus-risk analysis, much like Ford Motor Company reputedly did prior to marketing the combustible Pinto.

    • Ben says:

      Hello, Joe Paterno Junior.

    • Paul Emmons says:

      Plato distinguished between knowledge and a “true opinion”. The mere fact that a rumor heard 35 years ago is substantiated today does not entitle us to say that we “knew” it 35 years ago.

      • Mr. Schwa says:

        All of us who are in the opera business as a profession know these claims are unfortunately true. We know a number of the people who were involved. There was a problem in the BSO, but the two musicians involved chose not to come forward, as it was a proposition, not an act/crime. If you are not in our business, please refrain from stating we don’t know anything. It is ignorant, naive and politically correct. The reason I will not list/expose other incidents I was directly privy to is because they are so graphic/embarrassing that I would never add facts and details in this regrettable mess. I understand and admire the fact that so many good,decent people/fans want so much to defend him and bury/dismiss this topic. I wish I could too. Everybody comments on JL’s musical gifts: those are a given. Those of us who know him should also remind people of his many fantastic and wonderful qualities as a person. No excuse for his actions. But he is so special in so many ways. Not everyone who verifies these incidents wants to see him go to ruin. Quite the opposite. Shakespeare Macbeth quote: Such welcome and unwelcome things/tis hard to reconcile.

  • John Smith says:

    A few years ago I clicked on wikipedia’s how to edit an existing entry page. As an example of unsubstantiated information which was not allowed, they showed accusations of James Levine being a pederast, which they had deleted because there were no proper references.

  • William Osborne says:

    Part of the problem is the way the music industry is organized. Agents cultivate and build celebrity names which then bring the agencies large incomes. If the name is tarnished they stand to lose a great deal of money. They are thus motivated to make large payoffs to hide crimes and preserve the product name. This is accessory after the fact, and aiding and abetting, which are also a crimes. The cover up is a far bigger story than even Levine’s actions, but I am not hopeful that it will be exposed, much less punished.

    • William Osborne says:

      And in addition to pay offs, overt intimidation can also be used against victims, or those who report about victims. In the lower echelons of the music world, like well-known orchestra musicians or professors, threats, intimidation, ostracism, and character assassination are more the norm for silencing people.

    • Michael Endres says:

      I agree. Big agencies or corporations like the Met are just businesses like Volkswagen or Monsanto, and quite obviously similar ethical standards are applied by some when it comes to profits.
      And this case it is very disturbing as these rumours persisted for decades and nobody did anything about it.
      I remember as a student in the late 80ies in New York hearing regularly about Levine’s alleged wrongdoings, but the general opinion then was that he was untouchable.Too famous, too powerful…

      • William Osborne says:

        Some people feel celebrity culture in classical music needs to be re-examined. This has been debated in Germany for many years, especially among the mid-level orchestras and opera houses which feel that the exorbitant fees demanded by celebrity conductors and soloists defy the spirit of their publicly funded organizations. They even point to the New York agencies that have pushed these costs so high (though there might be other agencies involved outside NY.)

        This has led to a sort of small rebellion against celebrity culture in classical music among the mid-level organizations in Germany and the EU, and it is notable that they are still producing very good work. I hope that this push back against celebrity culture will also move up to the top tier institutions and provide a corrective to the celebrity culture plaguing classical music. As we see with Levine, the problems can even extend beyond financial questions. We should reward great work, but within measure.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Apart from the question whether this conductor is guilty or not, it is difficult to not feel a deep contempt for this mentality of running classical music institutions like a business and violating any moral standards, which is so contradictionary to the nature of the art form. Celebraty cult is nonsensical in the context of the humanism of classical music and the required dedication of performers to the music itself, instead of using the music as a vehicle for their own career drives. If in Europe orchestras are indeed taking a more common sense and ethical stand, that is the only way of serving the art form.

          • Michael Endres says:

            …violating any moral standards, which is so contradictionary to the nature of the art form. ”
            I fail to see any noteworthy “moral standards” in classical music. It is ultimately for entertainment, call it food for the soul, but that is what musical entertainment tries to do.
            Complex, demanding at times, and in its best moments deeply introspective and perhaps idealistic, maybe born out of great sorrow and pain, but that goes for other music or art forms just as well, that is not an exclusive trademark for classical music.
            Where in a Bach Fugue, a Brahms Symphony, a Quartet by Zemlinsky or an Etude by Ligeti does one find moral high ground ?

          • John Borstlap says:

            To Michael:

            I think it is not about ‘the moral highground’, but about the ethical element embedded in great classical works – which stylize life experiences into something meaningful. You cannot label the ‘moral content’ of a string quartet, but so many of these pieces have an emanation which stirr the ethically-sensitive spots in the psyche (although this cannot be researched in laboratory experiments). They touch the better sides of the human being and one of them is ethics / morality, in a general way. Classical music as a genre has a spiritual component, and was meant to ennoble the listener (a remnant of its early womb: the Christian church). That this intention has eroded in the last century (as so many things), does not mean that suddenly the earlier music has lost its ethical component.

            Entertainment is on a quite different level. Say, the difference between Brahms IV and André Rieu.

        • mathias broucek says:

          This is an interesting wider point

          I’ve seen conductors and soloists quoted about their “market value” for a concert even where this bears no relationship to the income generated by ticket sales…

          In any endeavour where there is a “star culture” there is the risk that some of the stars will behave like monsters – professional sports, some sales-driven business environments, parts of the banking sector etc. Financial wrong-doing is often the least of these problems as we’re seeing with these (alleged) incidents

  • William Osborne says:

    There is another aspect of this problem that is interesting. Levine is a very good conductor, but I think that his reputation might have consciously or unconsciously dampened the spirit of musicians in the BSO, thus limiting the quality of work. Orchestras require a unity of spirit that might have been difficult for him to achieve.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Yet more desperate legalese boilerplate from another musical institution, the Boston SO, involved neck-deep in the long-standing Levine cover-up.



  • William Osborne says:

    There’s another interesting question in this matter. Organizations can’t easily function on the basis of rumors, regardless of how extensive and credible they might be. This made it difficult for the Munich Phil and BSO to block Levine’s employment in spite of the serious concerns some people expressed. In Munich, the concerns were even aired in the local papers, but no one could prove them.

    So if Levine’s agents conspired to hide his crimes, were the arts organizations for which Levine worked victims of that conspiracy? Or did they ultimately become participants in the conspiracy?

    • Ungeheuer says:

      Answer: Both sides are directly complicit in: covering up, looking the other way, willful negligence, and failing to perform due diligence.

    • The View from America says:


    • mathias broucek says:

      There’s an interesting ethical issue here. If there’s no proof but lots of rumour then one could argue that a wise organisation would steer clear. And I personally have declined to hire – at much less senior levels – because I’d heard stories of bad behaviour (albeit considerably less serious than what is alleged about Levine).

      But in today’s “fake news” environment, do we want people to have their careers crushed by rumour?

  • Charles Fischbein says:

    To those of you who support Levine by saying he has not had is day in court you seem to be void of human decency and morality.
    What a shame liberals use the law to try to protect perversion but refuse to support laws designed to keep illegals out of America.
    Situational ethics thrives in the liberal mind.

    • Eric Wulfert says:

      We already know from a previous comment what you think about homosexuality, so it is not surprising that you view everything as black or white, without nuance, in accordance with your tribal beliefs. Penis in vagina sex is good and normal, everything else is immoral.

    • QUODLIBET says:

      I infer that you are a conservative. I’m not sure I understand why you assume that everyone defending Levine is a liberal; in my experience, progressives and liberals tend to be much more supportive of victims and sexual assault and harassment.

      In the context of the Levine story, what’s your take on the Roy Moore situation, not to mention Trump’s taste for teen beauty pageant contestants and his bragging about assaulting women and his comments about wanting to date his own daughter, who was 16 at the time he made that comment? You seem to be concerned that “liberals” are giving Levine a pass. Are you OK with Trump’s (and the whole RNC, FFS!) recent endorsement of Roy Moore?

      And before you accuse me of being partisan about this issue, I am a far-left progressive liberal and I hold all the abusers, regardless of political stripe, in the highest contempt and believe that they all should be held accountable.

    • William Safford says:

      To those of you who support Trump by saying he has not had is [sic] day in court you seem to be void of human decency and morality.
      What a shame bigots use the law to try to protect Trump’s perversions but refuse to support laws designed to protect civil rights.
      Situational ethics thrives in the hypocritical mind.

      See how well it works when just a few words are changed?

  • Ben says:

    There is no way that in its conversations with other executives and organizations across the business that Levine’s behavior wasn’t noted and discussed, frequently.

  • InterestingTimes says:

    Actually …Very important method for helping a student violinist with bow arm issues.
    I ‘think’ Dorothy Delay did this as well:

    “On December 4, a fourth male, who later had a long career as a violinist in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, said he had been abused by Levine beginning in 1968, when he was 20 years old and attending the Meadow Brook School of Music.[53] Levine was a teacher in the summer program.[48] The accuser said that when he went to Levine’s dorm room to discuss problems the student was having with his bowarm, Levine said: “If we’re going to work on your violin I have to understand you sexually,” and then exposed himself and masturbated”

  • George Rutherfurd says:

    About 35 or so years ago, I dated a woman who was activ in the Met Opera Guild. She claimed to know that during a Met tour in Boston, Levine acted inappropriately with a young Black boy. There was a “blind” item in a gossip column in a NYC newspaper to the effect that a major arts organization had paid hush money to cover up a serious indiscretion by one of its leading figures. The joke around the Opera Guild was that Levine’s favorite opera was “Tanheinie.”

  • Charles Fischbein says:

    Eric. You said it the vast majority of Americans agree that only sex between a,man and woman in a private setting is the overwhelming cultural norm.
    Homosexuality and pedofelia are perversions, except perhaps in the minds of condo dwellers in New York and California

    • Bruce says:

      I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts on sociocultural matters.

      • Andreas B. says:

        I’m sure we will hear rather more than might be palatable of Dr Fischbein’s thoughts on all sorts of matters –
        already feeling a little queasy …

    • Herr Doktor says:

      We are all so fortunate to be enlightened by you, Mr. Fischbein. We are all so grateful for the absolute truths that you share with us. Please, tell us more about your fascinations with perversions and pedophilia. And other sexual matters of great interest to you. Hold nothing back. We all so greatly benefit from how you educate us.

  • The View from America says:

    Terry Teachout’s column in the December 6th print edition of The Wall Street Journal:


  • maureen says:

    Terry Teachout‏Verified account
    Dec 3
    James Levine is finished. So is Peter Gelb. So are the board and upper management of the Metropolitan Opera. This is, as I said yesterday, an existential crisis for the Met—

  • Save the MET says:

    Boston is trying to wiggle out of their hiring of Levine. As I said the other day, Levine’s brother Tom in a co-agreement with the MET and the BSO became his constant day-time companion at the time of his 2004 hiring by the BSO. The only time he wasn’t next to him was during performances, when he would slip into a front aisle seat right before performances and slip out right before the intermission, or while the applause occured at the end of the concert. He would slip into the limo with him after the concerts and one could see him with him as Levine went about town, at speeches, at the annual ABAA show, during lunches and dinners at various restaurants in NYC, Boston and Tanglewood. The reasoning was obvious and Tom was compensated for his sitting service. They damn well knew.

    • roger says:

      James Levine Denies ‘Unfounded’ Sexual Abuse Accusations

      By MICHAEL COOPERDEC. 7, 2017

      James Levine leading the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 2015. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

      James Levine, the famed conductor and former musical director of the Metropolitan Opera, issued his first response Thursday evening to accusations that he sexually abused several men decades ago when they were teenagers or his students, calling them “unfounded.”

      “As understandably troubling as the accusations noted in recent press accounts are, they are unfounded,” he said in a written statement. “As anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor.”

      After the first accusations began to emerge over the weekend, the Metropolitan Opera suspended its four-decade relationship with Mr. Levine on Sunday, and asked an outside law firm to investigate his behavior. Four men told The New York Times that Mr. Levine sexually abused them decades ago. One said that he was 17 when Mr. Levine abused him in 1968 at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan, a summer program where Mr. Levine, a rising star, conducted the school’s orchestra and led its orchestral institute. Two more said that they were abused as students there that summer as well — one when he 17, the other 20 — and said that the abuse continued for several years after they joined a clique of young musicians who followed Mr. Levine to Cleveland and later to New York. A fourth man said he was abused in 1986, when he was 16, near the Ravinia Festival in Illinois, where Mr. Levine was the music director. He reported the abuse last year to the Lake Forest, Ill., police.

      The Metropolitan Opera appointed Robert J. Cleary, a partner at the Proskauer Rose law firm, to investigate the accusations against Mr. Levine as it weighs his future. The company has been naming replacements for Mr. Levine’s scheduled performances.

      Mr. Levine made it clear in his statement that he hopes to resume conducting.

      “I have devoted my energies to the development, growth, and nurturing of music and musicians all over the world — particularly with the Metropolitan Opera where my work has been the lifeblood and passion of my artistic imagination,” he said in the statement. “My fervent hope is that in time people will come to understand the truth, and I will be able to continue my work with full concentration and inspiration.”
      Continue reading the main story
      Related Coverage

      Met Opera Suspends James Levine After New Sexual Abuse Accusations DEC. 3, 2017
      Met Opera Reels as Fourth Man Accuses James Levine of Sexual Abuse DEC. 4, 2017

      Continue reading the main story

      When asked about the statement, Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, said, “It’s a sad state of affairs, but of course our investigation has to continue.”

      James Lestock, 67, said on Thursday evening that he stood by his account.

      “He is lying,” he said of Mr. Levine’s statement in an email. “The examples of instigating sex with a minor, physical abuse using physical pain leading to break down crying, all happened. I will take a lie-detector test. Will he?”

      Mr. Lestock said that he was a 17-year-old cello student at Meadow Brook when he was abused in Mr. Levine’s dorm room. He described numerous later incidents of abuse; he said that once Mr. Levine had pinched him painfully until he cried, and then continued pinching him, to wound him.
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      And Chris Brown, 66, who played principal bass in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for more than three decades, stood by his account that Mr. Levine had abused him the summer before his senior year in high school, when he was 17.

      “Sexual abuse at any age is inexcusable,” he said. “Further, belittling those of us who were abused as less than fully human is repugnant. I stand by the story.”

      Mr. Levine issued his statement on Thursday night after the Met announced that it had found replacements for most of the operas he had been scheduled to conduct this season. The company said that Marco Armiliato would conduct the Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” and Bertrand de Billy would lead Verdi’s “Luisa Miller.”

      The accusations of sexual abuse have shaken the company and opera fans. On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gelb sought to reassure some of the company’s core supporters at a previously scheduled Metropolitan Opera Guild luncheon honoring the soprano Renée Fleming.

      “As everyone in this room knows, the Met has recently been facing a very painful and challenging trial,” he told the guests who had gathered at Cipriani 42nd Street. “But while the Metropolitan Opera has been shaken, it still stands strong.”

      Mr. Gelb never mentioned Mr. Levine by name at the lunch. But he emphasized that the Met was greater than any one individual, and spoke of its previous trials, including a disastrous fire in 1892 and the recession of 2008.

      “The Met’s greatness is a collective effort,” he said. “It’s the grand result of thousands of artists and artisans who create operatic magic on our stage and in the pit night after night, season after season, and decade after decade.”

  • BSO knew says:

    This is just the beginning. Interested to know more about this “symposium.”