The former Met music director has only ever had one manager. He was Ronald Wilford, the Machiavelli at the heart of Columbia Artists Management Inc, the world’s largest classical agency. Wilford personally controlled the careers of more than 100 conductors, but one was his idol – Herbert von Karajan – and three were closer to him than the rest.
Those three were Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn and James Levine.
Wilford plotted their destinies, negotiated their contracts and knew whatever went on in their lives. If there were secrets, Wilford knew where they were buried. He may have buried them himself. Or got someone like Peter Gelb, his gofer, to do so.
Since the exposure of allegations that have expelled Levine from the Met, it has been widely imputed that Wilford may have been involved in concealing or suppressing aspects of Levine’s personal life. That may be the case. Or it may not. Levine, who is pathologically non-confrontational, would rely on Wilford to take up cudgels and do other unpleasant tasks on his behalf.
But in later years there was a growing distance between the sorcerer and his apprentice. Wilford was not keen on Levine’s desire to be music director in Boston, though he fixed the contract when his client requested it. ‘Jimmy does what Jimmy wants,’ Wilford would say.
When Wilford died, Levine failed to show up for his memorial event at the Richard Rodgers Theater. He was in rehearsal, it was said, but he could have made a brief appearance or sent a message that showed some emotion. The best he managed to say was: ‘He became the only manager I ever had, and even better, one of my most beloved friends.’
Any future Levine biographer must examine the erosion of the Wilford relationship.