Munich reflects on its James Levine years

Munich reflects on its James Levine years


norman lebrecht

December 14, 2017

The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra has issued a statement to local media dissociating itself from James Levine, its music director from 1999 to 2004.

The statement calls for a full investigation to be conducted into the several allegations against Levine and asserts that sexual abuse will not be tolerated by the orchestra.

Levine has no further engagements or connection with the orchestra, the statement concludes.


  • Cynical Bystander. says:

    What purpose does this serve? We are talking about a connection years in the past. Who next? Well I suppose Bayreuth who have a go at this retrospective virtue signalling.

  • William Osborne says:

    For perspective about the Munich Phil, read about the orchestra’s widely known discrimination against my wife, Abbie Conant. I hope they and the city government have changed:

    • Ungeheuer says:

      Fascinating. Will surely read article later on when time allows me.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      The Abbie Conant was treated was undoubtedly deplorable.

      How much did Levine really work in Munich? During his days I loosely followed the city’s musical activity and remember lots of cancellations, scarce publicity and no recordings. I also remember press coverage of the fact that Levine didn’t appear in any press conference at all, unlike Maazel (BRSO), who had agreed to meet with the press in Pittsbugh.

      • Mr. Schwa says:

        For the record, Levine was always uncomfortable with European pressers due to his inability to speak a foreign language. Same problem at Bayreuth where they always had to translate for him. He certainly is musically-blessed but has no ear for languages (he knows the numbers up through 100 so that he can call out rehearsal numbers with an orchestra but pronounces them with a terrible Midwest accent). But he does know his libretti etc.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Are you sure?

          – Most educated Germans speak English, though not necessarily fluently.

          – Are you sure Levine doesn’t speak German? In an early 80s DVD “Zauberflote fur Kinder” he briefly addresses someone in German, very convincingly. I don’t know, however, if he had pre-rehearsed his sentences.

        • Linda Stroth says:

          Levine speaks fluent German, don’t know what this person means.

      • Andreas B. says:

        during the two years I played in the Munich Philharmonic there were indeed a few cancellations, Levine being replaced by e.g. Ivan Fischer (fantastic Dvořák 8), Andrey Boreyko (great all-Stravinsky-program) and Paolo Carigniani (Schumann 2).
        however, Levine did conduct one opera each season, was very enthusiastic about the Schoenberg-beethoven cycle and conducted on tour (Proms, Carnegie hall).

        there are even (live) recordings, for example:

        at the time I wasn’t aware of any kind of misconduct.
        I wonder if and how I would have reacted to Levine differently, had I known about abusive behaviour.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Very interesting. May I ask a few more questions?

          What’s your take on his skill? What playing did he draw out the Munich Philharmonic?

          What about his German?

          Among the most memorable orchestral concerts I have attended live in 40 years are the Munich Philharmonic performing Bruckner 8th and 9th under Günter Wand, in 2000 and 1998 respectively. With the 8th, I went on two successive nights – and that was pre-meditated 🙂

          • William Osborne says:

            Gunter Wand will always have a special place in my heart. My wife was in the orchestra and the object of Celibidache’s egregious and notorious sexism. As a result, people in the orchestra were afraid to openly associate with her lest they incur Celi’s rath. She would get secret encouragement from colleagues in places like the elevator: “keep up the fight, Abbie,” they would say, but the minute the door opened they would step out like they didn’t even know her.

            Wand was not a fan of Celi. He felt his abuse of musicians was appalling, and that much of his behavior was vulgar. He knew of Abbie’s resistance to Celi’s sexism. Once when Wand came as a guest conductor, he walked right up to Abbie during a pause, and demonstrably right in front of everyone, said, “I want to shake your hand.” The meaning was clear for all to see.

            I’ve never liked the stereotyping idea of “the good German.” It makes it seem like they were far rarer than they actually were, but Wand was the very embodiment of what people think of as the good German: dignified, cultured, socially aware, highly educated, and with a strong sense of integrity. I will always remember him with the greatest fondness.

          • Petros Linardos says:

            I now idolize Günter Wand for more than his first class musicianship!

          • Andreas B. says:

            Wand indeed was a remarkable personality and an inspiring presence – I played the last concert (Buckner 4) in Munich before his death.

            to answer your questions:
            Levine seemed to have a basic command of German, usually he rehearsed in English. I do remember some German ‘catch-phrases’ , though: “Hauptstimme!” for example, encouraging a section to sing and shine.

            of course, he’s a very charismatic conductor – in my recollection he tried to achieve a lively, bright and polished sound, didn’t concentrate on mere technical virtuosity, but was very interested in a singing kind of phrasing and balance.

            well, I’m saddened to think that he might have brought pain and distress to people who looked up to him because of his inspiring musicianship.

          • Andreas B. says:

            when I say he rehearsed in English, probably it is also my perception of him as an English native speaker – as his rehearsal s style isn’t very verbal anyway.
            in addition to his catch phrases mentioned above, he did use German numbers, or technical terms like Takt, Ziffer, … and of course all the Italian musical terms.

    • Suzanne says:

      What a horrific saga – and all the collusion must have made it so much worse to live through. I am very impressed by your factual documentation of what Abbie Conant fought against. And I am still surprised that in German (and most European) orchestras today one still sees so few women in the wind sections, particularly in the brass. Now female horn players seem to be making inroads, but trumpet, trombone, tuba in major symphony orchestras? Almost non-existent.

    • Ungeheuer says:

      Günter Wand was indeed all class not to say a great conductor/musician. Very few left like him. The Abbie Conant anecdote is simply staggering and an outrageous. That someone so gifted and accomplished was put through the grinder for so many years for being a woman is unconscionable and inexcusable. May be time to reconsider Celi and his legacy, even though I once heard him conduct a superb Pictures at an Exhibition with the Munich that I will always remember.

  • Marcus says:

    The Munich statement is similar to the ones issued by the Boston Symphony recently,
    I wonder, why did Boston and Munich have to say anything at all at this point?
    It looks to me that they both are trying to cover themselves in advance should any new allegations against Levine surface from any new accusers coming forward in either Boston or Munich.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      One puts out a “statement to media” because the media has asked, perhaps repeatedly, for one.

      “It looks to me that they both are trying to cover themselves in advance…”

      I think that’s part of it. Address it now instead of drip, drip, drip later.

      I think the “no future engagements” clauses are intended to show they are not fence sitters. Not anymore, anyway.

  • Serena Leland says:

    A repost for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet – the petition to have James Levine reinstated at the Metropolitan Opera:

    Thank you!

    All best,