Exclusive: James Levine returns to conducting

Zubin Mehta and Alexander Pereira have booked him to conduct Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust in January 2021 at the Maggio Musicale in Florence.

Levine, 77, has not raised a baton since he was fired by the Met in March 2018 for alleged sexual abuse.

Pereira is claiming his return as a great coup.

Levine will also conduct Brahms’ German Requiem with Thomas Hampson and Hanna-Elisabeth Müller.

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  • Levine’s career should have ended in disgrace with a parting of ways at the Met back in March 2018. What a shame that Mehta/Florence are trying to resurrect this man, renowned throughout the business as sexually abusive and a habitual harasser of young, vulnerable artists.

  • The Met never, ever, made public what the accusations were and the Met accusers never, ever, came out publicly with their accusations.

    Both parties settled.

    And the anonymous accusers never brought their accusations to the union or to the prosecutor or to court.

    There is nothing there. Nothing even to deny!

    Of course the man should continue to conduct. Watching the free Met broadcasts just reminded me of how good he is. Especially his Ring cycle!

    It was Met’s loss.

    Now it’s the Maggiore’s win.

    • Oh, how wrong you are!! He is physically unable to conduct! This has been a fact for at least a decade and the Met bent over backwards to accommodate his extreme disabilities. In fact, they literally spent over a million dollars to construct a special lift for his chair and then a huge contraption to lift him up in the pit! He should have retired well over a decade ago! He tormented and totally demoralized the orchestra until it was but an empty shell. THAT’S the real reason he was let go.

      • Another good point. From a strictly artistic standpoint, he was there at least 20 years longer than he should have been

  • He should have probably been sent to jail back in the 70s, released ten years later, come out as gay, been honest about his compulsions and what predation in his past might have led him down this horrific path, and then given a chance for redemption. Now it’s just a mess of human ugliness and trauma from which there is no escape. It’s a terrible tragedy that may well take the entire Met down with him.

    • Actually he has no criminal record, a settlement from the Met, and an invitation to conduct in Florence despite his physical limitation. He’s doing better than you probably are.

    • Homophobia is alive and well. You must know that the gay civil rights icon Harvey Milk was documented as having had sex with underage boys too. It’s in his biography. But in the end it’s just an unproven allegation, just like the ones against Levine. I don’t understand why people are naming holidays after Milk while they revile James Levine.

  • This will require transporting his gigantic specially designed conducting pod along with assistants to set up and operate same. A huge, expensive undertaking.

    • Hi Bob. Yes, you are so right. Jimmy did great things with us all those years at the Met but it’s time to step aside and let others have a chance. I think this is very selfish of him.

      • As is the case with many people like Levine, you’ll find they have virtually nothing else in their lives; no family, grandchildren or the things most of us take for granted in our declining years.

        And I agree with the person who suggested he should have deal with the depredations which drove him along the path of abuse (has it even been into the courts?) and reputational destruction. But, silly me: we have kangargoo courts now – no need for the real thing.

        • We do not have kangaroo courts here in the US. Stop repeating foolish, nonsensical statements that are uttered by Trump when he doesn’t like what is being said. Judges around the country would tell you otherwise…do grow up.

          • Sadly we do have kangaroo courts here in the US, and some people reading this site support them, in a straight line from McCarthy, Stalin, and the Spanish Inquisition. Glad I won’t have to see them in Florence.

          • Levine didn’t even get a kangaroo court. He got tried and found guilty by the media. Not fair at all!

          • The kangaroo court of cancel culture; shutting people down because YOU DON’T like what they say, do or think. You’d love it in North Korea; nobody needs to do anything which is unlike anybody else there.

            And you don’t think the Kavanaugh affair was a Kangaroo Court? That IS the living representation of such a court. Bleating, finger-wagging, defamatory and accusatory iterations; he only escaped because burning at the stake is no longer available. My word, the kangaroo court is alive and well in the (once) good old USA.

            You need to get out more. Perhaps some reading could suffice in the meantime.

          • No kangaroo courts in the US? Really? How about those run by Universities that ruin young men’s lives on the basis of unproven allegations? Or the many courts in the US that refuse to prosecute those who crimally damage property, or loot businesses, or burn down buildings, or smash skulls with bike locks, or concuss reporters? This list is only partial. No kangaroo courts indeed! Open your eyes JD, if you have any.

        • el·ee·mos·y·nar·y
          /ˌeləˈmäsnərē/
          Learn to pronounce
          adjectiveFORMAL
          relating to or dependent on charity; charitable.

          • There was an off-off Broadway play by that name that was briefly revived a few years ago in New York City. It was about how an three generations of women in a family and how they coped with an abortion

      • Despite his carefully manufactured “nice guy” image, he has always been a very selfish narcissistic and controlling person – two-faced, passive aggressive etc..

      • I think if the allegations hadn’t been made and he hadn’t been forced out at the Met he could have retired gracefully. I understand why he wants to conduct now, even if he is not physically able to. It certainly won’t be selfish if he fills the house.

  • Was Mehta really the one who booked him? I mean Mehta is honorary conductor. But the intendant is Alexander Pereira, so he’s the one who theoretically makes the hiring decisions…

  • With all the now idle conductors who would chomp at the bit for that job, why, why, why?

    No. One. Cares.

  • I think the end of his tenure at the Met, where he spent most of his life, and two years of enforced silence were punishment enough, plus the fact that the whole world was talking about this, including people who didn’t even know who he was. Anyone who heard his Mahler 3 in Berlin in October 2017 would want to hear this great artist again. This is not to condone his crimes but simply to separate the good from the bad, without allowing the latter to cancel out the former.

    • If we were to stop listening to music composed by dreadful composers or attending performances of orchestras which once belonged to the foulest of regimes, which committed horrendous, incalculable crimes then we would be drawing the short musical straws. Most of the time. This would exclude at least 4 or more major European and Russian orchestras, not to mention many composers.

    • He was NEVER convicted of any crimes. I heard his Mahler 3rd in Boston. It was amazing, but that’s not why I defend him. We need to go back to thinking of people as innocent until proven guilty.

  • I would have thought Alexander Pereira rather than Mehta made the decision. I hope Levine’s health holds up with the travel and stress.

  • This should come as no surprise. If Michael Myers and Freddie Krueger could be resurrected, why not Jimmy?

  • Everyone judge, jury and American armchair experts again! So many know James personally so well and so have a cause to justifiably character assassinate him. I only worked with him so hardly know him. If only any of us were perfect human beings without any faults yet feel still able to throw the first stone.

    • Exactly. And all of it presupposes the lack of agency or fortitude in people’s ability to repel unwanted sexual advances.

      In Australia we have a High Court (the highest in the land) judge currently under investigation for ‘sexual harassment’ in the workplace. He’s described as a ‘sex pest’ in the media. Government has guaranteed protection for women in the workplace with discrimination laws. And this cohort of females is one and the same who’ll go into courts as advocates for hardened and vicious criminals, or as prosecutors. I wouldn’t want weak people unable to fend off a sexual nuisances defending me in court any time soon. You need significant smarts and toughness for that.

      • Why on earth are you so devoid of empathy, so incapable of trying to see each side of a story rather than immediately jumping on one bandwagon, so hostile to your own sex, whom you always deem to be in the wrong in matters of dispute? Are you incapable of recognising that in power imbalance situations there are only winners and losers, yet when a man gets caught out you only see the malevolent side of those you generally deem weaker?

        You deserve to end up in court. It may be one with a higher judge, and He’s big on charity — in the Greek sense. You clearly have none in the colloquial sense. For a self-stated Catholic, you are rather short on the virtues the faith recommends.

      • You are forgetting the huge power imbalance between a High Court judge and associates/ students/ underlings. I might also ask you: if you don’t want tender blossoms defending you in court, would you be happy with a High Court judge with wandering hands presiding over a rape case?

        • ^ it wouldn’t be rape. It would be a temptress/ harlot/ gold digger/ spurned woman seeking money and/or revenge after her scheme went awry. Obviously.

          /eyeroll

    • There are human flaws and then there are possibly criminal acts. Big difference. He is fortunate there was never a real jury.

      • Bill: Not only that, but in his initial public response to the accusations, which he called “unfounded,” he confidently predicted that those who knew him would attest that he was no aggressor or oppressor. A groundswell of support from those who knew him did not materialize, to put it mildly. The famous singers who commented on social media were writing things like “How did this take so long?” (very different from the divided response in the Domingo case later). And the orchestra’s public statement was firmly in solidarity with the alleged victims. So much for everyone loving and worshiping Jimmy.

        • His ability to silence his victims was finally at an end. Of course this did not discourage the unending worship from his cult-like followers, so much like the Trump supporters.

    • Sure, none of us is perfect, but if we don’t draw the line at child abuse then where do we?

    • Yes a nice way to justify serial statutory rape. Why are so many performing artists such morally stunted individuals? (Including Theatre, Film, Classical Music, Opera etc.)

  • He is innocent as long as as a judge says he is not. Or things work in a different way in the US?

      • Sexual harassment is a crime and the only reason that would support any punishment he is suffering. Otherwise is pure lynching. Something that will be the tone of this era in the eyes of history. Social Media Linchers doing what they believe is justice regardless of justice itself.

        • It is NOT a crime always and everywhere. There are degrees of sexual harassment, some of which are indeed crimes, others of which are workplace issues to be dealt with there. Look it up.

      • And Maggio musicale agreed to hire him. So get over it. No one will force you to go to Florence and listen to it.

  • I once owned Levine’s recording of the German Requiem with the Chicago Sym. It was fast, glib, and boring. I got rid of it. And his Verdi left me unimpressed.
    He was very good in Mahler, though….

    • How very strange. I sang Brahms Deutsches Requiem for him with the Philharmonia Chorus back in the 90s and it was achingly and deliciously slow.

      • I also sang in that and I thought the slowness was painful and unmusical. The 2nd movement alone took about 20 minutes…

        • Do you remember what he said to us about the tempo in the rehearsal at the Royal Holloway College hall, Stephen?

          • — and to think we were both present to hear his comments. He said I am going to take this movement extremely slow, so slow that the press will rise up screaming, but you will feel that pulse underneath that only this tempo will illuminate.

        • Much like his dreadful conducting of Parsifal which was even worse when he performed at Bayreuth.

    • The Smetana is poor too, mainly thanks to the wrong (Viennese) playing style. But his RCA Forza is terrific despite its British chorus. Also he left a nice Brahms 3 on DG, with the Alto Rhapsody. I’m not interested in his Wagner or Mozart.

    • Considering how much he dominated the schedule from the 1970s to the early 2000s (always hogging the best singers and most popular operas for himself), it’s rather hard to avoid. Unless you would like to see the same few post-2006 performances again and again.

  • “Alleged”?!?!?
    It was proven already that he sexually abused minors, and everybody knew about it and did nothing for so many years… but only he has fallen.
    Of course, this does not have anything to do with the fact that he will rest as a great musician and conductor!
    But… why hire a conductor in a wheelchair who also suffers of Parkinson!? How will he be conducting, does anybody know?

    • This is what really needs to be discussed. This is so clearly a money/publicity grab. The man could barely conduct two years ago with on going health problems. Disregarding the horrific allegations/investigations, is he even able to handle the work/travel/stress? In his final years at the Met the singers had to rely HEAVILY on prompters and in some cases the concert master. To be of actual benefit, Maestro should just coach singers privately. His ability to make singers and musicians better is unparalleled but his conducting abilities left him nearly a decade ago.

      • “To be of actual benefit, Maestro should just coach singers privately.”

        That might be a bit of a risk … be sure the door is open.

    • “But… why hire a conductor in a wheelchair who also suffers of Parkinson!?”

      Ticket sales. If they didn’t think he would bring in money, they would not hire him.

    • Yes, alleged. He was never convicted of or even charged with any crime. Until a conviction is secured in a court of law, “alleged” is the correct term and anyone who says otherwise in public can be sued for defamation.

  • -I hope that all the little boys in Florence are put under lock and key while he’s in town.

    • Indeed they should not be allowed in the same room. And on stage perhaps be piped in from another room. In fact, at Met rehearsals, he was not allowed to be the only adult in the same room with the Met children’s chorus.

    • Hang on, Bernstein may have been ‘sexually incontinent’, as Jonathan Miller described him but that is not a crime. I’ve never heard any allegations of abuse, let alone child abuse against him.

    • Is there evidence that Bernstein forced himself on under-age young men? That he enjoyed the company of young men is common knowledge and that he was gay is openly acknowledged in one of his wife’s letters to him. That he left her for a relationship with a man on the west coast until she became ill when he returned to look after her is also well known. Was that man under age? I don’t think there is any similarity to the issues surrounding Levine.

    • I’d have had an easier time agreeing in 1980, 1990, or even 2000 (whatever my personal feelings about his approach to this or that composer) than I do in 2020.

    • Actually there is. Has any “first-rate” conductor ever led more uninspired performances of a wider variety of repertoire? His Ravinia recordings are unlistenable unless the goal is to overcome insomnia. The ability to achieve transparent orchestral playing alone is not an end in itself. His incessant talking to orchestras reportedly caused Concertmast Carol to finally tell him that the PO had played the piece before! Watch the video of him conducting the overture to Fidelio at the MET and experience big gestures and transparent sound that has been eviscerated of apt vitality. His genius as a score reader never translated into music-making.

      • How about “made several good recordings amongst a bunch of lifeless and pedantic ones”? I never did understand his lionization. He did do some great work at the Met, but I find many of his orchestral recordings (across a broad spectrum of rep and with many fine orchestras) simply unengaging and dull. That said, I greatly enjoy his Mahler 7 with Chicago.

  • Why is Italy always the last refuge for disgraced, abusive conductors? I know it’s the country that gave the world Silvio Berlusconi and the mafia. But they also have so many wonderful cultural riches. Why not lean into their better side instead of this?

        • Roy Cohn?? lol

          In terms of the world having to deal with the fallout, Woodrow Wilson belongs at the top of our list — by a country mile.

        • My point is that it’s odd that a country with so much cultural greatness as Italy should want to be a safe haven for sex offenders (see also: Domingo, Gatti, Grigolo).

    • They seem to lack an underlying moral compass – particularly in regards to abusive male sexuality. Witness as well their differing reactions to Domingo, Grigolo etc.

      • What they lack is not so much a moral compass
        as the moral panic surrounding sexual issues in anglophone cultures. Latins are wiser and more tolerant about human behavior.

  • I have mixed feelings about Levine and others. I think the MET was right to fire him, as he really brought them into disrepute (and I’m still surprised nobody has sued the MET for enabling him). But this doesn’t necessarily mean he has to spend the rest of his life in St. Helena.

    • James Levine built the modern MET orchestra. Whatever his personal flaws — and they were well known in the community — the MET’s greatness came from Levine. Whether, after this shutdown and the MET’s refusal to keep its orchestra on salary and benefits, they will remain premier waits to be seen because there is only one Levine — and the MET betrayed its own excellence.

      • Orchestras turn over as players retire or move on. If you look up the tenures of the current players (which is easy enough to do; they have a website), you will see that a great many members were not at the Met in Levine’s best years of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Many of them were not even old enough for that to have been possible. They are new enough to have played under Levine only in his decline, when he was battling his numerous physical maladies, splitting time between Boston and New York, taking a hiatus of two seasons from 2011-13, and returning in a diminished capacity before finally parting with his music-director title in 2016.

        He presided over a vast improvement in the Met’s orchestra, to be sure, but that should be enough credit to him without giving him credit he isn’t due. Opera orchestras in general, worldwide, have greatly improved on the technical level in the last 40 years.

      • Are we really reducing child abuse to ‘personal flaws’?! It is violence against some of the most vulnerable, creates lifelong trauma for the victims, and is, let us not forget, a criminal act. Possessing artistic talent is not a mitigating factor.

        Besides, the Met had greatness going back at least to the 1940s, certainly based on their reputation and the evidence of extant live recordings. As others have written here already, so much of Levine’s work was dull, even if technically assured. For me his Ring is just about the most boring I’ve ever heard or seen.

  • “Florence is claiming his return as a great coup…”

    Why not? Already this production is getting more attention/clicks than it normally would have. Like or not, Levine’s name on the marquee will garner publicity.

  • I had thought he had conducted his own Requiem due to his behaviour, but it seems, alas, that I was wrong.

  • Should U.S. citizens still be banned from travelling to Italy because of Covid-19 by the time January rolls around, won’t all this be moot?

    • I’m sure they will find a way around it. Travel early/ self-quarantine for 2 weeks (i.e. behave like a responsible person), or something.

  • BRAVO! I have watched, delighted, all the old MET classic broadcasts with Maestro Levine in the podium. From young Jimmy with frizzy brown hair bouncing through the orchestra to his final days in that mechanized chair, there is no denying that James Levine created and built that wonderful orchestra and spread his own musical enthusiasm through them and the audience. THANK GOD he is seemingly well enough to return to conducting. Peter Gelb and the MET board cravenly betrayed the Maestro and good for Mehta in bringing him back to the podium.

    • There was no “craven betrayal”. If anything Gelb pandered to his increasing deficiencies for far too long, as did the Boston Symphony, who wasted their time when they could have hired a music director who could walk across a stage without falling over.

    • No, honey, he didn’t even attend the auditions! The orchestra was created by vacancies and rising standards. Not to mention far better salaries and benefits than the 1950s. Yes, he was instrumental in giving the orchestra its overall style for several decades but it is the players themselves who make the music!!

  • It’s hard to do, but putting Levine’s sick deviancy issues aside for one moment.

    The MET Orchestra had been complaining for years that Levine’s baton beats had become more and more erratic and impossible to follow due to his advanced Parkinsons disease. It’s been 2 years since he last picked up a baton and lives with a disease that with current medicine does not improve as it advances. It is magical thinking either gig will turn out well. Further, his security blanket, his brother Tom who never judged him is no longer with us. Likely he shows up for rehearsals and he’s immediately replaced and sent home. He will then have to be replaced for the second gig.

    Now onto the sick deviancy. It will be interesting to see the marketing spin employed in Florence to sell tickets to a Levine conducted anything. It will take a marketeer with the skills of a P.T. Barnum to woo a crowd for these two events. Music lovers in Italy are not fools and have access to news. Further, what is Hampson thinking agreeing to do this? He hasn’t thought about the implications associated with his appearance with a Levine led event. He certainly has not retired.

    Finally, didn’t Zubin retire last year? Didn’t he step down from all his posts for health reasons? So now he’s acting as an avoccato for old crony scoundrels. Hmmm.

    • It will have been over three years by January 2021. Levine’s last conducting of anything was a Verdi Requiem at the Met in December 2017 (Stoyanova, Semenchuk, Antonenko, Furlanetto). And it wasn’t good, the excellent female soloists aside.

    • (a) In Italy they don’t care about that kind of thing. Gatti and Domingo got great public outpourings of support during their scandals. (Not aware that Dutoit ever conducted much in Italy? But they would probably welcome him with open arms)

      (b) It’s a good orchestra — they can probably play anything. Damnation of Faust is a risky proposition to undertake without a conductor. Maybe they’re hoping to sell tickets with the “come and see if there’s a massive wreck” idea, like auto racing.

      (c) Singers are gig workers. It’s a high-profile gig, I’m sure with a fee to match. His agreeing to sing doesn’t amount to an endorsement of sexual abuse. His career is unlikely to suffer, especially in Europe where he is mostly based. Also he and Levine have some history together at the Met and probably elsewhere, so there may be a “one last chance to work with an old friend” element in there.

    • Actually Hampson is long overdue for retirement as well (though in this case solely for artistic reasons). But unfortunately he shares Levine’s narcissism and is therefore unable to see this.

  • I never had much respect for Zubin Mehta. Now that he is hiring a reputed abuser of boys, I have lost what little respect I ever had.

    • Lucky he had a good or orchestras. New york philharmonic. Israel philharmonic.
      They sound good with any conductor.

  • Does society desire rehabilitation or pure punishment/revenge? I won’t accept as major point the length of the time without conducting since he wasn’t judged by the society in fact, something that ONLY the court can do legally and in a civilized place.
    Also, in a civilized place with proper legal due, punishment outside strictly determined by courts is a crime. And it is hugely criticizable!
    However, I’m an attorney providing technical/unbias opinion about a case that I did NOT know the detail. If the case is just a discussion about mob lynching, just thumb down my opinion or just ignore it. Don’t need to answer.

    • Mr. Levine had many opportunities for “rehabilitation” after run-ins with the law in the early 70s and 80s, albeit cleverly/not so cleverly covered up by the Met. There’s a point at which society’s forgiveness is no longer offered–even to a genius.

  • Great conductor with lousy morals.
    Munich sent him back to New York in 1997 (and it was all about sex with young men and greed for money … or was he overmedicated on dopamine agonists?)

  • This is an utterly horrific piece of news. Levine needs to be permanently put out to pasture.

  • I am glad that very talented maestro Levine have the opportunity to perform after unfair judgement …

  • Would anyone in possession of a shred of decency attend this presentation? Would anyone with a shred of social awareness want to be seen there?

  • Several victims did go public with their names.

    I must say that this is quite a surprise since Levine has been maintaining a super low profile since the mess started and that he would be radioactive to hire as a conductor, although memories can be short.

    I had actually thought that he might write an opera about what happened to him, or on some other subject, get into written music criticism or write books about the or subjects such as his autobiography or a text book on conducting.

    I do wonder about how he would be able to conduct without the special podiums.

    As a psychiatric nurse I have written and speculated extensively on Levine in years past and I remain ambivalent. On a political level we need to set an example about all the abuse that happens in the classical music industry. On the personal level it’s nice to see someone rise from a tragedy (although some of his victims were never able to do so) and renew his life.

    • ==I had actually thought that he might write an opera about what happened

      He’s conducted a lot of operas but he’s only a re-creative artist

  • It is all fine and perhaps good to disagree on the subject of his possible return to conducting, but referring to his misdeeds – even if not proven in court – as nothing more than “personal flaws” is, in my opinion, disgusting when talking about many years of sexual abuse of minors.

  • As far as child abuse is concerned I believe the youngest case that we know of was 16 years old. I am not saying that this is right but I would not call it rape.

    The issue is not so much child abuse but sexual harrassment–that he seduced young men, generally not minors, frequently by making or implying promises of career help that for the most part he did not keep.

    These young men were entirely dependent on him for their careers and were not in a position to stay no. In other words his crime was that he took advantage of his power and authority.

    The crime, and I do not mean to minimize it, is not so much that he traumatized his victims but that he betrayed them.

    In this age of “me too” this is definitely serious but in most places not a jailable offence.

  • Anyone sharing a podium with this monster should be ashamed of themselves. He should be in jail, not earning thousands of Euros and sullying the reputation of classical music by his presence. Appalling decision.

  • Judging from many comments and the like/dislike ratios, it looks as if the US has abandoned the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle. God help us if this is what America has become! Come to your senses, Quirites! Defend your constitution and reject trial by allegation, innuendo and me-too hysteria or you will find yourselves burning witches again. We are well on the way to Salem-style justice already.

  • I find so many of the comments on this thread scary. What is taking place is exactly what JL would hope for – that the conversation about his sexual predation and LONGTIME well known (by everyone in the industry) abuses of power be drowned out by the conversation that will inevitably ensue regarding his musical talent. Weinstein produced a lot of good movies too, but that’s not even remotely the point. I stand in solidarity with those who are abused – may you always have the courage to stand up against oppression.

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