The tired old men who tie up the top concerts

The Florence Sovrintendente Alexander Pereira has issued a statement to Musical America, explaining why he hired James Levine to conduct at the Maggio Musicale. He said:

I always try to protect people that are demonized. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how I am. He [Levine] has been silent for such a long time, after contributing so much to music, and I think that the musical world needs to hear him.

Hardly a single word here rings true.

1 Levine was not demonised. He was fired from the Met after a legal investigation verified long-standing claims of sexual predation. Two or three police forces had cases on file but were unable to press charges due to statutes of limitations.

2 Peter Gelb had been long urging the board to get rid of Levine, whose beat was now so unclear it drew protests from orchestra players.

3 Nobody needs to hear him. Levine is way past the end of his sell-by. There are at least 100 young conductors who could give a livelier account of the pieces he has been booked to perform at Florence and who might go on from there to greater things.

So why did Pereira hire Levine at Florence, and with such enthusiastic support from his music director Zubin Mehta?

Because Pereira, 72, and Mehta, 84, are living off old men’s memories. They’re part of a cabal that has carved up the best baton jobs for decades and are keen to protect one of their own. Levine will not add a single sale at the box-office in Florence, where he is long forgotten. All his name will do is create a fuss around Pereira as a power-broker. But it’s the wrong kind of fuss: the thrashings of a dying swan.

 

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  • Tristan says:

    Can’t agree more! All of them here should retire peacefully as more then past their prime – Pereira has done poor jobs in Salzburg and Milano and should just terminate his career – his many comments about were so silly and I only recall when he compared Netrebko with La Callas – this man simply has no idea
    It was a bad idea to get him for Firenze after he courted the Saudis for Milan
    Just step down with Mehta who just did the most boring Rosenkavalier in Berlin and let Jimmy (he left us fabulous recordings) stay in the US! There is so much better now then Zubin and him!

    • TishaDoll says:

      I thought both Metha’s Falstaff and Rosenkavalier in Berlin were superb, very briskly paced with superb casts who clearly clearly loved him as he is so frail these days. Frittoli and Nylland, both superb as artists and daughters helped him navigate the curtain calls. It was a fine farewell tour. I’m soon 61, and have been going more than regularly to opera for 41 years. 7 in February alone, then caught Corona at Barenboim’s Carmen, brisk, with the Sofia Loren voiced Anita Rachvanishvili

    • Peter Schönbeck says:

      Mr. Alexander Pereira is a very successful General Manager. A strong fighter with a big heart. Pereira has acquired over 355 million sponsorship money during his long career. This performance is great and in the opera world totally unique! Pereira worked in Frankfurt, Wien, Zürich, Salzburg, Milano and now in Firenze. Pereira is always very successful and popular everywhere… During the 6 Pereira years at La Scala di Milano there was no strikes! This fact can be called the “MIRACLE OF MILANO”…

  • Mr. Positive says:

    Amen. SO SO well said. Bravo!

  • Emil says:

    Agree 100% with the article above. The analysis is spot on.

    The whole thing would be a farce if it weren’t so despicable.

  • Lorenzo says:

    Can’t agree more. Old men protecting old men. Having also Thomas Hampson for three projects: Beethoven 9th, Brahms Requiem and Così fan tutte. Is he the only baritone around or is he engaged because of his friendship with Pereira? Sick and tired of hiring because of friendship/connections instead of hiring for value and quality.
    Also good luck with his first Don Alfonso: pages and pages of Italian recitative when he can’t sing a recital without music.

  • lillianastanescu says:

    But of course, tired old men will argue that even they need to live. Maybe they don’t.

    • Nik says:

      Yes, there is a well-established concept called retirement, have you heard of it?

      • david hilton says:

        Yes. There is another well-established concept called age-ism. Which is just as ugly, pernicious, and irrational as sexism and racism. And, thankfully, just as illegal in most countries.

    • Stephen Woodland says:

      I don’t know. Had Klemperer been put out to grass, we would have missed some of his most profound interpretations. The thing about elderly conductors, they die sooner than later.

  • David says:

    Very well said, can’t agree more. I hope we can see this post circulate so it can make a difference.

  • Yes Addison says:

    It could not have been better said.

    I have my doubts as to whether this will even happen. January is a long way off, and even when the state of the world was less chaotic and uncertain than it is today, Levine had more than a few cancellations. The present-day version of him is a bad bet all around.

  • A.L. says:

    Well said. It’s the last few gasps of breath from these dinosaurs. It is also proof, as if any was needed, that the classical music Mafia is alive and well. Or at least it thinks it is.

  • Tired Lions in Winter says:

    This analysis is what truly makes Norman Lebrecht the most important voice in the classical music industry.

    Bravo!

  • STEPHEN BIRKIN says:

    Presumably the good people of Florence will stay away in their hundreds/thousands??

  • Luca says:

    Hey, Norman, there are no secrets on Internet for the famous: Pereira is just one year older than you and I’d hardly describe you as “tired and old”!

    • Euphonium Al says:

      A different set of physical skills are required from a blogger/critic than a maestro. There are certainly conductors who have remained at their prime until their last breath, but that’s demonstrably not the case with Levine.

    • Craig says:

      Tired and old is not just about the number.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The condition of being tired and old is not related to age.

      • Henry williams says:

        Maybe. tony Bennett is 93. But his voice has lost it.

        • Nick says:

          It is not the “voice”!!! It is the personality and artistry!! Sinatra could not sing, but we still listen to WHO he was!! Bennett, Sinatra, Domingo – all these are ARTISTS! And it is never boring to those who can listen and understand.

    • Nick says:

      Very well said, Luca!! Nobody is perfect and Levine had his ups and downs. His contribution to Music is immeasurable! And it is not up to us to judge him and to judge people who support and hire him. To count Levine off on professional grounds is idiocy and, on his age is the worst exhibition of present day “liberalism” which has nothing to do with REAL liberals. It is pure HATRED! Physical degradation and poor state of health in later years cannot be a reason for discrimination. (A totally demented 77-old man is running for the US presidency). Levine can lead a concert.

      • Yes Addison says:

        It sounds as though you prioritize Levine’s desire to continue (and his past contributions) over the quality of the music. Sometimes, unfortunately, physical deterioration IS a reason to rule someone out for a particular job. No one would argue that an air traffic controller who had lost his sight should be retained.

        The comments about the difficulties orchestras have following Levine, and the extraordinary measures required even to get an adequate performance under his leadership, are not matters of speculation. They are well documented. It is a situation that worsened over the course of at least 15 years, even with orchestras that knew him well (which the one at issue does not).

        Now, I ask. What does he bring to the Damnation de Faust and the Brahms Requiem that Norman’s 100 others would not, with less trouble and stress for the musicians and without a cloud of sexual misconduct?

  • Euphonium Al says:

    Summed up very well, Norman. A preponderance if evidence clearly indicates Levine is a predator. He is legally entitled to the presumption of innocence, not new conducting gigs. What’s more, he’s not much of a conductor anymore. There are hundreds of under appreciated and up-and-coming conductors who would deliver a better performance.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of Levine’s alleged offences, there is surely a time for a man who is elderly, sick and with spinal problems to retire and make way for younger men. I can never see this obsession for marrying on to an advanced age when you’re obviously passed it. Retirement is to be enjoyed!

  • Novagerio says:

    “whose beat was now so unclear it drew protests from orchestra players.”

    “Nobody needs to hear him. He is way past the end of his sell-by. There are at least 100 young conductors who could give a livelier account of the pieces he has been booked to perform”

    Now, would you have written in such terms about old Otto Klemperer in 1972 too?

  • MSC says:

    Not so much a dying swan as a dead parrot.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Interesting notion: defending people who are rightly demonized.

  • Viva Levine says:

    Pray tell, why does this site support Domingo but not Levine?

    Domingo was also found guilty by a legal investigation. And what the LA law firm found against Domingo was a lot worse than what the NY law firm found against Levine.

    Most tellingly, Domingo offered to pay $500K to the union to shut them up, whereas the Met gave money to Levine to settle his termination suit.

    Hmmmm…. Whose case is worse?

    By the way, Levine is not the only controversial person invited by the Maggiore for the coming season, so was Domingo and Gatti.

    Why isn’t Domingo also an old man being protected? Is Gatti an old man being protected?

    The hypocrisy and blindness on this site.

  • Paul says:

    THE LOST GENERATION:

    While I do agree, I must however speak up on behalf of my generation: the lost generation of 50-something year-old conductors.

    It seems that the industry was long dominated by septuagenarian conductors even from when I began conducting 30 years ago. My role models and mentors were always conductors over the age of 70 who had experience conducting certain repertoire for 50 years or more. Then a seismic shift took place around the time that the 23-year-old Dudamel won the Mahler competition in 2004. Suddenly it seems to have become the fashion to hire the youngest freshest faces to replace the void left by the old venerable conductors who are no longer with us.

    But where are all the conductors with 20-40 years professional experience? Maybe you can name a few, but in my opinion (and speaking for myself of course) we seem to be getting passed over for the next attempt to find another Dudamel. I truly doubt if any of these twenty-somethings would have the musicality and experience Gustavo had at that age, and it is simply sad to watch the inexperienced struggle with their first attempts to deal with repertoire and situations that some like myself have already conducted with dozens of orchestras in multiple countries for the literally the entire life-time of their lives.

    Although this may sound like I am merely ranting my own professional frustrations here, I know of several regions (maybe even 2 or 3 countries) where there are simply no music directors and (barely any professional conductors) between the ages of 40 and 70.

    As an 87-year-old conducting mentor of mine (who has in fact stopped conducting) recently told me: when he needed surgery recently his doctor told him not to worry because he had performed this same operation over 2,000 times. If you were going to have an operation performed on you, wouldn’t you want that type of doctor instead of someone fresh out of medical school?

  • BrianB says:

    All well and good, Norman, but just to be a contrarian, by your logic and that of cancel culture, Gesualdo was a brutal murderer and therefore his music should never be played again.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      There is an alternative choice: listen to Gesualdo, look at Cellini’s works and Caravaggio’s, listen to Levine’s recordings … but also don’t hire him for new gigs.

      You’re right, though: people need to understand that deeply flawed human beings have nonetheless produced great things, in all fields of human endeavour.

  • Anna Yu says:

    This is a lie. Levine was charged with criminal offenses, including those involving minors. There was an official police investigation, which however did not find sufficient evidence. Domingo’s case is completely different. He is not charged with any criminal offense. Even the term harasment and sexual abuse are absent from the conclusions of the AGMA and LAO investigations. In fact, the only proven charge is that he unintentionally made less than 10 women feel uncomfortable over the 50 years of his career. It is even ridiculous to consider it an accusation. Allegations of abuse of power were denied by the LAO investigation, as well as by representatives of the Washington Opera. Therefore, these two cases cannot be placed side by side. In any case, everyone has the right to atonement and forgiveness.

    • V. Lind says:

      What atonement?

    • Stella says:

      If Domingo was exonerated by the AGMA, LAO and WO investigations, why have they not re-hired him?

      • Thinking aloud says:

        He resigned from AGMA. Unless you are a member of the union in USA you cannot work in the country. Even if these opera houses wished to invite him again it would be difficult. Whether he would consider returning to USA opera houses, after the way so many of them treated him, is doubtful.

  • Allen says:

    Discuss performance and behaviour by all means, but leave age out of it.

    Using “old” as a pejorative term is unacceptable, in my opinion, at a time when we are told almost on a daily basis that so many words and phrases are symptoms of something dark and sinister.

    Conducting has never been the sort of profession where you work up to 65, become entitled to a stage pension, and retire in accordance with company policy.

    In support of this I’d point out that B Haitink is 91 and has only recently retired.

  • geoff says:

    I heard the Philharmonia with Klemp. and that was what started my life in music. He went on conducting until he was so frail that he was almost carried to the podium and sat while he made tiny indications with his hands as to what he wanted from the New Philharmonia. What do I do now that I’m getting close to 90?

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Sometimes people are APPROPRIATELY “demonized”.

  • Giuditta da Roma says:

    Mister Alexander Pereira installed maestro Riccardo Chailly as La Scala’s music director.
    This disastrous choice disqualifies him forever.

    • Peter Schönbeck says:

      Maestro Riccardo Chailly is a brilliant conductor and the best choice… BRAVO PEREIRA and thank you for the great job in Milano!!!

  • Thinking aloud says:

    I’m surprised anyone thinks Lebrecht supports Domingo.
    Whenever I read this forum Lebrecht seems to take every opportunity to denigrate Domingo. He has even used his name to headline articles which have nothing to do with Domingo if he thinks it puts Domingo in a bad light.
    As for Domingo ‘s supposed crime being worse than Levine’s, read the full conclusion of the LA Opera investigation and see what the findings really were, not just what you read in the press.
    The 500,000 dollar paid to The AGMA was to support musicians/singers who were loosing their work and incomes because of Covid19.

    The last time I saw Levine at the Met I was shocked he was so physically incapacitated. The trip to Florence would be a major undertaking. Whatever his crime he has a great knowledge of music.
    All the complaints about old men being protected shows how maturity, experience and knowledge is so disregarded these days. Young conductors will be engaged in secondary roles, eventually gaining the experience and maturity of the ones being complained about. And they in turn will become the old men of the world of music.

  • Sharon says:

    I believe that the bloggers are missing the elephant in the room. The age of the audience and who THEY want to hear. In the US most of the opera audience is over 60. They come out for the conductors they know.

    • Yes Addison says:

      The age of the audience for opera and classical music has always skewed older. Yet, somehow, James Levine became principal conductor of the Met at 30, and the music director at 32. It wasn’t for a lack of elderly conductors still around.

      In the same time period, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta, and others in their thirties and forties were holding important posts and having successful careers. All of them were unfamiliar to audiences at some point, and then they made their debuts various places and they weren’t. You can’t know a conductor until you hear him (or her).

  • Mirco says:

    The criticism and bashing against Mr. Alexander Pereira is unfounded and absurd Mr. Alexander Pereira is one of the best and most successful General Manager in the opera world. Nobody can bring art and commerce together as well as Pereira. He is also definitely the most successful General Manager in finding sponsorship money We Italians are proud and happy to have Mr. Alexander Pereira in Florence

    Please read the list of conductors for the Florence season 2020-2021…

    Marco Armiliato
    Paolo Carignani
    Myung-Whun Chung
    Francesco Ivan Ciampa
    James Conlon
    Ottavio Dantone
    Christoph von Dohnányi
    Christoph Eschenbach
    Adam Fischer
    Riccardo Frizza
    Michele Gamba
    Daniele Gatti
    Manfred Honeck
    Eliahu Inbal
    James Levine
    Zubin Mehta
    Ingo Metzmacher
    Riccardo Muti
    Gianandrea Noseda
    Federico Maria Sardelli
    Lahav Shani

    At which house can you find such names in Italy? So much excellence and world class? The young and old conductors generation are invited to Florence! That’s why I launched the message: Visit Florence, the most beautiful and important cultural city in the world And visit the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. You will not regret it Pereiras programming is great and varied – from baroque to contemporary music Viva Firenze e Viva Alexander Pereira ❤️

    With sunny greetings from Firenze ☀️

    Mirco

  • Mark says:

    If there is one thing worse than “tired old men” it’s tiresome young men and women who get promoted beyond their capability because of their looks or to satisfy the latest fashion – the industry is full of them these days.

  • Fritz says:

    Pereira forever!!!!

  • Mirco says:

    The criticism and bashing against Mr. Alexander Pereira is unfounded and absurd. Mr. Alexander Pereira is one of the best and most successful General Manager in the opera world. Nobody can bring art and commerce together as well as Pereira. He is also definitely the most successful General Manager in finding sponsorship money. We Italians are proud and happy to have Mr. Alexander Pereira in Florence.

    Please read the list of conductors for the Florence season 2020-2021…

    Marco Armiliato
    Paolo Carignani
    Myung-Whun Chung
    Francesco Ivan Ciampa
    James Conlon
    Ottavio Dantone
    Christoph von Dohnányi
    Christoph Eschenbach
    Adam Fischer
    Riccardo Frizza
    Michele Gamba
    Daniele Gatti
    Manfred Honeck
    Eliahu Inbal
    James Levine
    Zubin Mehta
    Ingo Metzmacher
    Riccardo Muti
    Gianandrea Noseda
    Federico Maria Sardelli
    Lahav Shani

    At which house can you find such names in Italy? So much excellence and world class? The young and old conductors generation are invited to Florence! That’s why I launched the message: Visit Florence, the most beautiful and important cultural city in the world 🙂 And visit the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. You will not regret it 🙂 Pereiras programming is great and varied – from baroque to contemporary music. Viva Firenze e Viva Alexander Pereira!!

    With sunny greetings from Firenze

    Mirco

  • Gustav Meier says:

    Alexander Pereira is the best Intendant… Forza Alex!

  • Norman, since the statement was issued exclusively to Musical America, please provide a link to the original story. https://tinyurl.com/y7offam3

  • C R says:

    Zubin has never been one to involve himself in other people’s business. To cast aspersions in this manner about his potential involvement in this ill advised decision is abjectly wrong.

  • David R. Moran says:

    Levine may well have aged out, though some of his last work here in Boston was marvelously clear (and yes, the orchestra kvetched endlessly about his stick, which did get results). But the eliding of his sexual abuse and harassment upward into criminal-level behaviors is debatable, as with so many of these bad actors. They don’t assault, they just pressure (whine, don’t stop, etc.), and that is an important difference worth keeping in mind in this time of overlooked actual assaults.

  • Peter Schönbeck says:

    Alexander Pereira is a very successful general manager. He’s a strong fighter with a big heart. Pereira has acquired over 355 million sponsorship money during his long career. This performance is unique and in the opera world totally unique! Pereira worked in Frankfurt, Wien, Zürich, Salzburg, Milano and now in Firenze. Pereira was successful and popular everywhere. During the 6 Pereira years at La Scala di Milano there was no strike! This fact can be called the “MIRACLE OF MILANO”.

  • adamo rinaldi says:

    Il Dott. Alexander Pereira è il Personaggio completo che ogni Teatro possa sognare di Avere, la sua storia lo dimostra. Grande manager in una grande industria privata negli anni 70/80, poi il grande amore per la Musica lo ha portato nel mondo dell’Arte suprema, la Musica Classica e l’Opera. Ha capacità imprenditoriali e manageriali oltre alla grande esperienza maturata nelle più Grandi culle della Musica ed il Suo grande amore per questa, sono una garanzia di successo per il Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. La storia lo dimostrerà, ne sono convinto, in pochi anni il Maggio Musicale Fiorentino ritroverà la Gloria che ebbe negli anni 60/70 del secolo scorso.

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