Silence from Yannick over James Levine

Silence from Yannick over James Levine


norman lebrecht

March 18, 2021

In contrast to his usual media-friendly responses, there has been no comment from Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the death of his predecessor James Levine.


Nothing, either, from Valery Gergiev, who is Levine’s successor at the Munich Philharmonic. Or Andris Nelsons, his heir at the Boston Symphony.

The ego of maestros is egotistic.

We have seen one beautiful tribute. It’s from Donald Runnicles, Generalmusikdirektor of Deutsche Oper Berlin:

I cannot find the words to express adequately my sense of loss with the passing of Jimmy. The North Star of my journey as young conductor, all I ever wanted to do was to emulate this glorious and generous musician. From James Levine I endeavored to learn the lessons addressed in no conducting manual – Levine the master psychologist in rehearsals, who through endless optimism and constructive criticism drew consistently the best performances from singers and orchestras alike – indeed, often better than the artists believed themselves capable. At a crucial crossroads in my young career, James Levine in his incomparable musical brilliance and mentorship changed my life. I would not be where I am without his inspiration. The disturbing controversy which engulfed him in later years is as painful as it is tragic – I will nevertheless always owe a profound debt of gratitude to this phenomenal and eternally youthful conductor.I will always miss Jimmy. In my memory and daily musical life, this giant will live on.

UPDATE: Here’s Placido Domingo:

Dear Jimmy … almost 47 years went by between the first time I had the privilege of working with you (TOSCA, San Francisco, 22 November 1970) and our last appearance together, the (Met Opera Gala to celebrate the company’s 50th Anniversary at Lincoln Center, 7 May 2017). We performed together in well over 400 performances, most of them at the Met. I sang more opera performances with you than with any other conductor. Even to attempt to convey accurately and describe in words what I personally felt through all of those years is a very difficult task which can only be made harder by the pain that the news of your departure is causing me.
You were a musical genius, an outstanding conductor, and a supportive colleague, with an amazing sense of humor. Always sure and in command but always willing to listen and to share ideas with your colleagues. You have left us an amazing legacy.
Your over five decades of tireless dedication to music and opera have made an indelible impact that will remain forever embedded in the history books.
I feel as if I had lost a dear brother, and I know that I have lost a dear friend.
You will be missed dear Jimmy.


  • yujafan says:

    Why do other conductors / musicians have to comment, particularly if they don’t really believe what they would say? Surely under those circumstances it is better to stay silent. Donald Runnicles, however, strikes a balanced note – personal impact whilst acknowledging Levine’s tainted reputation. Good on him for that.

    • Gervaise says:

      It is encouraging to read the words of Maestro Runnicles.Levine was a great musician and transformed the Met.I saw so many of his performances that were unforgettable.It is tragic to think because of his accusations and gossip he was no longer able to function.I remember Alice Coote in an HD broadcast of Idomoneo saying how inspiring he was,and there are many artists who worked with him who would concur.So let’s remember him and honour him for the good he did.

      • fflambeau says:

        Sorry, Gervaise, his legacy is at best a “mixed bag.” You also have to see all the bad he did and the harm he did (criminal) to many people.

        • Gail Runnels says:

          For many musicians, like myself, who have looked up to people like James Levine and Placido Domingo as heroes and role models, these are tough times, indeed. Levine was never formally charged with a crime, but judged harshly in the court of public opinion. For all those harmed, I wish peace and healing. For those who loved him for his good qualities, I wish the same. Perhaps the beauty of his music and prodigious talent reined in some of his dark impulses. Having enjoyed his musical accomplishments, I can feel saddened that he did not live to make amends and atone. It’s now in the hands of a higher power. As a survivor of harassment, I can only pray that these flawed people can truly repent, make amends, and perhaps be redeemed.

        • Portari says:

          You thank that you are right, and in a sense your bitterness is ok! But all the wonderful story of the maestro ought to not missed. HE was the greatest in América. Respect that!

    • Rommel says:

      Is incredible how the musicians under a media and uncertainty times s influence prefer to stay silent instead to remember one if the best conductors in las 40 years.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Sometimes silence is best, particularly when the reputation of the person concerned has been traduced by those who now shed copious crocodile tears. As Bette Davis was supposed to have said about Joan Crawford “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good…. [Levine] is dead. Good.” He is gone and maybe for everyone’s sake that should be the end of it. But somehow I doubt that that will be the case and the sordid details of his life will be raked over by those who take more than a prurient interest in that sort of thing.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It makes me think of the reaction of poet Dorothy Parker on the news of the death of Roosevelt: ‘How could they know?’

      • Joe says:

        It was the death of Coolidge that prompted the quip–the joke wouldn’t work with (either) Roosevelt.

        • buxtehude says:

          Yes, her words were I believe, “How can they tell?”

          Coolidge was known during his sleepy tenure as “silent Cal” though reporters and visitors knew he talked the ears off anyone within hearing. False characterizations were easier to promote in those days, like the illusion that FDR could walk.

        • Hmus says:

          Also ,I believe the exact locution was “how could they tell?” At least that is how it is most quoted.

      • Neil Eddinger says:

        It wasn’t Roosevelt, it was Coolidge in 1933. The original line is: “How can they tell?” and has been attributed most often to Dorothy Parker but, also, to Wilson Mizner.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Couldn’t wait for some idiot to dredge up that supposed quip.

      A man has died. Just give it a minute.

  • Asking says:

    Is taking the money from the MET all he can?
    No fighting for his musicians as music director?

  • Herr Doktor says:

    Oftentimes the good and the bad in a person are one and the same. Donald Runnicles makes an excellent case for that in his tribute to James Levine.

    Let me highlight his comment: “From James Levine I endeavored to learn the lessons addressed in no conducting manual – Levine the master psychologist in rehearsals, who through endless optimism…”

    Yes, Levine the master psychologist. It’s that same master psychologist that The Boston Globe profiled when they ran that very long piece on his sexual and psychological abuse of musicians in his orbit, describing his cult-like techniques that made it possible for him to prey on and sexually assault vulnerable people.

    The “good side” of those skills are lauded by Donald Runnicles. If only we could have a similar comment from Lynn Harrell or any of the musicians who experienced the “dark side” of Levine’s “master psychologist” skills.

    • microview says:

      I don’t think Lynn Harrell will be commenting further any time soon…

    • Diane B. says:

      Where are your proofs ? You have your own little court of your own ? I would like that the first man who has not prey held their hand. Why a well kwown talented conductor would not have an erotic life as all “bodys” has ? Like say the feminist Germain Greer, a penis is not a knife, nor a baton nor a gun, so drop that “victimite” fashion disease !

      • Neil Eddinger says:

        Do you know what “spell check” is? Is “Grammar check” available to you? Writing in standard English will make your arguments more effective.

  • Money as a Behavior Modifier says:

    It would appear that this Yannick is exactly who Gelb wants him to be.

  • musician says:

    oh, don’t expect anything courageous to come from YNS, ever. Maybe we’ll get another selfie in a hotel room or perhaps a shot of him in the gym….”I am dedicating leg day to the memory of the man who build the MET”. Jimmy was a DEEPLY flawed individual but his impact on the MET will never be forgotten. YNS however will be remembered as the management shill who was completely absent during the destruction of perhaps the once greatest opera house in the world.

  • Gustavo says:

    The older baton boys from the inner circle have not much to lose.

    The junior maestros may need to watch out what they say about sexual diversity in all its seedy varieties and simply can’t judge how Jimmy really was as a musician and personality.

  • Brad M says:

    It is probably a case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ as I imagine folks on here would be the first to jump down his throat if he said anything.

    • Dave says:

      I agree. It’s better to keep quiet and this whole mess will blow over. Whatever you say will just stir up the pot.

  • Anson says:

    The “ego” of conductors, Norman? As if they’re not commenting because they think James Levine is some nobody they’ve never heard of? Uhh, no, I think we all know why they aren’t commenting publicly. Hint: it has a lot more to do with Levine’s psyche than theirs.

  • monsoon says:

    Maybe they simply have nothing good to say.

  • George says:

    I’d love to read more rom people who actually worked with him for many years and knew him personally. My feeling on this site is that 90 % of those who comment have never met him. Levine has been punished for what he did, his legacy is destroyed and his last years were probably miserable. But how was it to work with him? How was he in rehearsals, during performances, how did he treat singers, musicians and chorus, staff?

    • Cici T. Great says:

      As a very young singer, I was very grateful for him. At every opportunity, he supported the singer, setting them up for success rather failure (a la Bernstein!). My experience with him was that he came alongside to accommodate tempi, to correct & to insightfully polish for a collaborative product. He was mild, professional, passionate & polite. I witnessed that he was respectful to all singers, even yielding to a choice made outside the norm. There was always an undercurrent of whispers about “proclivities” & misbehavior, but that was pretty standard with many maestros, singers & people in authority. I never witnessed any indication of such with Levine. (I am female.) I can’t say that for others along the way, however. Sadly, losing a role to someone slightly less experienced & skillful, but “buddies” with so-&-so, happened at times. That was pretty prevalent. I had the good fortune to have my teachers & mentors forewarn me about being in one-on-one situations & how to extricate myself from potentially risky encounters, probably because I started so young. It seemed common knowledge that our business – as well as most entertainment industries- was fraught with the “casting couch”-type practices. I’m sad that shame & disgrace tarnished such a gifted musician, but relieved that the “system” is changing. No one – regardless of their giftedness, experience or position – should be excused. And do we not all know that Levine is just the tip of the iceberg? My heart breaks for those who have been duped by anyone who has taken advantage of the power & control they wield, in our industry, in the academic setting, or any environment. I send healing good wishes to those brave folks who have experienced such. You are not victims. Take back your power and live well.❤️

  • Sally Met says:

    Hope ppl see Yaanick’s true color now. He’s a sneaky salesman.

    • Barry says:

      Really? Not commenting in this case, with all of the baggage of the deceased, is a mark of his true color? I’m sorry. But that’s unhinged.

    • Barry says:

      I understand some of the views of Yannick’s failure to publicly support the musicians during the past year. I also find the extent of his wokeness annoying at times.

      But some of what is said about him in the comments on this blog is so over the top, that it says a lot more about the commenters than it does YNS.

    • violafan says:

      I have more respect for Yaanick than ever before.

      He doesn’t need to say anything about this pedophile abuser.

    • Stereo says:

      Not that good a conductor either. We had him in Bournemouth many years ago.

  • John Kelly says:

    Well, as a rule, in my experience, conductors don’t say nice things about other conductors, unless said other conductors are deceased. Having said that there are exceptions that prove the rule. Leonard Slatkin and Donald Runnicles clearly admired Levine for his musical talents. However, most conductors view others as rivals and some I am told delight in stories of disaster among their colleagues. “Conversations with Klemperer” by Heyworth is worth a read. And I won’t forget the day Rudolf Kempe died, a fine conductor popular in the UK – that very night Karajan was conducting the BPO at the Festival Hall in Beethoven 8 and Heldenleben. HVK was asked to conduct the Beethoven in memoriam of his colleague Kempe. He refused and reluctantly agreed to allow a minute’s silence at the beginning of the concert. See – they don’t like each other……………

    • microview says:

      I was at that RFH concert and felt the requested silence (attributed to HvK) was a dignified and appropriate gesture. What is the evidence for you counter-claim? Or just hearsay?

      • John Kelly says:

        I remember it being mentioned by the BBC radio announcer. I still have the tapes of the whole concert (which was superb so I am envious you got to attend)

  • Did Yannick Nézet-Séguin have much history with Levine that would merit a public comment?

  • MacroV says:

    And just what is YNS supposed to say? I guess he can relate some anecdotes from his first encounters as a MET guest conductor and Levine’s MET legacy. But there’s a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t aspect to all this.

  • Freddy says:

    Ok y’all can go ahead and talk about how he is forever tainted. I just bought a few of his BSO recordings I haven’t heard. I am not going to stop listening to recordings he made and anyone who in any way engages with The Met’s artistic output during the 80s and 90s and beyond is implicitly accepting his legacy.

  • EU person says:

    Met with Levine was one of the greatest opera theaters in the world.
    Met with Yannick is a cheap Broadway show.
    So sad

    • MacroV says:

      Seems a rather premature judgment given YNS barely get started before COVID hit.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      I wouldn’t blame Yannick for the cheap Broadway show look…the blame goes to Mr. Gelb. Mr. Gelb and only Mr. Gelb.

    • Gustavo says:

      The whole US is like a Broadway show.

      I’m not saying like a cheap one.

    • Cici T. Great says:

      I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me, but I have a different opinion. While I agree that Levine made the Met during his tenure, many of us in the business, question the “machine” that was the Met. The Met began an administrative slide at the end of the ‘70’s. Without going into detail, the Met took on an arrogance as the self-appointed bastion of the operatic world, pulling some fabulous talent & drawing crowds to fill the coffers, for a slim minute; however, they failed to look forward & chose the snobbery of riding the wave, rather than follow through with the task they were FUNDED to do. The national auditions, ostensibly heralded to nurture, encourage & identify American talent, became an inside joke by the late ‘80’s. Funding to promote young singers was misappropriated, & therefore the up & coming singers lost interest. Consequently, opera has lost an entire generation of both musicians & opera enthusiasts (consumers). While holding themselves up as the gold standard of opera, most of us went to Europe in order to work consistently & practice our craft, watching wistfully as mediocre European singers were hired because “American audiences want European singers” – yes, I & many others were told that, honest to God. In the long run, we were paid better, treated better, & worked steadily in a more hospitable environment, in the European houses. After my stint at the Met, Europe was the greener pasture. Sad thing is, opera in the US is now a diminished art form. The Met was richly funded by federal money & private subsidy, to promote our art. They dropped the ball. Huge fan of the talent, but not a fan of the Met machine, which is now a zombie, deferentially mouthing the “PC/woke” rhetoric which eclipses all forms of creative artistry, in order to placate the donors. May all young talent discover OR CREATE a place to practice their art – that’s my prayer.

  • jim says:

    Why in the world would any of those other conductors want to unnecessarily wade into controversies surrounding James Levine? No matter what they said, no matter how anodyne, someone would take offense at what they said or what they didn’t say or the way they said it. Levine’s problems belong to Levine and it would be stupid for any of those other conductors to step into that muck.

  • R. says:

    Jimmy conducted the Cincinnati Symphony a number of times in the 70s and 80s while I was in the orchestra. He was unequaled in eliciting energy and total commitment from the musicians — an incredible communicator who always treated everybody warmly and with respect.

  • Alexander T says:

    If the Met knew for years, they are equally culpable.

  • fflambeau says:

    “The ego of maestros is egotistic.” What nonsense. Maybe he’s silent because he has nothing nice to say or nothing to add?

  • Deron Johnson says:

    While expressing no opinion on whether YNS needs to make a statement about Levine’s passing, I do wonder if they ever met, especially after YNS’s appointment. As I recall from a NY Times profile of Fabio Luisi, he and Levine were purposefully kept away from each other and never even in the same room while Luisi was the Met’s Principal Conductor.

  • violafan says:

    Norman, I think there is something deeply wrong with you.

    You are a sick individual.

  • Benjamin Feldman says:

    When I was a student at Case Western Reserve in the late 1960s, I attended a Schubert Lieder recital, Paul Sperry and James Levine. I am a person for whom music is like oxygen and water. In the fifty+ years since, I would still rate this as among the five most exalted musical experiences of my life. If I had attended this recital today, that is how fresh it remains in my mind. And no one has ever held the baton in the opera pit with anything close to Levine’s genius. I grieve for him, his family, and the musical community.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Really, Norman, just give it a rest. You’ve made in abundantly clear that you don’t like Y. Nezet-Seguin. I’m guessing that you don’t listen to Philadelphia Orchestra broadcasts on Sirius XM satellite radio. I do. He’s doing an excellent job there. I think few people could have stepped in and done better. The pit orchestra of the N.Y. Met. is not a full fledged symphony orchestra with its own programming, nor should it be projected as being such. If you have an issue with the N.Y. Phil., constantly hyping the orchestra at The Met is not the way to deal with it. I think it’s time you paid more attention to the orchestral scene in your home city – they have plenty of problems of their own. For the complete lack of gratitude that has been shown towards him, Nezet-Seguin ought to just walk from The Met. I would – I’d run!

  • Fred says:

    Woeful WQXR, here in NY, hasn’t said a word about Levine’s life or death or played a single recording. It’s like he never existed. That I find astounding considering his enormous influence and celebrity especially in NY. (They play Wagner probably the most disgusting genius in classical music.)

  • IP says:

    The most vicious Levine bashing has come from Seguin’s queer army of fans and supporters. Never been interested to find out why.

  • Tom Clowes says:

    Maybe they didn’t want to praise a child rapist.

  • Gregory Mowery says:

    Really–does every conductor have to weigh in here? Plenty already have and it’s truly not appropriate for you to keep some kind of tabloid score on who does and who doesn’t. Maestro Levine is not lacking for supporters. So far the most balanced I’ve read is John Rockwell’s. I wouldn’t say I had affection for Levine. More like deep respect, which my knowledge of his activities outside the opera house really challenged that respect. I have no respect for those persons who protected him.

  • George Garcia says:

    I watched maestro Levine in many televised productions . As a person who was not gifted but loved opera immensely, I could always tell when he was deeply involved in the music. I loved watching him conduct. He is now conducting the Heavenly Opera Orchestra!!

  • charles says:

    placido domingo standing up for james levine is like harvey weinstein standing up for roger ailes.

  • Ivy Lin says:

    The only proper comment is “I’m glad the pedophile is dead and can’t hurt anyone else.”

  • LalaChooch says:

    Perhaps they are being sensitive to the feelings and persistent nightmares of the countless young men he abused over many years?

  • Olivchen says:

    Well. Yannick is possible celebrating in his flat- and is posting flamboyand pics…according to some sourches he will be the next Levine