Monday, March 7, 2011

Maestro James Levine: What happens next?

Maestro James Levine
After a tenure marred by deteriorating health and claims of a split focus that was not managed well, Maestro James Levine's occupancy of the podium at the Boston Symphony Orchestra is quickly drawing to a close. The 68 year old conductor's resignation from the orchestra will be effective September 1, 2011.

Even though the managing director, Mark Volpe, praised the Maestro's efforts in Boston as having rebuilt and "revoiced" the orchestra, it is clear that there were some tensions brewing. In his blog post on Friday at the Guardian.co.uk, Tom Service reports in part:
This week's programme – three violin concertos with Christian Tetzlaff, including a world premiere of the new concerto by Harrison Birtwistle – is in the hands of one of Boston's assistant conductors, Marcelo Lehninger. Last week's concerts featuring Mahler's Ninth Symphony were conducted by the BSO's other assistant, Sean Newhouse.

Volpe described how Levine only confirmed his cancellation on Thursday, a couple of hours before the first of four scheduled performances. And he revealed that at the open, public rehearsal the day before, Levine couldn't control his physical gestures on the podium due to the after-effects of an operation on his back.

"Frankly, he had to medicate himself to get through the pain. It was clear he didn't have control of some of his motor skills. But that's how much he wanted to conduct; he was prepared to put himself in jeopardy. But we had to have an intervention of sorts, and I had to say to him: 'Jim, it's not right for you, it's not right for the audience.' Nobody wants to see somebody suffer, especially somebody you have a relationship with."

Volpe says there's relief that the uncertainty of the past few seasons is over. But the question is, what happens next?
Maestro James Levine leads a rehearsal with the BSO in 2007
Indeed. I think we are all wondering about "What happens next?" Not just for the BSO, but for the Met as well. It's clear that Maestro Levine is in need of something that he's not getting - clearly, his physical issues have not improved and the necessary medication is causing his gestures to be affected.

Perhaps it's time for him to transition into more teaching at Juilliard ... or perhaps it's time to transition his Music Director position at the Met into a more administrative positon - both of which would certainly require less from his body, physically speaking.

I highly doubt that anyone would pass judgment on him for making a change. After 40 years and over 2500 performances conducted at the Met *alone*, it might be time to give his body a break.

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