In wake of allegations, BSO says it received no reports of misconduct by James Levine while he was director
In the wake of James Levine's suspension by the Metropolitan Opera amid a sexual-misconduct scandal, Boston Symphony Orchestra management has emphasized it knew of no such behavior while Levine was at the helm of the BSO.
Levine, 74, served as BSO music director from 2004 to 2011, and was a major presence at Tanglewood for portions of five summers — 2005 through 2009.
"During Mr. Levine's tenure with the BSO, the Boston Symphony Orchestra management was never approached by anyone in connection with inappropriate behavior by James Levine," the statement said.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York on Sunday said it was suspending its relationship with Levine pending an investigation into multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him. He is accused by three men of having molested them decades ago, starting when they were teenagers — two of them studying at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Oakland, Mich., and one at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago.
At the BSO's summer home in Stockbridge and Lenox, Levine worked closely with Tanglewood Music Center students.
As of Monday, the Lenox police department had not received any complaints nor has it been asked to launch any investigation of Levine, said Stephen O'Brien, the town's police chief. Stockbridge Police Chief Darrell Fennelly also told The Eagle that no allegations have been reported to his department.
In response to the Metropolitan Opera's decision to cut Levine loose from all scheduled conducting engagements there, the BSO statement stressed that prior to his appointment as music director announced in 2004, succeeding Seiji Ozawa, the orchestra "adhered to a due diligence process."
Speculation about Levine's alleged sexual misbehavior with young men had swirled through the tight-knit classical music community for decades. Despite occasional published reports in news media and books, a New York Times investigation in 1998 uncovered no evidence to support the speculation.
The BSO stated it had ordered "a personal and professional review of all aspects of James Levine's candidacy prior to his appointment as music director in 2004, and decided to move ahead with his appointment."
After the New York Times and the New York Post published online stories Saturday about a police investigation in Lake Forest, Ill., following an allegation that Levine molested a teenager on numerous occasions near the Ravinia Festival starting in the late 1960s, the BSO management stated that the organization "finds this information deeply disturbing and awaits the findings of further investigations on the matter."
The statement noted that "Mr. Levine has not conducted the BSO since January 2011 and is not scheduled to conduct the orchestra at any time in the future."
A veteran player in the orchestra said that he never witnessed any questionable behavior by Levine. Speaking anonymously, the orchestra member asserted: "I don't know of any incidents while [Levine] was music director of the BSO. I never ever saw him do anything with anybody."
In its statement, the BSO emphasized a commitment "to a zero tolerance policy towards anyone who exhibits sexual harassment behavior in the workplace. All of us at the BSO remain vigilant in our commitment to fight against all types of inappropriate and offensive behavior, and to continue the essential work of creating a safe and supportive work environment.
"Behavior by any employee of the BSO that runs counter to these core values and beliefs would not be tolerated and would be met with the most serious consequences," the statement concluded.
The allegations by three men accusing Levine of luring them into sexual activity with him while they were teenagers date back to 1968.
Levine, who was named music director of the Metropolitan Opera in 1976, conducted more than 2,500 performances there. He became music director emeritus in the spring of 2016 because of ill health. He has been severed from upcoming conducting engagements there, the Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, announced on Sunday. The opera company hired an outside law firm to conduct a formal investigation.
"While we await the results of the investigation, based on these news reports the Met has made the decision to act now," Gelb told The New York Times. "This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected."
Levine's accusers include:
- Chris Brown, former principal bass of the St. Paul (Minn.) Chamber Orchestra, who said he was abused repeatedly by the conductor, beginning when he was a 17-year-old student at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan. Levine, 25 at the time, was then an assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.
- James Lestock, who said Levine initiated sexual contact with him that same summer when, at 17, Lestock was studying cello at the Meadow Brook school.
- Ashok Pai, living near the Ravinia Festival in Illinois where Levine was music director from 1973 to 1993, who reported to the Lake Forest, Ill., Police Department last year that he was sexually abused by the conductor starting in 1986, when he was 16.
As of Monday afternoon, there had been no comment from Levine or his representatives.
Levine had been slated to conduct a high-profile new production of Puccini's "Tosca," starting New Year's Eve, and two more operas later in the season. Ironically, Levine was replacing current BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons in the pit. Nelsons bowed out after his wife, soprano Kristine Opolais, withdrew from the starring role in the opera.
The Met, the nation's largest performing arts organization and one of the world's most prestigious opera houses, is now under close scrutiny. Questions are being raised on what it knew about the widespread allegations against Levine.
Gelb told The Times that speculation about Levine had reached the Met administration's upper levels twice before, to his knowledge, first in 1979. At that time, Anthony Bliss, then the Met's executive director, wrote a letter to a board member about unspecified accusations about Levine that had been made in an unsigned letter.
"We do not believe there is any truth whatsoever to the charges," Bliss wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times. The letter stated that the Met had spoken "extensively" with Levine and his manager.
"Scurrilous rumors have been circulating for some months and have often been accompanied by other charges which we know for a fact are untrue," according to Bliss, who died in 1991.
In 1987, Levine dismissed talk of wrongdoing in an interview with The Times, saying that "both my friends and my enemies checked it out and to this day, I don't have the faintest idea where those rumors came from or what purpose they served."
A decade later, more rumors circulated in Germany, when politicians and media outlets debated his appointment to become the music director of the Munich Philharmonic, beginning in 1999.
In an interview in The Times in 1998, Levine declined to respond to the speculation. "I've never been able to speak in public generalities about my private life," he said.
In October 2016, after Levine had stepped down from his position as the Met's music director, Gelb, the general manager, said he was contacted by a detective with police in Lake Forest, Ill., asking questions about the allegations by Ashok Pai.
Gelb said he briefed the Met board's leadership and that Levine denied the accusations. The company took no further action, pending the outcome of the police investigation.
After media reports were posted online Saturday, the Met launched its own investigation.
Information from the Boston Globe and the New York Times was included in this report.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-637-2551.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.