Letter The Met and James Levine

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lennygoran
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Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 04, 2018 3:51 am

When I went to the NYTimes this morning for classical music news this was the second item. Regards, Len



Opinion

Letter
The Met and James Levine
June 3, 2018





To the Editor:

Re “Rising Star Helps Met Turn a Page” (review, Arts pages, May 21):

I find it ridiculous that the Metropolitan Opera has expunged James Levine from its history, “Our Story,” on its website, as well as from the Met’s Sirius XM radio channel. While I am in complete agreement with the decision to dismiss Mr. Levine for his alleged despicable personal behavior, his remarkable artistic accomplishments cannot simply be obliterated.

Surely there is a way to acknowledge these accomplishments and at the same time reveal that Mr. Levine’s longtime association with the Met ended with his being removed from his position as emeritus music director for reasons unrelated to his achievements.

The full sad story will surely become part of music history.

DIANA BURGWYN, PHILADELPHIA

The writer, a freelance journalist, covers classical music.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/03/opin ... collection

John F
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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by John F » Mon Jun 04, 2018 4:31 am

If so, then it's shameful. For some 40 years James Levine was the Met, raising it from an artistic low ebb to become arguably the world's greatest opera company; his legacy in the form of many recordings and telecast videos remains as testimony. His misconduct, as yet unproven (that may or may not happen in court with the pending suit and countersuit), is irrelevant to that fact. Maybe this rewriting of history is intended to support the countersuit by denying the importance of Levine to the Met, but everyone knows better than that.
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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jun 04, 2018 5:46 am

John F wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 4:31 am
his legacy in the form of many recordings and telecast videos remains as testimony. His misconduct, as yet unproven . . . is irrelevant to that fact.
The Met Shop is currently offering about 150 of Levine's recordings. A curious oversight, if a Met-inspired Levine-expunging edict were actually in effect. The "Our Story" revisions may or may not be shameful: in the wake of the fiasco Levine has visited upon it and under threat of his lawsuit, the Met defers judgment on Levine's place in Met history: wouldn't any such judgment need to include more than a just a paean to his greatness? And the supposed Sirius ban may have more to do with the mundane legalities of broadcast rights than any conspiracy to rewrite history.

True, the charges against Levine are unproven in the sense that they haven't been tested in the courts. But contrary to Levine's own statement on the matter, they are hardly "unfounded". After all, his accusers were found to be so credible that the Met had to terminate him.

That said, I continue to play and enjoy Levine's recordings and broadcasts. At the same time, I believe Levine's alleged misconduct is relevant to the recorded legacy he has left us. The multiple accusations of pederasty against him have brought opprobrium upon the very institution he helped make glorious. Barring any recantation by his accusers, Levine's legacy will be tainted by that. And that, more than any Levine-denying by the Met, is what is shameful.
Last edited by jserraglio on Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by John F » Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:52 am

Maybe the Times correspondent overstated what's happening at the Met. I hope so. As for the "relevance" of Levine's misconduct to his artistic achievement and legacy, no way. How can it? His reputation as a man may be tainted, as are the personal reputations of any number of other artists, but not his reputation as an artist. Any more than Kennedy's reputation as a president has been tainted by the later revelations of his own sexual misconduct.
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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:00 am

Bill Clinton's sexual transgressions with a young person in his charge revealed while he was still in office are much more to the point here than JFK's, found out later and engaged in with adults. Clearly, Clinton's misconduct brought disrepute upon the office he held and the institution he served. So too Levine's misdoings at the Met and elsewhere with young persons in his charge. In Kennedy's case, what most folks never knew, or chose not to know didn't hurt him with historians (I recall seeing photographic evidence while he still lived and refused to believe it, so enamored of JFK was I). How history will balance the good with the bad for Clinton and Levine has yet to be determined. I hope it will be kind.

Art does not reside in a rarefied world elsewhere: what you do as a person affects what you achieve as an artist. Levine is a great artist whose legacy as an artist has been tainted. Separating high art from life is precisely the mistake in thinking the youthful prodigy Levine quite understandably made. Cellist Lynn Harrell recognized as much in recalling ruefully how he in his youth found himself drawn spellbound into the Levinite magic circle. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/ ... story.html Subsequently, the Met itself has been tarred with Levine's feathers, maybe wrongly, but sadly, inevitably.

A tale that should be told not in the courts but on the operatic stage.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by maestrob » Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:20 am

We separate egregious behavior from professional conduct all the time. Look at Wagner for example. No one is defending Levine's alleged personal failings by acknowledging the great things he has done for the MET musically. His alleged personal conduct is quite despicable, no doubt, and the issue will be decided by the courts. BUT, and it's a rather large BUT, Levine's artistic accomplishments in the house and on recordings will and should endure.

The problem is now that for those in the know, it will be impossible to experience a Levine performance without being reminded of his alleged personal failings.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:18 am

maestrob wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 10:20 am
We separate egregious behavior from professional conduct all the time . . . No one is defending Levine's alleged personal failings.
Sure, but the problem Levine has with his legacy is that his conduct has been found wanting on both fronts, personal and professional. His personal shortcomings did not stand apart from, they encompassed, his professional misconduct, if the charges of abusing his authority to take advantage of those In his charge are to be believed.

That alleged professional misconduct will, and should, impact his legacy. Having said that, I still see him as a great artist, though the fact that the Met Opera concluded that they could no longer trust him with their youngsters, far from being irrelevant, plainly will diminish that artistic stature.
Last edited by jserraglio on Mon Jun 04, 2018 12:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by Lance » Mon Jun 04, 2018 12:17 pm

The Levine situation is a tough one. While everyone recognizes his unmistakable musical genius, his career is obviously very negatively touched by his despicable actions with young people under his charge. Other musical and artistic geniuses have endured the same kind of thing, albeit not to the extent of Levine given the way news "travels" today. Everyone in the whole world is very much aware of the Levine situation. Some are willing to bypass the personal side of his life while others very much want to hold him accountable.

As a classical music radio broadcaster, it was my intent to offer a whole month of a tribute to James Levine until this news broke. How could I, with good intentions, be lauding a man who is now in deep trouble with his personal life. I have considerably more than 100 titles with James Levine's name attached, whether in opera, lieder, orchestral, as a pianist, etc. Not only does what he has done affect him, but ALL the artists (and really great names) with whom he has collaborated, will rarely be aired. Think about it, Kathleen Battle, Domingo, Volodos, Upshaw, Kissin, Blegen, the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Bartoli, Brendel, Fleming ... way, way too many to even place here, but you get the idea. Those recordings would rarely be aired publicly unless his name is not mentioned. It is a tremendous loss to musical society.

And will RCA, DGG, Columbia, EMI or any record company now come forth with a James Levine Edition. I hardly think so. Although I have acquired a few of his recordings since all his troubles began. Think of all the great live and recorded operas that will not be broadcast at least in the foreseeable future ... because no one wants to mention his name publicly. Can we think of Clinton in the Oval Office doing what he did, or Kennedy, whom I admired tremendously, or Levine at any time? Given what Charles Dutoit's reputation has done in music—and it's a great one—those who are responsible for playing recordings to the public still play Dutoit's recordings.


So, the James Levine legacy will lay dormant for, probably, a long time. That is the tragedy for such a highly gifted musician. One wonders how, at this moment, he is dealing with all of this mentally. It has to be a real bummer at this point in his life. Someone has said, in time, "all things pass." Will this? We simply cannot condone his personal behaviour where "trust" is a major word in dealing with young, aspiring artists who look for leadership in their chosen field. How does one, then, balance the scale? And how are we able to place the great Leonard Bernstein on a pedastal (as we have all seen during his 100th year) given his musical genius against a background of a well-known lifestyle that, to many, is questionable. Look what Bernstein has done for young people with classical music and young people's concerts. His legacy is otherwise untouched versus Levine's at this point.


I know I am rambling, but one things of these things while one is writing. Will I play Levine's recordings on the air? No, probably not unless I don't mention his name as one of the collaborators as conductor or pianist. I'm not judging the man, but what is ... is what is.
Lance G. Hill
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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jun 04, 2018 12:41 pm

Lance wrote:"trust" is a major word in dealing with young, aspiring artists who look for leadership in their chosen field.
The tragedy is that Levine once had something far more precious than art, the trust and esteem of an institution, its collaborators & its apprentices, that he had largely helped to flourish.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by John F » Mon Jun 04, 2018 2:41 pm

Each of us must do what he/she believes is right. Presently Levine's personal conduct is front and center, with lawsuits in the air, so perhaps it's as well to let some time pass and events take their course, whatever it may be. There's certainly no urgency to celebrate Levine's achievement and influence just now. But eventually such a celebration is his due, though it may not be politic until after his death. Meanwhile, the attempt to write him out of the Met's history, if that's what it is, is dishonest and unworthy of the institution.
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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jun 04, 2018 4:54 pm

Yet to leave the guy written INTO its history after firing him would no doubt be used to buttress his wrongful termination case against the Met, so, as I see it, the Met faces a bit of a catch-22, not of their own making. Individuals like Levine are fragile but so are institutions like the Met. They can hardly be faulted for acting out of self preservation when attacked.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by barney » Mon Jun 04, 2018 5:42 pm

Levine's recording legacy will endure, no matter what anyone says or does. All of us here, I imagine, have many, many Levine performances that we esteem highly and will still listen to. When I listen to Siegfried's funeral march, I do not think of Levine or his activities; I am swept away by the music.
I very much agree with Lance that it is sad that his "legacy box set" is, for the moment, impossible because there are doubtless dozens of wonderful recordings I have yet to hear. Dutoit is lucky that his set was already published (and sits on my shelves).
Each of us has to decide for ourselves whether we will boycott a musician condemned for shameful behaviour. Obviously Levine has gone down enormously in our estimation as a human being, but probably not as a musician.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by Belle » Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:09 pm

There have been very unsavoury composers and musicians in the past - like Richard Wagner, whose music we all love. He was an irksome individual who used other people, left massive debts where-ever he went, worked with von Bulow whilst sleeping with his wife, and asked people for money to fund his ostentatious lifestyle and which he never repaid. Still more unsavoury individuals were in thrall to Hitler and many betrayed their fellow musicians if they were Jewish. This kind of immorality stands alongside anything Levine has done.

Because of the nature of art we tend to make heroes out of our cherished composers and musicians. But, as my late father always used to say, the society's moralities run vertically through all the classes and not just horizontally through one.

And, of course, we had no less a person than Shakespeare to document for us the decline and fall of the great and good through their own 'fatal flaws'.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:29 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:00 am
Bill Clinton's sexual transgressions with a young person in his charge revealed while he was still in office are much more to the point here than JFK's, found out later and engaged in with adults. Clearly, Clinton's misconduct brought disrepute upon the office he held and the institution he served.
Well that's all certainly being discussed today as Clinton was touting his new book-not quite enough coverage to drive Trump from the top publicity spot as he tweeted about his right to pardon himself. Regards, Len :( :( :(

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:45 pm

Belle wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:09 pm
There have been very unsavoury composers and musicians in the past - like Richard Wagner, whose music we all love. He was an irksome individual who used other people, left massive debts where-ever he went, worked with von Bulow whilst sleeping with his wife, and asked people for money to fund his ostentatious lifestyle and which he never repaid. Still more unsavoury individuals were in thrall to Hitler and many betrayed their fellow musicians if they were Jewish. This kind of immorality stands alongside anything Levine has done.

Because of the nature of art we tend to make heroes out of our cherished composers and musicians. But, as my late father always used to say, the society's moralities run vertically through all the classes and not just horizontally through one.

And, of course, we had no less a person than Shakespeare to document for us the decline and fall of the great and good through their own 'fatal flaws'.
I would not make those comparisons. The closest I can come is Bruckner, who fell in love with a 16-year-old girl who did not return his feelings. (The relationship was not consummated.) Byron was essentially an ephebophile who once fell in love with a choir boy, then later his teenage Greek amanuensis in the Greek-Turkish war. Folks, these things happen all the time. The US is just particularly puritanical and absolute about it. If no overt abuse or betrayal of trust is involved, other countries are generally more willing to shrug off and minimalize these kinds of offenses. Roman Polanski was never prosecuted for statutory rape in Poland.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jun 05, 2018 5:41 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:45 pm
I would not make those comparisons. The closest I can come is Bruckner, who fell in love with a 16-year-old girl who did not return his feelings. (The relationship was not consummated.) Byron was essentially an ephebophile who once fell in love with a choir boy
The closest I can come to something like the Levine matter are the accusations leveled against the notable Handel conductor and teacher Johannes Somary (1935-2011) by a number of his former students at the Horace Mann school in the Bronx where 32 students had made accusations against seven or eight former teachers.

In 2012 the New York Times Magazine featured Somary, not in a flattering light, in its account of abuses by teachers at the New York school. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/maga ... abuse.html

The New York Times followed up in 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/nyre ... cases.html

Image
A former student says Johannes Somary, a Horace Mann teacher seen here in 2004, abused him. Mr. Somary died in 2011.
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:45 pm
Folks, these things happen all the time. The US is just particularly puritanical and absolute about it. If no overt abuse or betrayal of trust is involved, other countries are generally more willing to shrug off and minimalize these kinds of offenses.
At the risk of being taxonomized as puritanus americanus absolutissimus, I would point out that James Levine stands accused of precisely such overt abuse and betrayal of the trust that young artists had placed in him.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 05, 2018 11:26 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:45 pm
Folks, these things happen all the time. The US is just particularly puritanical and absolute about it. If no overt abuse or betrayal of trust is involved, other countries are generally more willing to shrug off and minimalize these kinds of offenses.
At the risk of being taxonomized as puritanus americanus absolutissimus, I would point out that James Levine stands accused of precisely such overt abuse and betrayal of the trust that young artists had placed in him.
[/quote]

You're right, of course, and I must add an element of personal disgust because of the bizarre and kinky way he manipulated young people. Also, the comparison with Somary is apt. What IMO is not apt is a comparison between odious character flaws in famous creative artists and behavior of the kind we are likely talking about. Degas was a horrid misogynist. Closer to our topic, Caravaggio undoubtedly kept the very young man he used as a model in many of his paintings as a presumably willing lover, but in Renaissance/Baroque Italy there would have been no lifetime stigma attached to this with a statutory presumption of criminal guilt and a lifelong sentence of labeling as a sex offender.
Last edited by jbuck919 on Tue Jun 05, 2018 1:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by Lance » Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:36 pm

I had no idea about Johannes Somary until I read all this information. It seems to me incredible that all this is now coming forward. The man has died, lived very much like Levine (with young folks). Now he is deceased and hopefully getting his "rewards" accordingly. One can only guess at the problems his victims have experienced over time, even at least one suicide. I have read the blog as well. It is not making my day. Perhaps Bach's or Mozart's music will help. It is incredible to me that a married man with three children of his own, who had very special gifts in music and as a teacher, could not recognize his own problems and keep them under control. And shame on Horace Mann for not recognizing so much going on at their school. Sounds like the MET, only they did recognize it as did everyone else.
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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jun 05, 2018 1:37 pm

jbuck919 wrote—>"What IMO is not apt is a comparison between odious character flaws in famous creative artists and behavior of the kind we are likely talking about."

I agree. James Levine is the one under discussion here, an otherwise admirable interpretative artist accused of egregious violation of the trust reposed in him by virtue of the office he held. To plead What About Wagner? is not to the point.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by barney » Tue Jun 05, 2018 5:31 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 1:37 pm
jbuck919 wrote—>"What IMO is not apt is a comparison between odious character flaws in famous creative artists and behavior of the kind we are likely talking about."

I agree. James Levine is the one under discussion here, an otherwise admirable interpretative artist accused of egregious violation of the trust reposed in him by virtue of the office he held. To plead What About Wagner? is not to the point.
You are absolutely right. It is utterly irrelevant ... but rather fun.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:01 pm

barney wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 5:31 pm
It is utterly irrelevant ... but rather fun.
As is the plea of MAGA dupes explaining away their pet rapscallion's screw ups: "What about Bill Clinton?!"

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by Belle » Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:52 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:01 pm
barney wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 5:31 pm
It is utterly irrelevant ... but rather fun.
As is the plea of MAGA dupes explaining away their pet rapscallion's screw ups: "What about Bill Clinton?!"
Yeah, what about him??!! A piece of work.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:56 pm

Belle wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:52 pm
Yeah, what about him??!! A piece of work.
Indeed, like the musician subject of this thread, a piece of work, but unlike him, never permanently put out of work.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by Belle » Tue Jun 05, 2018 8:43 pm

I used the analogy of bad human behaviour with some members of the Vienna Phil (never permanently put out of work) and their complicity in the holocaust - which you rejected. This was part of a systemic program which ultimately killed millions of children. That kind of child abuse was the consequence of many people turning a blind eye. Welcome to culture of The Met. I wonder how many of those Jewish children had an adult they could have complained to with respect to their treatment?

And it isn't peculiar to the Met or the VPO. There's a great deal of craven cowardice in this world and I pointed out that this exists vertically through all the classes. I stand by that.

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Re: Letter The Met and James Levine

Post by jserraglio » Wed Jun 06, 2018 3:41 am

Belle wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 8:43 pm
I used the analogy of bad human behaviour with some members of the Vienna Phil (never permanently put out of work) and their complicity in the holocaust - which you rejected . . . . . And it isn't peculiar to the Met or the VPO.
I'm not certain, and my apologies if I misread your post, but I think you are talking about the Met of our own time being comparable to the VPO during the Holocaust with respect to the mistreatment of kids.

To the best of my recollection, I never rejected any such analogy, though you are right in imagining I would have. So whoever did dispute such a comparison I would agree with even while I would also firmly agree with you that countenancing child abuse is a heinous offense. But neither on a moral nor a physical scale do these two situations seem comparable to me.

What are comparable, but then only to a degree, are James Levine's supposed abuses and the disquieting and distressing revelations made in New York City 5 years earlier about the even more extreme and scurrilous, thoroughly documented behavior of the notable conductor and recording artist Johannes Somary (died 2011). Somary preyed upon several youngsters he taught at the famous Horace Mann School in the Bronx and destroyed the lives of those kids. Having drawn the comparison between these two, I must also point out that there are even more significant differences: in a nutshell, Somary, unlike Levine, would appear to have cornered naming rights to a dedicated circle in Dante's Hell.

Also comparable, but again only up to a point, are the reactions of the institutions implicated in these scandals: the Met and the Horace Mann School. In hindsight, maybe those hair-raising NY Times stories about the widespread abuse of children at Horace Mann should have alerted the Met, if they had any inkling about Levine, that their own guy's misconduct with young artists in his charge could blow up in their faces the same way Somary's did at the Horace Mann School just up the road from the Met. But again even in comparing them, I would stress the crucial differences between the two. In brief, Horace Mann has been shown to be culpable in multiple instances and on multiple occasions; the Met thus far has not.

So I agree with you that the Met should have picked up on any bad behavior by Levine, to the extent that it was knowable, and that the Met should bear responsibility for any failure to do so. I also agree (and IIRC another member familiar with the Met has stated this emphatically) that the working environment at the Met may have been toxic. If true, Met management would also be responsible for that. And I think we would both agree that the abuse of kids, like the Holocaust, is so vile that it puts its perpetrators beyond the pale.

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