New York – New York – James Levine, whose 46-year career at the Metropolitan Opera established him as a towering figure in classical music, was fired by the company on Monday after an investigation found evidence of sexual abuse and harassment.
Levine made his Met debut in 1971 and became one of the signature artists in the company’s 135-year history, conducting 2,552 performances and ruling over its repertoire, orchestra and singers as music or artistic director from 1976 until he stepped down two years ago due to Parkinson’s disease. He became music director emeritus and remained head of its young artists program but was suspended on Dec. 3 after accounts in the New York Post and The New York Times of sexual misconduct dating to the 1960s.
The Met hired former U.S. Attorney Robert J. Cleary, now a partner at Proskauer Rose, to head its investigation, and the company said more than 70 people were interviewed.
“The investigation uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met,” the company said in a statement. “The investigation also uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers, over whom Mr. Levine had authority. In light of these findings, the Met concludes that it would be inappropriate and impossible for Mr. Levine to continue to work at the Met.”
The Met did not release specifics of the evidence.
Tim Fox of Columbia Artists, who represents the 74-year-old conductor, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Levine has not been charged with any criminal offense. The Lake County state’s attorney’s office in Illinois said in December it investigated a sexual abuse allegation of misconduct dating to the 1980s but concluded “no criminal charges can be brought” and cited multiple factors, including “the relevant age of consent in Illinois at the time of the alleged incidents.”
Chris Brown, who played principal bass in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for more than 30 years, told the Times that Levine had inappropriately touched him when he was 17. The abuse allegedly occurred at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Michigan, where Levine was on the summer program faculty and Brown was performing.
Levine’s downfall follows that of 81-year-old Charles Dutoit. After The Associated Press reported sexual assault allegations against him, the Swiss conductor resigned as artistic director and principal conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and engagements were canceled at numerous orchestras. Dutoit has denied the allegations.
The Met said in its statement “the investigation also found that any claims or rumors that members of the Met’s management or its board of directors engaged in a cover-up of information relating to these issues are completely unsubstantiated.”
Following the death of Leonard Bernstein in 1990, Levine was regarded as the top American conductor and was given a starring role in the film “Fantasia 2000.” Many of his performances were televised by PBS, and singers rearranged their schedules to appear in his performances or even to audition for him.
He was revered by the Met’s orchestra, board and patrons during a reign as chief conductor (1973-76), music director (1976-86 and 2004-16) and artistic director (1986-2004). In addition, he was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Ravinia Festival from 1973-93 and the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004-11, and chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic from 1999-2004.
Instantly recognizable by his bushy frock of hair and towel draped over a shoulder during rehearsals, he regularly conducted at the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Bayreuth Festival and Salzburg Festival.
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