Alex Ross comments on Twitter about the strangeness and sadness of the Levine press release today. "How can he remain music director of the Met if he cannot conduct until Fall, 2013, at the earliest?"
Well, that is the $64,000 question, isn't it? Does administrative work, planning, and working with young artists make a music director?
But it's easy to understand why the Met would send out this particular press release, complete with Levine's personal statement (which tells us a few previously-unreleased details about just how bad his condition has been, like the three surgeries last spring and the three month stay in rehab this fall).
Levine would clearly like to return to the Met. We don't know the details of his contract and how those details deal with a situation like this. There may be required payments to Levine when he's on the disabled list; there may be particular conditions that have to be met before he can be said to be unable to meet the contract requirements (for example, an allowable period of disability might be set).
We can take as literally true the Met's need to sign conductors for next year without a huge scramble like the one the BSO undoubtedly had to make earlier this year when Levine resigned his job there. As it is, most conductors they'd want to step in for Levine already have work someplace else.
The Met may or may not want Levine to return at this point, given his health over the last couple of years. The press release therefore has to support Levine while leaving open the possibility that he won't return. The Met does not want to let him go in a way that makes it look callous or unfeeling or unsupportive of Levine.
There are other factors at work. If Levine ultimately leaves, the Met needs breathing room to find a new music director. We don't know whether Luisi can just step in, because there's that contract he has in Zurich. Getting a new MD on board is not so easy, as um the Boston Symphony knows. And the Philadelphia Orchestra. Everybody with the requisite skills has a job already. (Unless the Met willing to go out on a limb by hiring someone young and inexperienced.)
So there's a lot of careful balancing of the words here, to allow for both Levine's return or resignation/replacement and for everyone to come out of it looking suitably professional. Strange and sad it is, but also doing its best to walk a very, very fine line.