Thursday, April 14, 2016

If You're Looking for Reasons...

....look no further than this:
This season the company sometimes had to resort to extraordinary measures during performances conducted by Mr. Levine — with the orchestra looking to the concertmaster for guidance; singers looking at the prompter’s box; and the chorus being led by Donald Palumbo, the chorus master, from the wings.
In other words, Levine has been allowed extraordinary professional lapses that would never be tolerated from anyone else, and the Met - as they signaled very clearly earlier this year - decided this was intolerable.

Update: Anne Midgette pulls no punches in covering the issue. I divide responsibility about equally between Levine's inability to call it a day on his own and the Met board and management's inability to look out for the institution by saying Genug.


john schott said...

Always appreciate your posts, IToM, but I don't get why you are SO outraged by this whole affair. Because if he had stepped down long ago the Met would be in better shape today? Because you feel Levine cared more about his ego than the music? I think of countless conductors in their later years who could barely be followed by orchestras - Klemperer, most famously.
The Met Orchestra, in the past forty years, has become one of the greatest orchestras in the world, in symphonic as well as operatic repertoire. I think Levine kicked ass, personally.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm outraged first by the terrible corporate governance. The Met Board behaved hugely irresponsibly by keeping Levine around so far past the point where he could be a fully-engaged and effective music director, to the detriment of the organization. It's a serious organizational failure. After that, yes, Levine's inability to read the handwriting on the wall.

He's conductor a minimal number of productions (or none) for the last five years. He has not been able to be out there glad-handing and raising money for the organization, or being involved with community outreach. He has not been able to work on constructing some kind of consistent artistic and musical vision for the Met.

There've been a number of high-profile departures from the orchestra, and one might wonder whether lack of consistent leadership is one reason why. (There are plenty of other possible reasons, of course.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh - and looking at this particular posting, it is outrageous for anyone at the Met to need the kind of technical support described in the quotation. If you need that, you're not suitable to be conducting opera at the international level, and it is indescribably sad that a conductor of Levine's musicianship should need it.

MEW said...

I share your frustration - I have all along - and I think by new it's clear that Gelb shared it, too. But I think the blame lies first (and second) with Levine and that you've been underestimating the difficulty of Gelb's position.

As we're now seeing, Levine built up enormous good will over the decades among the Met's wider public and a lot of admiration from casual onlookers. That wider public hadn't been really aware of just how bad Levine's condition was.

So, for the Met to be seen shoving an unwilling Levine off the podium and out the door would have been a PR catastrophe. And possibly a fundraising catastrophe as well.

From the article you linked to for this post, it was obvious that Levine was unwilling to retire and very much in denial. (For a conductor to say, as Levine did, that the work was going well "except for the gestural thing" is - well, you pick the adjective.)

It was clear to me at the time that that article's purpose was for Gelb to let the public know that Levine could no longer do the job - and that, if that last change in medication didn't work, Gelb would be justified in forcing Levine out.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The Board of Directors has a great deal to do with Levine's long goodbye. My understanding is that he has strong supporters there and they are a significant part of why it's been so difficult to let Levine go. When I mention governance, I'm thinking primarily of the Board rather than Gelb, because he could not fire Levine without the Board's support. They've put Levine ahead of the organization's long term health, and that is terrible governance.

You are right about the Met needing not to just shove him off the podium, and I think your reading of the earlier Michael Cooper article is right on the mark.

I'm now really curious about when Levine's last contract with the Met was signed. That's the point where the Board could have inserted performance criteria that would have made it easier to ease him out.

MEW said...

I think, though, that Levine's supporters on the Board would have been fine with him stepping down if he had been willing. But he wasn't. And if those supporters had been willing to shove Levine before he was ready, the PR disaster would still have happened.

Levine being Levine, I think this had to happen the way it did, with Gelb and the Times cornering Levine - so that not just his supporters on the Board but the entire world knew that he simply couldn't do the job anymore.