Friday, December 08, 2017

More on James Levine

So the Met has canceled all of James Levine's performances this season, while it investigates; Ravinia has "cut ties" with him; the BSO has issued a statement about its due diligence before they hired him as music director (but now it turns out - surprise! - they'd heard the rumors but "saw no cause for concern"); Levine himself has issues a statement.

Let's take a look at some of this. Here's the BSO statement, which they put on Twitter (click to enlarge):

"We followed our standard procedures and decided to hire him. Nobody complained!" Well, sure. He wasn't going to approach adult women, girls, or adult men, and he wasn't going to assault minors at Symphony Hall. And apparently the vetting process, at least as described here, didn't include asking a few grad students or opera fans about Levine. We would have clued them in.

Seriously, it is not credible that the Met and BSO didn't know about the rumors. I heard them around 1980-82 when I was a musicology grad student at Stony Brook, from housemates who hung around Lincoln Center. Terry Teachout heard the rumors in the 1970s when he was living in Kansas City, a good 1200 miles from Lincoln Center, according to his WSJ article. And a fellow on Twitter mentions hearing the rumors in 1995, when he lived in Los Angeles and was 15 years old.

But wait - the BSO had heard the rumors! Not only that, but this extremely moving and intense piece by Ben Miller makes it perfectly clear that the rumors reached far enough that members of the BSO itself warned their children against being alone with Levine because they knew he was a pederast.

It's just amazing what institutions can manage to ignore or forget when an important person is involved.

As to Levine's statement, shudder. (Link is to Michael Cooper's NY Times article.) It is the very essence of a non-denial denial, the statement of a person who doesn't see how wrong his actions were. This is what Cooper's article quotes:
“As understandably troubling as the accusations noted in recent press accounts are, they are unfounded,” he said in a written statement. “As anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor.”
“I have devoted my energies to the development, growth, and nurturing of music and musicians all over the world — particularly with the Metropolitan Opera where my work has been the lifeblood and passion of my artistic imagination,” he said in the statement. “My fervent hope is that in time people will come to understand the truth, and I will be able to continue my work with full concentration and inspiration.”
The second paragraph is mostly filler: I have lived a life of artistic good, including my work with musicians! I couldn't have done anything wrong! That stuff about his hope that "people will come to understand the truth" is nauseating and goes with "the [accusations] are unfounded" in the first paragraph. This all boils down to: "Sure, there was sex, but it wasn't the way my victims say! I didn't harass them and moreover the truth is that they were into it."

Well, no, they weren't. Read their accounts of how it felt to them at the time and what the long-term psychological effects of the abuse were.

Here's what you need to keep in mind: the four men's accounts are very similar. It's also apparent that there was some kind of cult around young James Levine; he had a coterie of followers. And the four men's accounts close resemble accounts by people who've been sexually victimized by authority figures such as priests and music teachers. (See reporting on the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham's scandals, for example, and everything about sexual abuse by priests.)

I doubt that Levine will work again. The police report and publicity have made him completely radioactive. But, you know, this should have happened long ago. He has conducted plenty of performances with young choristers; he has taught here and there; he's had plenty of opportunities.

What I expect to happen: Peter Gelb will be fired for having sat on the Lake Forest police report for a year with no attempt at independent verification or investigation because "Jim denied it all." (OF COURSE HE DID. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?) Perhaps the Met board will lose a few members. More recent police reports or victim accounts will surface. Maybe there were payoffs. Perhaps we'll find out whether Diva X really did get an opening night in exchange for getting him out of jail. And possibly one of the reports will be about actions that still fall under the statute of limitations, and there will be a trial.


Anonymous said...

So what's your conclusion here? If you're going to criticize the BSO and Met, I'd like to know what you think they should have done, back then as much as now.

Lisa Hirsch said...

To some extent, that depends on things outsiders don't know and might never know, but certainly investigating sufficiently to have turned up one of the at-least-four victim, considering that the rumors have been circulating for around 40 years. (I would be surprised if these four men are the only ones.)

Here's what we don't know: did the Met have any actual knowledge of his behavior? If so, they should have fired him. Somebody sent an anonymous letter to the Met when Anthony Bliss was the general manager. We don't know the extent of the investigation - one rumor is that the Met told Levine he was through if they ever heard another word. If this is the truth, they knew and didn't draw a line, or just made a "be discreet" agreement with him.

Did the Met or one of its Board members or donors help cover up his behavior? If so, they obviously shouldn't have done this. Again, rumors only, but what if there was a cover-up?

Unknown said...

Ben Miller's article is certainly more insightful and searching that Tommasini's middling essay in the Times. But he's still engaging in "genius" fetishization, isn't he? The very thing he seems to be arguing should be driven from classical music?