Thursday, March 25, 2021

Levine Coverage

Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

The coverage of James Levine's demise is....interesting. There are a few people trying to be "fair", meaning they are trying to be "balanced" despite Levine's alleged crimes (and everything noncriminal involved with brushing his health problems under the nearest rug). 

I realize that an obituary written by a journalist as news, running in a newspaper, is supposed to assess the whole of its subject's life, but there is such a thing as soft-pedaling and there is definitely quite a bit of that around. There is lots of room for arts-related opinion pieces that really dissect Levine's career and that work to understand how he managed to stay in one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. classical music world for decades despite the rumors that swirled around him. (And why the BSO hired him to be their music director despite the rumors and his health problems.) That's the kind of thing I'd like to see more of. 

I want to note a couple of factual items that came out after the announcement of his death:

1. Levine died of natural causes. The exact cause hasn't been released, but in addition to wondering whether he'd died as the result of injuries suffered in a fall, I also wondered whether suicide was the cause.

2. In December, 2019, he married his friend? companion? life partner? Suzanne Thompson, the oboist, with whom he lived for many years. The question marks should be read in the context of his alleged fondness for underage males.

Here's a round-of of coverage of Levine's death. Note that I have not yet read all of this, so there isn't commentary on every link yet. There will be, but not until this weekend.

  • Composer, teacher, and performer Elaine Fine discusses the evolution of her thinking about musicians, in a compassionate and thoughtful way. 
  • Conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods has a scorching blog post  that tells you a lot about what kind of a person that Levine was. Unusually, I suggest reading the comments, which are informative and include an extensive comment by a long-time Met orchestra member. I have elsewhere read a report to the effect that Levine would talk to singers through an intermediary, which is weird for someone whose job it is to work with singers.
  • Joshua Kosman (SF Chron) tells you about what the reactions to Levine's death tell you about the people making the pronouncements.
  • AZ Madonna (Boston Globe) calls for the end of genius-worship. Here is Madonna's earlier call for Peter Gelb's resignation
  • Jeremy Eichler, Globe, obituary 
  • Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: obituary
  • Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: appraisal
  • NY Times: timeline of Levine's career
  • Boston Symphony, notice of Levine's passing. It is very short, and finishes with two sentences that tell the heart of the story: "The last period of his tenure as BSO music director was plagued by ill health, which resulted in his resignation in 2011. Subsequently, there emerged allegations of sexual improprieties which virtually ended his career as many musical institutions severed ties with him, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra."
  • William R. Braun, Opera News, obituary
  • Justin Davidson,, obituary
  • Tim Page, Washington Post, obituary
  • Michael Andor Brodeur, Washington Post, appraisal
  • Guardian, obituary
  • Tom Jacobs, SFCV, appraisal, worse than soft-pedaling. He seems to be trying to excuse Levine somehow. Note the outraged comment from composer and violist Kurt Rohde.


Elaine Fine said...

Thank you for putting all these articles in one place! And I am honored that you included my “take.”

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's such a good take.

Civic Center said...

And thank you for that link to Kenneth Woods' website, which I had never seen before. His essay, and the commenters adding their own stories, is amazingly brave and honest.

Lisa Hirsch said...

You're welcome! I have been reading Ken's blog for a long time and there's a lot of interesting writing there, especially his top 20 (dead) conductors articles.