Levine, James

Levine, James Lawrence, 1943–2021, American conductor, b. Cincinnati, Ohio. . Levine’s parents were both performers; his father had been a bandleader and singer (performing as “Larry Lee”) in Los Angeles during the ‘30s, but then returned to his hometown of Cincinnati to work for the family’s clothing store; his mother, born Helen Goldstein, had performed in the ‘30s under the name Helen Golden on the New York stage. A piano prodigy, he was a soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony at the age of 10. After extensive musical studies, he served (1964–65) as an apprentice to George Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra, becoming (1965–70) its assistant conductor. Particularly renowned for his wide knowledge and sensitive performances of the operatic repertoire, Levine made his conducting debut with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in 1971. He became the opera's principal conductor in 1973, musical director in 1976, and artistic director in 1986, transforming its orchestra into a great opera and symphony ensemble. He stepped down as artistic director in 2004, but continued as music director and then (2016) music director emeritus. Suffering from various health issues in the last decade of his life, including several injuries from falls and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, Levine was forced to take extended leaves from performing; he made a final “comeback” at the Met in 2013, and his last appearance there on Dec. 2, 2017, just hours before allegations arose of years of sexual abuse of several young men. In 2018 he was fired for this sexually abusive and harassing conduct. He then sued for breach of contract and defamation and was countersued by the Met; they settled in 2019. Levine also was music director of the Munich Philharmonic (1999–2004) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004–11).

See Dialogues and Discoveries by R. C. Marsh (1998).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Music: History, Composers, and Performers: Biographies