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September 29, 2009

James Levine to undergo surgery, cancels Met, Boston Symphony gigs

James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony, has canceled appearances with both institutions to undergo back surgery. (Just my luck. I'm heading to New York this week to catch up on all the fuss about the Metropolitan Opera's roundly booed new "Tosca" production, figuring I would at the very least enjoy Levine's conducting.)

Here are the hot-off-the-email press releases:

FROM THE MET: Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine will have back surgery this week to repair a herniated disc. He has withdrawn from conducting performances this fall in order to recuperate. Joseph Colaneri, who was already scheduled to conduct "Tosca" on October 3, 14, and 17, will take over Levine’s performances of the Puccini opera on October 6 and 10 matinee. (He already filled in for Levine conducting Tosca on September 24 and 28.)

The conductor for "Der Rosenkavalier" performances on October 13, 16, and 19 will be

announced soon.

Levine’s doctors expect him to recover in time to conduct the new production of "Les Contes d’Hoffmann" which opens December 3. In addition to six performances of the Offenbach work, he will return to the Met podium later in the season for "Simon Boccanegra" and "Lulu," as well as "Der Rosenkavalier" in January and "Tosca" in April. He is also scheduled to lead the Met Orchestra in Carnegie Hall performances in December and January.

FROM THE BOSTON SYMPHONY: BSO Music Director James Levine has had to withdraw from his upcoming conducting appearances tonight, September 29, and Saturday, October 3, at Symphony Hall in Boston, and Thursday, October 1, at Carnegie Hall in New York, due to immediate unanticipated back surgery for a herniated disc.

Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Shi-Yeon Sung will conduct tonight’s performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductors Julian Kuerti and Shi-Yeon Sung will split the program on Saturday, October 3, which honors Ann Hobson Pilot’s 40-year tenure as harpist with the BSO. Mr. Kuerti will conduct the first half of the program, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. Ms. Sung will conduct Elliott Carter’s "Mosaic," for harp and chamber ensemble, Debussy’s "Danses sacrée et profane" for harp and orchestra, John Williams’s "On Willows and Birches," for harp and orchestra, and Ravel’s "La Valse," with Ann Hobson Pilot returning to the BSO principal harp chair for this special occasion.

“All of us at the BSO are disappointed that Maestro Levine will not be able to conduct the Tuesday and Saturday subscription concerts in Boston and Opening Night at Carnegie Hall,” said Mark Volpe, BSO Managing Director. “Our thoughts are with Jim and we wish him a speedy recovery so he can soon return to the BSO podium and the glorious music-making for which he is so universally known. We are fortunate at the BSO to have two very talented assistant conductors, Shi-Yeon Sung and Julian Kuerti, who are scheduled to fill in for the two programs to take place in Boston this week. Despite Jim’s absence, we remain very excited to open Carnegie Hall’s 2009-10 season.”


Posted by Tim Smith at 12:33 PM | | Comments (2)


Maestro Levine is a guy who infuriates me (I wish him a quick and healthy recovery!), because very often, I do _not_ like his concepts, _especially_ with opera. I think, quite often, that he tends toward a limp, flaccid approach more suited for chamber versions of 18th-century late-Baroque/early-Classical music (which does appear to be his true forte, IMHumO) -- he puts a little too much air where fire is needed. (Thus, I _really_ do not care for much of what I've heard from him in the Romantic repertoire. His Wagner is especially flat and ambling, where it should be galloping over mountains.)

I consider Maestro Levine to have a very fine sense of line, but he just doesn't add enough texture and colour for my taste. (And tempi can be a problem, too.)

Now, I must contradict myself and say that his Sibelius 5th on DG is utterly astonishing. I first heard it on WBJC a few months ago, and I had absolutely _no_ idea of its source, but I _loved_ it! When I learned our hidden conductor's identity, my jaw almost dropped onto the floor -- who are you and what did you do to the big guy with the frizzy hair I usually encounter?!?!?

(He really nails the ending, something few people seem to do competently -- the score's rather clear on how to "do it right," mumble-mumble... And he draws a rich tapestry of colours from the Berliners!)

Interesting how opinions about Levine tend to change considerable depending on which side of the Atlantic one is on (or from). I've noticed very dismissive attitudes in the UK, for example, contrasting with the gushing typical in the States. I've been awfully impressed with the guy, and sometime underwhelmed as well. Just now, driving in while listening to the end of an '81 Traviata, Act 2 on Met Radio, I thrilled to the "air" Levine allowed. My kind of conducting. TIM

First of all, let me also wish Jimmy a rapid recovery.

Having said that, Levine is a conductor who I respect more than I like. He is wonderful in modern stuff - loved his Wozzeck and Moses und Aron at the Met - and while I give him all the credit for building the Met orchestra, his interpretations rarely thrilled me, except as noted above.

However, I would also like to hear his recordings from the 1970s to have a more complete picture of him. And it's true that in Europe he is not adored as much, and perhaps for a reason - notice for example his lackluster directorship of the Munich Philharmonic.

Maybe his undisputed improvements to the Met orchestra account for some of his fame here. I think it's the overall solidity of his performances that also wins him fans. That might not always mean excitement, but it does mean cohesiveness. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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