After string of cancellations, Boston maestro James Levine resigns

James Levine
James Levine
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2011

James Levine, beset by yet another setback in his ongoing struggles with ill health, announced Tuesday the cancellation of his upcoming appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including the March 19 performance at the Kennedy Center.

On Wednesday, that announcement was followed by the not entirely unexpected news that Levine will step down altogether from his post as BSO music director, effective Sept. 1.

The BSO's managing director, Mark Volpe, said in a statement that the orchestra would work with Levine to define "a new role where he can focus solely on the music and defining artistically stimulating projects that would be meaningful to him and the orchestra."

A search committee is being formed to identify his successor.

Levine has been music director of the BSO since 2004. There reportedly have been some wonderful concerts, but his tenure has been largely overshadowed by health concerns. An onstage fall in 2006 led to a torn rotator cuff, and he has had several back surgeries. There have been repeated cancellations, including more than half of his scheduled concerts during the 2009-10 season.

His departure in Boston does not affect Levine's status at the Metropolitan Opera, where he has been music director since 1976 (and principal conductor for three years before that). His cancellations after complications from another back procedure, compounded by a virus, were in part to allow him to focus more on his work with the Met on its ongoing new production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle. The new "Die Walkuere," the second of the cycle's four operas, is scheduled to debut April 22.

The BSO scrambled to find replacements for Levine's remaining concerts of the season. There are only two weeks' worth of performances, but they include appearances at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Those performances are now being divided among Marcello Lehninger, the BSO's assistant conductor; Roberto Abbado; and the rising young Latvian superstar Andris Nelsons, who on March 17 is scheduled to make his BSO debut conducting Mahler's Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall.

Lehninger will lead the world premiere of a new violin concerto by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, with the blue-chip soloist Christian Tetzlaff.

For ticket buyers in Washington, where the Washington Performing Arts Society is sponsoring the BSO's March appearance, the cancellation has a silver lining: Abbado will conduct a completely different program. In lieu of the more conservative offerings Levine was scheduled to play, the orchestra will be joined by the brilliant pianist Peter Serkin in Bartok's Third Piano Concerto. The other two pieces on the program will be Haydn's Symphony No. 93 and Beethoven's Fifth.

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