James Levine, suffering from debilitating back problems, will step down from his post as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on September 1. The announcement comes a day after Levine announced he would not be conducting the BSO's March concerts, including a tour with stops in New York and New Jersey later this month.
Levine will continue serving as music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the organization confirmed in a statement. On March 30 and April 1 he is scheduled to lead the company in Wagner's Das Rheingold, followed by a series of performances of the five-hour Die Walkure.
In an interview with WQXR and WNYC, Mark Volpe, the BSO's managing director, said that he and Levine began to discuss an "evolving artistic role" back in November. "It was clear he needed to reduce his commitment and save energy and try to address some of the ongoing health challenges that have been basically inhibiting him from what he wanted to do artistically," said Volpe. When Levine withdrew from last week's performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 9, he decided it was time to "resolve the uncertainty."
"Given the challenges regarding my health and the ensuing absences they have forced me to take from my work with the BSO, I believe it is best for everyone, but especially the orchestra and our wonderful audiences, for me to step down as music director," said Levine, 67, in a statement.
The Boston Symphony is consistently ranked among the nation's leading orchestras, with annual concerts at Carnegie Hall and Tanglewood in addition to its series in Boston. Levine has been its artistic leader for the last seven years.
Volpe said the orchestra is in strong artistic shape but has seen its ticket sales slip as a result of Levine's ongoing health problems. "It’s been a challenge recently in that you prepare a series of programs and then ultimately it’s been a different program, a different soloist, a different conductor," he explained. "As much as possible we try to keep things intact but it doesn’t always work that way."
When asked why Levine will continue to work at the Met and not in Boston, Volpe said, "He’s got a 40-year relationship with the Met. But it’s sort of organic with Jim. It made sense for him in organizing his musical life in Boston. I can’t speak for the Met. But it was clear he had to scale back."