Why It Was Time for James Levine to Step Down

Thursday, March 03, 2011 - 01:35 PM

When I heard that James Levine was resigning as music director of the Boston Symphony, I felt what many people probably did: relief that he might now be able to recuperate fully from the hard few years he’s had, medically.

As one of the musicians who plays for him pointed out, “The grueling schedule he set up for himself with the Met, Met Chamber Concerts, a recent collaboration with Juilliard, and the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood would be difficult for someone half his age, and in perfect physical condition."

As Bill Clinton might put it, I feel Maestro Levine’s pain – musically, if not physically. My musician friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, concurred: “Levine's musical ideas and intelligence and scholarly knowledge are as fresh and sharp as ever. It must be terribly frustrating for him not to be able to rely on his body to consistently carry out the very real physical component of being an orchestra leader. While conducting itself is a strenuous aerobic activity, musical study and preparation, long rehearsal periods, and travel must take a physical toll as well.”

One last thought from the orchestra member: "James Levine obviously has so much more he can and wants to give to the music world." With all that he’s given the music world so far, I sincerely hope he can take time, rest up, and return refreshed to the podium and the pit.

What do you think? Was it time to step down in Boston? Please leave a comment below.


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Comments [19]

Amazing how little we are willing to sacrifice for someone who has sacrificed so much. What's the rush with titles (director, herr general and the like). Get a pinch hitter and keep rolling.
James Levine will be back. God grant him health and and a long productive life.

May. 31 2011 01:40 AM
richard from englewood

On the weight issue, I had a bad back for many years. Since losing 90 lbs 9 years ago (and am still keeping it off!) I have had no problems whatsoever. Levine is a national treasure, and so that we may have him around for many years (upright and healthy!) I wish he'd "step down" from the "plate" and say no to those donuts!

Mar. 29 2011 11:53 AM
William Price from New York

While not a great aficionado of the conducting career of Maestro Levine he is in my age cohort and was a pianist for the great Jan Peerce in the later stages of his career. His afflictions are physical and can be mitigated with help and rest. His sufferings are different than Maestros Kubelik and Tennstedt which were more systemic and cardiovascular. The battle that he fights is noble and should be supported. May he be triumphant and be allowed to choose his denouement when he sees fit.

Mar. 23 2011 07:19 PM
Cindy Legorreta from Union Square

My Uncle Jim used to say, when confronted with a seemingly negative event, "Well, maybe from the worst can come the best.." and I truly wish that for Mr. Levine: that he have the opportunity, during 'time on the bench' to take a fresh view of his health situation, regroup and along with recuperation, embrace some lifestyle changes. Like many other lucky NY'ers, I have had the privilege of seeing him conducting at the Met on more than one occasion, it was truly magical. I hope he can step to the podium again one day, before many years have passed. But for now, the signs point to a much-needed sabbatical. And lastly... could there be a memoir taking shape, while Brother Jamie chills?

Mar. 13 2011 01:32 PM
John J.Christiano from Franklin NJ

I don't know how many of us have seen the conductor's score for an entire orchestra but it is one complicated document. It takes an incredible amount of study to prepare for. And an even greater amount of concentration during the performance to insure that all sections are performing as intended.

The conductor imparts his emotions and intrepretations on the orchestra and the music and that's why he gets the applause as well as the musicians.

Any physical limitations or minor ailments, acute or chronic, can detract from that preparation and the connection between conductor and orchestra.

If these are the reasons that Maestro Levine is stepping down, so be it. Go. Heal. And then return.

Mar. 11 2011 09:58 AM

I think it was time because the Maestro himself came to that conclusion. Ill health is a sad thing. If one can't keep up the pace of two very important jobs, then he must face up to the reality, and take action. The cancellations were becoming a problem in Boston. That orchestra needs a strong hand that is present on the scene to invigorate the players; the wider organization and the community. Levine did the right thing, as hard as it must have been for him. Hopefully the Met will have the benefit of his talent for many years to come.

Mar. 10 2011 03:41 PM
Shorebookworm from NJ

Holy mackerel, what judgmental remarks!!

I wish nothing but good things for Maestro Levine. I sincerely hope this painful decision brings peace and healing to his life.

As to the references to his weight, I also am "short and fat". I am incapacitated by multiple sclerosis. Combine pain and immobility with medications, such as steroids, that cause weight gain and the slimmest person in the world can blow up like a blimp. You can eat as little as possible, but with the double whammy of medication and lack of exercise you just cannot lose weight. I think a person who already is struggling with weight issues has it even worse.

So for Pete's sake, have some compassion! It could happen to you.

Mar. 09 2011 03:11 PM
Bill Gill

@JJS - Why do you assume that this was anything other than a voluntary "step-down"? Maestro Jamie has had physical problems for as long as I've known of his presence; he's had to bow out of performances, voluntarily, many times before this. How can you determine that he was fired, when his current employers knew beforehand that he had these problems, and made allowances for his physical limitations?

Mar. 06 2011 09:49 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

Long before I started studying with the Met Opera's Maestro Fausto Cleva, Levine had studied with him and began a legendary and comprehensive career in opera, symphony, chamber music ensembles and even as pianist collaborator with major talents. His dignified and warm-hearted respect for others makes it even more sad for us that such a personality so rare and talented, has had to make this departure as the music director for the great Boston Symphony. KUDOS TO MAESTRO LEVINE for your decision! We all hope that your health will improve, a harmonious, more sophisticated health science has provided "miracles" before.

Mar. 05 2011 04:12 PM

I think it's pretty safe to say the guy was fired. They just let him save face by pulling the ol' "step down" routine. Oldest trick in the book.

Mar. 05 2011 11:20 AM
Michael Duchak from Rutherford NJ

While it is ashame that someone considered a legend can no longer be a prolific presence we need to focus on todays current conductors like Dudamel and Tilson Thomas down in Miami. Like the song goes everything must change. Time to move on and forward

Mar. 05 2011 10:24 AM
David from Flushing

It is always sad when a person cannot do everything they want because of physical limitations. However, that is often the case as one gets on in years.

People need to consider what is most important to them and be prepared to shed other activities.

Some physical problems are years in the making while others can come about suddenly. Falls can devasting for seniors and even lead directly to death. I lost a friend to such an unexpected incident.

Be it driving or continuing in one's profession, people often find it difficult to discontinue their life's routine. It is a form of realization that we will not go on forever.

Mar. 05 2011 09:16 AM
Timothy Warner from Brooklyn, NY

Way past time for James to step down,
time for a new pair of eyes.

Mar. 05 2011 06:57 AM
Sidney Goldman from Baldwin, New York 11510

My comment is to thank again WQXR for its Blogs, as well as to those who respond in a very warm response.

I believe these listeners deserve a big Thank You.

WQXR makes all this possible because it provides this Comment space for all of us to express our feelings and possible ideas about even improving our station.

Mar. 04 2011 12:38 PM
samuel lux

Yes, weight may contribute to back problems. However, there are many slim people with disc and back problems as well.For 33 years,as a holistic chiropractor,I have treated many people with back/disc pain,relieved pain and prevented surgery.In fact, I have been receiving chiropractic and acupuncture for a military related injury successfully.

Mar. 04 2011 08:00 AM
Joe Scanga from Jersey and Martha's Vineyard

It's about time James shed a few pounds. Not only for better health but for his back as well!

Mar. 03 2011 07:57 PM
Michael Meltzer

There are certain constants about recovery from back injuries. One is that doctors are usually of little or no help, rehab is quite individual and you have to find your own way. For instance, it can take six months to a year just to learn how not to constantly reinjure yourself with what used to be the most innocuous and innocent activities.
I suffered a disc injury when I was hit by a motorcycle in 1986, it took about six years to get reasonably normal. The right exercise helps a great deal, most of which has to be in some kind of state of traction. When the muscles are toned , they help keep things in proper alignment. Swimming is included, you are pulling yourself forward, and water takes much of the weight off the spine. Percussion, like walking quickly down stairs, is a no-no.
Weight control is a no-brainer for any joint injury, and the spinal column is the most sensitive system of joints in the body. Excess weight on the abdomen distorts the spine, ask any pregnant woman.
Good luck to Mr. Levine, he will need patience. One hopes he has time for it.

Mar. 03 2011 04:33 PM

Wow, that was very blunt and honest. Jim Levine you have done it all for so long, I know it's hard but you need to ease up on your schedule. I say this with the utmost respect - you are not Superman! Take it a little easy, please. We want you around for a long, long time. We need you in the classical world of music (am I being selfish?)

Mar. 03 2011 03:37 PM

First, I admire James Levine, the maestro, no problem there..But, why are we all so anxious to avoid the obvious?

Mr. Levine is short and fat.

He can grow no taller, but he could aggressively lose weight and care about his health. We are all quick to insist on miracle cures, miracle surgeries and miracle drugs, when the problem is so so obvious.

A thin James Levine has many years yet to enjoy life. The miracle is just to push ourselves away from the dinner table.

Sorry, to be so blunt, civil and honest.

Mar. 03 2011 03:19 PM

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