Boston Symphony Scores Major Coup by Hiring James Levine

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Gowen

Recent news about the financial problems of the Chicago Symphony and several other American orchestras has obscured the news that the classical music industry's "great conductor hunt" is over - for now.

Early this year we reported that two of the traditional "Big Five" orchestras, the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony, were searching for new music directors, hopefully to take over in 2003.

The Philadelphia Orchestra had recently completed its search with the hiring of the Ravinia Festival's music director, Christoph Eschenbach, to follow Wolfgang Sawallisch in the fall of 2003. Earlier, the Cleveland Orchestra had hired Franz Welser-Most to succeed Christoph Von Dohnanyi, beginning in 2002.

That left New York and Boston.

After being spurned by his first choice, Riccardo Muti, newly arrived New York Philharmonic CEO Zarin Mehta and his search committee settled on Lorin Maazel, who will leave the Bavarian Radio Symphony to move to New York as Kurt Masur's successor.

For more than a year it was widely known within the classical music business that the Boston Symphony Orchestra wanted James Levine, the former Ravinia music director (1972-93) and for three decades music director and artistic director of New York's Metropolitan Opera, to take over when Seiji Ozawa leaves next year for the Vienna State Opera.

Thus, Boston was the last major podium with an upcoming vacancy - until Oct. 28 - when Levine formally accepted the BSO's offer, starting in 2004.

Landing the 58-year-old Levine as its 14th (and first American- born) music director was a major coup for the BSO, which will share the maestro with the Met, although he plans to restructure his duties there once his Boston assignment begins. He will shed the title of artistic director, keeping his former title as music director. As the change implies, he will deal primarily with musical, not administrative, matters at the world's largest opera house.

"I have loved the Boston Symphony since I was in my early teens," Levine said shortly after his appointment was announced. "It is a magnificent orchestra that is dedicated to making music at the highest level. It's home, Symphony Hall, is simply the best. The city of Boston is unique in its emphasis on education and culture."

It is no secret that Levine played "hard to get" during a courtship that lasted well over a year. He wanted to be assured by BSO management and trustees that the proper climate would exist to build and maintain the quality of the so-called "Aristocrat of Orchestras." One of the reasons why he has built the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra into one of the very finest in the world is his ability to find a way to work comfortably within today's collectively bargained American union environment that seems to grow ever more restrictive on rehearsal and performance time. …