Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Absence of James Levine

Conductor James Levine will be absent from all concerts at Symphony Hall and the Met for at least three weeks due to back surgery. This medical leave could easily be extended to several weeks. How will this affect the audiences in the upcoming performances? Are there audience members who only attend a BSO concert if Levine is conducting? A descending audience has challenged the BSO this season. They have offered new promotions and incentives, but I think the absence of James Levine will just hurt the audience numbers even more.

Levine’s programming in Boston is unique and quite different from his predecessor Seiji Ozawa’s. Levine really indulges in the “classical” repertoire and that can be heard in the upcoming cycle of the complete Beethoven Symphonies from October 22nd through November 7th. Levine has a specific vision for this cycle and is convinced the experience of performing this repertoire would bring the orchestra to a new level. Will the orchestra have the same experience without Levine, if he is absent from rehearsals and performances? The actual music will be the same, but I doubt the experience could be the same with a variety of guest conductors.

Levine has had to take other medical leaves in the past and it is well known that he is not in the best of health. Is he too burdened with role of music director of the BSO and the Met Opera Orchestra? How will he continue to do both? Levine’s contract ends in 2011 at the Met. I expect him to choose to continue only one position, but which one will that be? Which orchestra “needs” him more?

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