James Levine will step down as BSO leader as of September 1, 2011


Levine said he knew last week, at a rehearsal of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, that it was time to go.

“Somehow I could tell the orchestra when they looked at me, they weren’t seeing what they need,” he said. “And I could feel I wasn’t giving what they needed, because I was distracted by the fever and the pain. . . . I couldn’t say, ‘Oh, bear with this.’ It just wouldn’t be right.” – Boston Globe

BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe (at right in photo above) announced today that as of September 1, 2011, James Levine (l) will step down from his current role as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 2004. Discussions between the BSO and Maestro Levine are underway to define an ongoing new role for Mr. Levine. Mr. Volpe has also announced that the BSO will immediately form a search committee to begin the process of appointing the next Boston Symphony Music Director.

Whether Levine will conduct some or all of the Tanglewood concerts this summer, before the official resignation, was not known.

“The BSO has been incredibly fortunate to have had one of the greatest conductors of our time at its helm since 2004,” said BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe. “That being said, given Maestro Levine’s health issues, this has been a challenging time for all of us in the Boston Symphony Orchestra family, especially our beloved orchestra and devoted audiences.”

“We wish Maestro Levine the absolute best as he steps down from his role as BSO Music Director to tend to the health issues that have forced him to be away from the music-making he so profoundly loves,” continues Mr. Volpe. “We look forward to continuing our conversation with Jim about defining 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, building upon his BSO legacy thus far. As we begin the search to appoint the next BSO Music Director, it is imperative that we take this time to express our deepest gratitude to Jim for the extraordinary performances that have inspired his loyal listeners in Boston and around the world.”

“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 James Levine. “I make this decision knowing that I need to focus more of my attention on getting back to better health, so when I do return to the BSO podium I can continue the important work the orchestra and I have done together during the period of my music directorship. As the BSO and I define a new relationship that I hope will benefit all involved, I wish the orchestra the very best in the search for the next Boston Symphony Music Director. It has been an honor and a privilege to have served in that role these past seven years.”

“With his many accomplishments during his seven years as BSO Music Director, there is no doubt that James Levine will join the ranks of the greatest conductors in the BSO’s 130-year history,” said Stephen B. Kay and Robert P. O’Block, co-chairmen of the BSO Board of Trustees. “On behalf of the BSO’s Board of Trustees and Overseers, we want to express our enormous gratitude and deep respect to Maestro Levine for sharing his brilliant musicianship with our orchestra and all of us who cherish the music of the Boston Symphony. We wish him the very best in his continued recovery and look forward to his return to the BSO in a new role that is beneficial to all involved.”

“We’ve experienced some of the most meaningful and endearing musical work of our lives under the leadership of James Levine,” said BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe. “On behalf of all the musicians of the BSO, our heartfelt best wishes go out to Maestro Levine as he continues to focus on recovering from the health issues that have forced him to take time away from his BSO schedule. We look forward to continuing our very important work and influential collaboration with Maestro Levine when he is able to return to the BSO podium.”


Now in his seventh season as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine is the BSO’s 14th music director since the orchestra’s founding in 1881 and the first American-born conductor to hold that position. In September 2011, he will step down as Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director. James Levine made his BSO debut in April 1972 and became music director in the fall of 2004, having been named music director designate in October 2001. His wide-ranging programs balance orchestral, operatic, and choral classics with significant music if the 20th and 21st centuries, including newly commissioned works from such leading American composers as Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, John Harbison, Leon Kirchner, Peter Lieberson, Gunther Schuller, and Charles Wuorinen. Mr. Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra made their first European tour together following the 2007 Tanglewood season, performing in the Lucerne Festival, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival (in Hamburg), Essen, Dusseldorf, the Berlin Festival, Paris, and the BBC Proms in London.

At Tanglewood in 2008 he was Festival Director for the Elliott Carter Centenary Celebration marking the composer’s 100th-birthday year. Mr. Levine and the orchestra recently released a two-disc set of Mozart symphonies (Nos. 14, 18, 20, 39, and 41, Jupiter) on the orchestra’s own label, BSO Classics, following upon their previous releases of Brahms’s German Requiem, and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. Digital releases include Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, and William Bolcom’s Eighth Symphony and Lyric Concerto. All of these recordings were taken from live performances by Maestro Levine and the orchestra at Symphony Hall in Boston.

James Levine is also music director of the Metropolitan Opera. Also a distinguished pianist, Maestro Levine is an active chamber music and recital collaborator, especially in Lieder and song repertoire with the world’s great singers.


Now in its 130th season, the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert on October 22, 1881, and has continued to uphold the vision of its founder, the businessman, philanthropist, Civil War veteran, and amateur musician Henry Lee Higginson, for well over a century. The Boston Symphony Orchestra has performed throughout the United States, as well as in Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, South America, and China; in addition, it reaches audiences numbering in the millions through its performances on radio, television, and recordings. It plays an active role in commissioning new works from today’s most important composers; its summer season at Tanglewood is regarded as one of the world’s most important music festivals; it helps develop the audience of the future through BSO Youth Concerts and through a variety of outreach programs involving the entire Boston community; and, during the Tanglewood season, it sponsors the Tanglewood Music Center, one of the world’s most important training grounds for young composers, conductors, instrumentalists, and vocalists.

The orchestra’s virtuosity is reflected in the concert and recording activities of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, one of the world’s most distinguished chamber ensembles made up of a major symphony orchestra’s principal players, and the activities of the Boston Pops Orchestra have established an international standard for the performance of lighter kinds of music. Overall, the mission of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is to foster and maintain an organization dedicated to the making of music consonant with the highest aspirations of musical art, creating performances and providing educational and training programs at the highest level of excellence. This is accomplished with the continued support of its audiences, governmental assistance on both the federal and local levels, and through the generosity of many foundations, businesses, and individuals.

For nearly twenty years Boston Symphony concerts were held in the Old Boston Music Hall; Symphony Hall, one of the world’s most highly regarded concert halls, was opened on October 15, 1900. In 1915 the orchestra made its first transcontinental trip, playing 13 concerts at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Recording, begun with the Victor Talking Machine Company (predecessor to RCA Victor) in 1917, continued with increasing frequency. The BSO’s first live concert broadcasts, privately funded, ran from January 1926 through the 1927-28 season, with regular live Boston Symphony broadcasts being initiated in October 1935. Today, BSO concerts are broadcast regularly by 99.5 All-Classical, a service of WGBH. Saturday-evening concerts can be heard live on 99.5 FM, on HD radio at 89.7 HD2, and online at 995allclassical.org (http://995allclassical.org). Broadcasts begin with exclusive features and interviews at 7 p.m., followed by the concert at 8 p.m.

In July 1885, the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra had given their first “Promenade” concert, offering both music and refreshments, and fulfilling Major Higginson’s wish to give “concerts of a lighter kind of music.” These concerts, soon to be given in the springtime and renamed first “Popular” and then “Pops,” fast became a tradition. In 1929 the free Esplanade concerts on the Charles River in Boston were inaugurated by Arthur Fiedler, who had been a member of the orchestra since 1915 and who in 1930 became the 18th conductor of the Boston Pops. Fiedler would hold the post for half a century, to be succeeded by John Williams in 1980. The Boston Pops Orchestra celebrated its 100th birthday in 1985 under Mr. Williams’ baton. Keith Lockhart began his tenure as 20th conductor of the Boston Pops in May 1995, succeeding Mr. Williams.

The Koussevitzky era began in 1924. His extraordinary musicianship and electric personality proved so enduring that he served an unprecedented term of 25 years. In 1936 Koussevitzky led the orchestra’s first concerts in the Berkshires; a year later he and the players took up annual summer residence at Tanglewood. Koussevitzky passionately shared Major Higginson’s dream of “a good honest school for musicians,” and in 1940 that dream was realized with the founding of the Berkshire Music Center (now called the Tanglewood Music Center).

Charles Munch followed Koussevitzky as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1949. Munch continued Koussevitzky’s practice of supporting contemporary composers and introduced much music from the French repertory to this country. During his tenure the orchestra toured abroad for the first time and its continuing series of Youth Concerts was initiated under the leadership of Harry Ellis Dickson. Erich Leinsdorf began his seven-year term as music director in 1962. Leinsdorf presented numerous premieres, restored many forgotten and neglected works to the repertory, and, like his two predecessors, made many recordings for RCA; in addition, many concerts were televised under his direction. Leinsdorf was also an energetic director of the Tanglewood Music Center; under his leadership a full-tuition fellowship program was established. Also during these years, in 1964, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players were founded. William Steinberg succeeded Leinsdorf in 1969. He conducted a number of American and world premieres, made recordings for Deutsche Grammophon and RCA, appeared regularly on television, led the 1971 European tour, and directed concerts the east coast, in the south, and in the Midwest.

Seiji Ozawa became the BSO’s thirteenth music director in the fall of 1973, following a year as music adviser and three years as an artistic director at Tanglewood. His historic twenty-nine-year tenure, from 1973 to 2002, exceeded that of any previous BSO conductor; in the summer of 2002, at the completion of his tenure, he was named Music Director Laureate. Besides maintaining the orchestra’s reputation worldwide, Ozawa reaffirmed the BSO’s commitment to new music through the commissioning of many new works (including commissions marking the BSO’s centennial in 1981 and the TMC’s fiftieth anniversary in 1990), played an active role at the Tanglewood Music Center, and further expanded the BSO’s recording activities. In 1995 he and the BSO welcomed Bernard Haitink as Principal Guest Conductor. Named Conductor Emeritus in 2004, Mr. Haitink has led the BSO in Boston, New York, at Tanglewood, and on tour in Europe, and has also recorded with the orchestra. In the fall of 2001, James Levine was named to succeed Seiji Ozawa as music director. Maestro Levine began his tenure as the BSO’s fourteenth music director—and the first American-born conductor to hold that position—in the fall of 2004.

Today the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Inc., presents more than 250 concerts annually. It is an ensemble that has richly fulfilled Henry Lee Higginson’s vision of a great and permanent orchestra in Boston. Additionally, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s extensive website, http://www.bso.org, is the largest and most-visited orchestral website in the country, receiving more than 7.3 million visitors annually and generating over $60 million in revenue since its launch in 1996.

For further information, call the Boston Symphony Orchestra at 617-266-1492. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is online at www.bso.org.

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