James Levine has developed a relationship with the Metropolitan Opera that is unparalleled in its history and unique in the musical world today. After 40 years as the Met’s Music Director, he took on the position of Music Director Emeritus at the end of the 2015–16 season. All told, he has led more than 2500 performances of 85 different operas since his company debut in 1971 leading Puccini’s Tosca. In the 2015–16 season, Maestro Levine conducted revivals of Tannhäuser (transmitted live in HD), Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Die Fledermaus, and Simon Boccanegra, two concerts of the Met Orchestra’s annual subscription series at Carnegie Hall, and two concerts by the Met Chamber Ensemble at Carnegie’s Zankel and Weill Halls.
Mr. Levine conducted the first-ever Met performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, I Lombardi and Stiffelio, Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, as well as the world premieres of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby. A book and documentary film celebrating his 40th anniversary with the company were released in 2011.
Maestro Levine inaugurated the Metropolitan Opera Presents television series for PBS in 1977, founded the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (LYADP) in 1980, returned Wagner’s complete Ring to the repertoire in 1989 (in the company’s first integral cycles in 50 years), and reinstated recitals and concerts with Met artists at the opera house. Expanding on that tradition, he and the Met Orchestra began touring in concert in 1991, and since then have performed around the world including at Expo ’92 in Seville, in Japan, on tours across the U. S. and Europe, and regularly during and after the opera season at Carnegie Hall.
In addition to his responsibilities at the Met, Mr. Levine has had a distinguished career as a pianist and recital collaborator, especially in Lieder and song repertoire. He began accompanying such artists as Jennie Tourel, Hans Hotter, and Eleanor Steber more than 50 years ago, and since that time has given recitals with most of the great singers of our time. From 1973 to 1993, he was Music Director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where in a dozen programs each season he led an immense repertoire of symphonic masterpieces, operas, major works for chorus and orchestra, works for unusual combinations of instruments, one-composer marathons, oratorios, concertos, and performed as piano soloist in concertos, chamber music, and song recitals. Outside the U. S., his activities have been characterized by his intensive and enduring relationships with Europe’s most distinguished musical organizations: the Salzburg (1975–93) and Bayreuth (1982–98) festivals, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Berlin Philharmonic. He was Chief Conductor from 1999 to 2004 of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, and Music Director from 2000 to 2004 of the Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra, and from 2004 to 2011 of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival. From 1996 to 2000, he led more than a dozen concerts on the “Three Tenors” World Tour, and he was conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the soundtrack of Disney’s Fantasia 2000.
James Levine was the first recipient, in 1980, of the annual Manhattan Cultural Award and was presented with the Smetana Medal by the Czechoslovak government in 1986, following performances of the Czech composer’s Má vlast in Vienna. He was the subject of a Time magazine cover story in 1983, was named “Musician of the Year” by Musical America in 1984, and has been featured in two documentaries (in 1986 and 2011) on PBS’s American Masters series. Maestro Levine holds honorary doctorates from the University of Cincinnati, the New England Conservatory of Music, Northwestern University, the State University of New York, and The Juilliard School. He was the recipient of the 1997 National Medal of Arts; the 2003 Kennedy Center Honor; the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland; the Goldenes Ehrenzeichen from both Vienna and Salzburg, Austria; the Wilhelm Furtwängler Prize from Baden-Baden, Germany; the Centennial Medal from The Juilliard School; the 2005 Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, where he was also inducted as an Honorary Member; the 2006 Opera News Award; the first-ever Opera Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2008; Bard College’s first Award in the Vocal Arts in 2009; Columbia University’s Ditson Conductors Award in 2009; and the George Peabody Medal from Johns Hopkins’s Peabody Conservatory in 2010.