The Kennedy Center

James Levine


James Levine
(conductor, born June 23, 1943, in Cincinnati, Ohio)

He has led American opera into a glorious golden age, establishing the Metropolitan Opera as the world's beacon of operatic splendor through his three decades with the company. James Levine made his Met debut in 1971, became principal conductor in 1973, music director in 1976 and then the company's first artistic director in 1986. With commitment and distinction that are rare in any opera company anywhere, Levine has given his life to making music and drama of unparalleled excellence and sublime

His genius belongs to the world and the world has honored him often. Levine is a regular guest of the Vienna Philharmonic, of the Dresden Staatskapelle and of London's Philharmonia Orchestra, and he has directed major productions at the Salzburg and Ravinia Festivals. He is presently director of the Munich Philharmonic, and there is great anticipation of his coming directorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2004.

He accompanies the world's leading singers at the piano with the same selfless support he gives them when leading a 100-piece orchestra. He continues to be an intensely passionate chamber musician. He conducts Bach and Mozart from the piano, and he makes all music from the heart.

It is impossible to think of opera in the United States in our time without the generous presence of James Levine. His record is unsurpassed in the opera world: Levine so far has conducted more than 2,000 performances of 75 different operas since his Met debut. He raised the artistic level of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus to heights unimagined in a century, and he turned the Met once again into a place the world's finest singers considered the pinnacle of the operatic profession. He founded the Met's Young Artist Program in 1980. In 1989, after conquering the heights of Verdi and Puccini, he achieved another dream by bringing Wagner's complete Ring cycle back to the Met repertory for the first time in half a century.

Far from limiting himself to revitalizing the standard repertory, Levine has triumphed in Mozart's Idomeneo as well as in Berg's Lulu, in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini, in the American operas he commissioned such as Corigliano's Ghosts of Versailles and Harbison's The Great Gatsby. Under Levine's watch, the Metropolitan Opera created the world premiere of Philip Glass and David Henry Hwang's The Voyage. The great Metropolitan Opera soprano Renata Scotto spoke for an entire generation of singers when she said of Levine that "more than a maestro, he is the ideal colleague and friend.''

James Levine was born in Cincinnati in 1943 and saw the Met for the first time on a 1951 tour of Die Fledermaus and Don Carlo in Indiana, when he was eight years old. A child prodigy, Levine was taken to New York to audition for Juilliard in 1953 and it was then he saw his first opera at the Old Met, Gounod's Faust, conducted by Pierre Monteux.

Levine made his debut as a pianist at the age of ten with the Cincinnati Symphony. At 18, he conducted his first opera, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.' At 27, following an apprenticeship as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell, Levine conducted his first Metropolitan Opera performance: Puccini's Tosca with Grace Bumbry and Franco Corelli. In four short years, he would become the company's music director.

"I sometimes say that music chose me because I can't remember life without it,'' Levine has said. "I feel music gave me a real continuum of creative, constructive life. As I look around at the other professions in the world, it seems that a life in music is the most beautiful life I could imagine.'' Again and again, James Levine has imagined beauty, and he has made it real for millions.

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