I was going to do a summary of several news items but they got to be too big for an aggregation, so I'll be posting several small commentaries in the coming week or so.
James Levine has officially pulled out of Tanglewood after a few months of wishy-washy speculation. I can't say I didn't see it coming, but it still sucks. The danger of losing Levine's presence at both the Met and Boston Symphony is not that we won't continue to have great performances led by guest conductors, but that we lose a key artistic gravity, a musical center around which these organizations can function. It endangers the rich cultural heritage that Levine has established already, especially at the Met--we need a specifically musical directorship guiding both the orchestra and singers. More than just leading performances, this is about building institutions: with the critical roar against Gelb's first fully-programmed Met year, Levine's wavering function there could leave the company musically, as well as dramatically, groundless. To lose him for the upcoming Ring would be a disaster--if we can't have him, the Met needs to announce that now and begin building the Lepage Ring towards a new musical presence, whether Fabio Luisi or someone else. Last minute cancellations of singers endanger a production, but last minute cancellations of a Ring conductor could jeopardize a very ambitious artistic endeavor.
Also, on a more personal note, Levine brought a certain seriousness to Tanglewood that apparently (I've only been attending since he came in 2005) was missing from the BSO's summer home in past years. His dedication to staged opera performances, attention to the high quality of the Tanglewood fellows, and unwillingness to compromise on a thorough and occasionally audience-alienating contemporary music weeekend, guaranteed that Tanglewood would never become a pops or lite-klassical spa vacation. It has always been a place for musical growth among students, professionals, and audiences, and needs a top-down manager like Levine to be its caretaker. Opening a summer festival season with Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony is an unlikely but brave move; hell, opening a summer festival with Mahler's Eighth is too. Immersed in Levine's Brahms symphony cycle six years ago, I found a love for classical music which has stuck through to this day. It's a remarkable place for everyone there, a magical summer idyll for discovery and rediscovery of the classics and the new. We need Levine's vision, and if he cannot bring it, then the BSO needs to find someone else quickly.
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