Music Director James Levine has developed a relationship with the Metropolitan Opera that is unparalleled in its history and unique in the musical world today. He 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; all told, he has led nearly 2500 performances of 85 different operas therefore the Met. A book and documentary film celebrating Mr. Levine’s 40th anniversary with the company were released in the summer of 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—a former Met tradition. 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 United States and Europe, and regularly during and after the opera season on its own subscription series at Carnegie Hall.
In addition to his responsibilities at the Met, Mr. Levine has had a distinguished pianist and an active and avid 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 United States, 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. He has conducted every major orchestra in America and Europe.
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 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) in PBS’ “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, and is the recipient in recent years of the National Medal of Arts (1997) and a Kennedy Center Honor (2003); 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 Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2005), where he also was inducted as an Honorary Member; the Opera News Award (2006); the first-ever Opera Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (2008); Bard College’s first Award in the Vocal Arts (2009); the Ditson Conductors Award (2009) from Columbia University “for service to American music;” and the George Peabody Medal from Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Conservatory (2010).