>Very interesting article in today's Washington Post by Philip Kennicott
>on James Levine's recent injury and the fact he will not be able to
>appear at a Boston SO gig here at the Kennedy Center. Access to this
>article requres registration but is free:
Much of what this article says is true, but there is a bit of a "grass
is always greener" syndrome here, as well. Levine's tenure in Boston
has not been without controversy or problems. For one there is his
health. Not in the greatest of shape, he has to conduct from a chair,
recently suffered a fall which knocked him off a tour, and he is about
to undergo rotator cuff surgery, thereby ending his Met season, as well.
This is not a new phenomenon for him. He was a frequent canceller in
Munich, as well, from what I've been told.
I well understood why Boston picked Levine. After Seiji Ozawa's disastrous
tenure, something had to be done to reenergize the orchestra and audience
in Boston. I wasn't the only listener who stopped going to BSO concerts.
There aren't a lot of first-rate big name conductors around, and Levine
was one of the only maestros who seemed to be both. I never saw him as
one of the greats, but be that as it may, the BSO did need an appointment
of this stature. I'm not sure a young conductor with a huge upside for
the future would that have worked out in post-Ozawa Boston.
The writer talks with enthusiam about Levine's programming, but that
programming has not met with universal approval from Boston audiences.
Subscriptions are down but purchases for individual concerts and day of
concert sales are up. Overall, that seems to be resulting in a downward
trend--hardly unusual these days, and as I said, enthusiam during the
Ozawa years was pretty much nil.
I did go to two concerts this year. The Bruckner Seventh with Kurt
Masur and the Schoenberg concert (Pelleas, Variations, Five Pieces)
with Levine. The attendance at the Bruckner was moderate. That for
the Schoenberg was scandalous--maybe 1/3 full. It looked like the house
for a second line touring orchestra. It's hard to believe that Schoenberg
is such a turnoff to audiences, but apparently he was this night. (And
the other nights to one extent or other, as far as I know.). Now I should
add that I went on a Tuesday night, the fourth of that program's concerts.
It was probably a bad idea to give this program four performances. But
still, was I surprised at the low turnout? No. That's the way it is.
Probably it would have been a better idea to program Pelleas with something
else or the other two works with something else, discretion being the
better part of valor.
Levine has supported and encouraged contemporary music, but I have
to question championing composers like Carter, Babbitt, and Wuorinen.
I realize that I am about to step into a briar patch here, but I think
these are composers whose day has come and if not gone, is about to
be gone. Outside of a few pockets, I don't see the audience for these
composers. (Levine has also played works by composers I don't know--these
I can't comment on beyond to say that from what I hear (and I am speaking
strictly on hearsay) they aren't going over all that well.) Ironically,
one of the most unusual programs was on a children's concert with another
conductor. It programmed music by Chadwick, Converse, Ives, Piston,
Hanson, Chavez, and Copland (mostly excerpts of large works).
As for Levine as a conductor, the Variations and Five Pieces were fine,
but the Pelleas was the weakest performance of that work I've ever heard
(the others are all recordings). It was cold and drained all the beauty
from the score. I was planning to go to the Gurrelieder scheduled for
the next concert, but on the strength of this one, changed my mind. Nor
was I happy with Levine's Ive's Second. Now this I heard on the radio,
and in the case of the BSO broadcasts, that means I have to be very
careful what I say because the broadcast quality is not good. But from
what I could tell, this Second *was* beautiful, but in a way that drained
all the energy and drama out of the score. The best I could say at the
time was that the Ives Second died beautifully.
So while things may not be ideal in Washington, Boston is not entirely
a bed of musical roses either.