James Levine, conducting the BSO from his chair in this 2007 file photo.
James Levine, conducting the BSO from his chair in this 2007 file photo. AFP/AFP/Getty Images
No more will-he-or-won't-he: It's official. Conductor James Levine's tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra has drawn to its very sad, stuttering end. The brilliant Levine, hailed rightfully as a baton-wielding deity, just hasn't been able to defeat his health problems. Meanwhile, his 40-year-tenure at the Metropolitan Opera is also teetering. Earlier this month, the Met announced that not only was Levine withdrawing from all of his scheduled performances this fall, but its principal guest conductor, Fabio Luisi, was being elevated to the position of principal conductor.
While the Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, is engineering a solution with Luisi's promotion, the situation in Boston, where Levine's health led to many touch-and-go episodes over his eight-year stint there, is less certain. And it leads to another round of that ever-popular classical pastime: guessing which conductor will be invited to lead one of America's most august orchestras.
In the Boston Globe this weekend, Jeremy Eichler has a great piece about the dawn of the post-Levine era. As Eichler noted, it's been a long, long time since the Hub has had to indulge in such parlor games. "In most practical senses," he wrote, "it's been — remarkably — almost 40 years since the orchestra ramped up for an industry-wide conductor search, for a successor to William Steinberg, who stepped down in 1972."
As sad and unfortunate as Levine's departure from Boston has been, it has also put an end to the ongoing uncertainty and anxiety that clouded his scheduled appearances there, and also hovered over his dates at the Met. Would Levine have to cancel? Would he be able to show up? And was every performance possibly his last?
So where does the BSO go from here? Will they turn to an elder — and probably European — statesman of the podium, like the 84-year-old Colin Davis, or the orchestra's current conductor emeritus, the 82-year-old Bernard Haitink? Or will they select a "young" American? Keep in mind that David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony is 53, and Michael Tilson Thomas — once among the aspiring successors of Serge Koussevitsky at the BSO, as a twenty-something protege of Leonard Bernstein — is now 64. Or perhaps they'll select a youngish European, like the 58-year-old Riccardo Chailly. (Only in classical music is someone who doesn't qualify for a senior citizen discount still "youngish!")
As a native Bostonian who grew up "going to Symphony," I have to admit that I can't see my famously culturally conservative hometown taking a risk with a less familiar name. But perhaps the city of my youth is ready for someone fresher at its most storied podium. I'd like to be proved wrong.
Who would you like to see assume the BSO mantle? Share your ideas in the comments section.