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James Levine, who led New York's Metropolitan Opera as conductor, musical director, and artistic director from 1971 until he was fired in 2018, has died. He was 77, and his longtime doctor, Len Horowitz, said Wednesday that Levine died of natural causes on March 9 in Palm Springs, California.
Levine was a giant at the Met, where he conducted 2,552 performances, and in the world of opera. But after being sidelined with health issues, he was fired after the Met found credible accusations of sexual abuse and other misconduct dating back to the 1960s. His final performance was Verdi's Requiem in December 2017. Levine had been scheduled to take up the baton again in Florence, Italy, in January, but the performances were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Associated Press reported Thursday.
Levine was born in Cincinnati in 1943 and was a child prodigy at piano before taking up conducting at Juilliard. Along with the Met, he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004-11), Munich Philharmonic (1999-2004), and was musical director at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Ravinia Festival from 1973-93. He won 10 of the 37 Grammy Awards for which he was nominated.
"No artist in the 137 year history of the Met had as profound an impact as James Levine," Met general manager Peter Gelb, who fired Levine, said in a statement. "He raised the Met's musical standards to new and greater heights."
Levine's death "invites the now-requisite public dilemma over how (or whether) to salvage an artistic legacy from the corrosive effect of a toxic artist," writes Washington Post classical music critic Michael Andor Brodeur. "It remains to be seen whether death plus time will ever liberate his musical legacy from the darkness of his personal life. Frankly, it's hard to imagine another American conductor reaching such heights from which to fall. But in actually losing Levine, I'm realizing that I processed his mortality and its attendant failings years ago. Today it feels more like I'm mourning a myth — a shadow stuck in the shape of a man."