James Levine

From Academic Kids

James Levine (born June 23, 1943) is an American orchestral conductor and pianist.

Levine was born in Cincinnati into a musical family; his maternal grandfather was a cantor in a synagogue; his father was a violinist, who led a dance band; his mother was an actress. He began to play the piano as a small child. At the age of 10, he made his concert debut as soloist in Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 2 at a youth concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Levine subsequently studied music with Walter Levin, first violinist in the La Salle Quartet. In 1956 he took piano lessons with Rudolf Serkin at the Marlboro (Vermont) School of Music. In 1957 he began piano studies with Josef Lhévinne at the Aspen Music School. In 1961 he entered the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, and took courses in conducting with Jean Morel. In 1964 he graduated from the Juilliard School and jointed the American Conductors project connected with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

From 1964 to 1965, Levine served as an apprentice to George Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra and then served as assistant conductor until 1970. That year, he also made his debut appearance as guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra at its summer home at Robin Hood Dell. In 1970 he made his debut with the Welsh National Opera and the San Francisco Opera. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in June 1971 in a festival performance of Tosca; his success led to further appearances and to his appointment as its principal conductor in 1973; he then was its music director from 1975 until becoming its artistic director (the first in its history) in 1986. Levine had a long association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and served from 1973 to 1993 as music director of the Ravinia Festival.

Under his leadership, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus became one of the finest operatic ensembles in the world, and Levine started a regular concert series for the orchestra (and chamber ensembles thereof) at Carnegie Hall.

At the Met, Levine has led numerous new productions of works of Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Strauss, Rossini, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, Claude Debussy, Alban Berg, and George Gershwin. For the 25th anniversary of his Met debut, Levine conducted the world premiere of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, commissioned especially to mark the occasion.

Levine has led the Metropolitan Opera on many domestic and international tours. The company telecasts several productions around the world each season and makes broadcasts on Saturday afternoons from December to April across North America.

In October 2004, Levine took the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, succeeding Seiji Ozawa as music director, and becoming the first American to head the venerable orchestra. He now splits his time between New York and Boston. Thus, for the first time in living memory, the same man was in charge of the country's leading opera house and a top orchestra. (In Europe, Herbert von Karajan had performed a similar feat in the 1950s as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and director of the Vienna Staatsoper.)

His Boston contract limits his guest appearances with American orchestras but Levine conducts regularly in Europe, with the Munich Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, and at the Bayreuth Festival. Levine is also a regular guest with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and the Dresden Staatskapelle. Since 1975, he has also conducted regularly at the Salzburg Festival.

Levine also performs regularly in chamber music ensembles and as an accompanist in Lieder recitals.

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