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Although it wouldn't be accurate to say I've long confused James Levine with James Lapine (who is alive) -- I know who each of them are -- I have tended to transpose their names, so had to look twice to check which one had passed.

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14 hours ago, AaronS said:

I was surprised no one else posted about his death.

Me, too. But I thought it might be because of the relatively recent accusations against him. Independent of those, I thought he was an incredibly talented individual. I didn't know anything about him until I watched a 60 Minutes segment on him pre-controversy. 

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8 hours ago, Sneakeater said:

Those aren't recent accusations.  Those are things that anybody who cared knew about since at least the '80s.

Recently-made-public-to-a-wide-audience accusations?

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So?  You're saying that you're surprised that people who don’t care about the kind of music he made didn't post about his death?  Why should they?  Wilf had to check to make sure he wasn’t someone else.*
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* To be absolutely clear, I’m not “blaming” Wilf for “ignorance”.  I’m just asking why you’d expect such a cultured person to post about the death of someone he obviously doesn’t care deeply about (and again there’s no reason he needs to).  Whereas, for the people who DO care, it’s (as we’ve said here recently in a similar context) “complicated”.  

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(And of course you won't be surprised to hear that the evaluations of people who care about that type of music about the magnitude of Levine’s talent might not have been the same as 60 Minutes's.)

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So aside from the “recent allegations”, there’s also that Levine was a champion of rearguard reaction, a leading figure in an institutional mainstream that many of us see as artistically and morally bankrupt.  (Which is not to say I didn’t share a lot of good nights in the theater and concert hall with him.)

Of course, the 60 Minutes viewers wouldn’t be attuned to any of that.  But, beyond vaguely knowing that he was a force in the (evil) Cultural Establishment, they wouldn’t especially care about him. 

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Levine also presents an interesting and perhaps(?) rare case where an artist's personal failings seem legibly connected to his artistic ones.

Levine's great gift as a conductor was making orchestras sound.  He had a sound world he liked -- rich, rounded -- and he was able to induce orchestras to create it.  Someone once remarked to me that you could always tell when Levine was conducting at the Met, because massed horn fanfares had a way of hanging in the air that other conductors couldn't effect.  And I remember sitting in Carnegie Hall once listening to Levine conduct the Boston and marveling at how vivid the sound was:  every line was clear and distinct but yet the blend was remarkable.  It had all the precision of listening to music on headphones, with all the physicality and blend of listening live in a hall.

But yet.  Note that what I was marveling at in Carnegie Hall was the way the music sounded, not how well the piece was being put across.  Beneath those remarkable sonorities there was always something missing.  Shaw once joked that Wagner's music is better than it sounds.  Well, Levine's music-making was worse than it sounded.  Because there was an emptiness at its heart.  In the opera house, this was manifest as a certain dramatic inertness.  In the concert hall, as interpretative blandness.  The sounds were good, but there was usually no there there.

And this is all of a piece with what we know of Levine personally.  First, in a real sense, he had no personal life:  no friends, no lovers, just his work and the long line of boys he abused.  No culture, no interests in the wider world.  His demand of the Met was that he get whatever he wanted; and the stupid corrupt New York Cultural Establishment (in the guise of of the Met Board of Directors) was happy to give it to him.  (This created the situation we're seeing now where the unrealistically highly paid members of the Met orchestra -- overpaid at Levine's demand so that he could be assured of having a vanity orchestra of the highest quality -- are struggling as a result of readjustments that economic reality is finally forcing the institution to make.) Then there was his aloof, disconnected management style at the Met:  he only communicated with people when it was pleasant; if he wanted to express displeasure, he had intermediaries do it.  It came as a shock, but not at all as a surprise, to learn that Levine had never once spoken to the person who was being groomed for a period of years to succeed him at the Met after his illness finally became unignorable (and whom the Met eventually unceremoniously dumped).  And of course there's the way Levine prevented the Met from engaging other top-rank conductors to guest-conduct during his tenure, so that the Met's conducting roster (except for Levine) was five steps below that of other top opera houses, all so Levine would have no real competition there.

And then of course there's the sex stuff.  This is a man who set up an organized musicosex cult around himself (in the guise of a teaching orchestra) for teenage and young adult boys.  I mean that's pretty heady stuff.  Jim Morrison never dreamed of doing anything like that.  (Of course, Jim Morrison was so beautiful he probably didn't have to.)

Putting it all together, you can see how there's a lack of basic human sympathy that undermined Levine's artistic output.  Now I'm not saying you have to be a "good" person to be a "good" artist.  Nor am I saying that human sympathy is necessary to the creation of art.  What I'm saying is that it's necessary to the type of work Levine specialized in, mainstream conservative Germanic classical music mostly of the 19th Century.  You don't need humaneness to be Robbe-Grillet (or Stravinsky for that matter).  You do to be Dickens.

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36 minutes ago, Wilfrid said:

The last bit, no. I am sure I can think of novelists who wrote warm, humane, socially conscious fiction who were assholes. 

But anyway isn’t that kind of what I was saying?

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