Cher Public

Climbing Up the Ass II: The Climbening

Yannick MetIncoming Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin lavishes praise on former Met Music Director James Levine for actually doing his job, for once. [MET Orchestra Musicians]

  • Gualtier Maldè

    Listen, for hopefully many years Yannick is going to be working with the (GREAT) orchestra that Jimmy built. So this is his way of smoothing over a transition and bonding with his new orchestra. Also smoothing over those Met board members who wanted to hold on to Levine to the bitter end until he was carried out on a stretcher. It is called diplomacy and YN-S is very, very good at it. Smart man!

    • La Cieca

      I just think it’s hilarious that his praise includes “In 2015, when I conducted the new production of Otello, Jimmy came to one of my stage/piano rehearsals in the auditorium and stayed for a few minutes.”

      • He was there for minutes. Minutes I tell you!!!

        Whoever heard of a music director showing up to observe the rehearsal of a debuting young talent? The man gives and gives.

      • Armerjacquino

        Is that deliberate, do we think? Is it shade?

        • AJ: No way. I think Gaultier’s right. YNS is being very diplomatic.

          • Armerjacquino

            Well if that’s the case, the bathos of ‘for a few minutes’ is highly unfortunate.

            • Shai

              Yannick’s English is excellent but occasionally unidiomatic.

  • Kenneth Conway

    Was this post really necessary?

    • La Cieca

      What this one?

  • QuantoPainyFakor
  • delmonaco

    I’m intrigued by the negative feelings expressed about Levine on this site (I had always assumed he was a beloved figure at the Met). Is this based around his not stepping down from the MD position much sooner due to his health (and the lack of transparency about it), or does this go back much further? Were there issues surrounding him even before his health declined?

    • Lohenfal

      There have always been issues surrounding Levine. In spite of them, he did remain “a beloved figure at the Met.” I was at the last Entführung he gave as Music Director, and there was a huge audience demonstration on his behalf. Nonetheless, I agree with those who feel that he stayed much too long after his health declined. I don’t want to be too critical--after all, he is the victim of a terrible disease--but he should have faced reality a lot sooner.

      As far as those earlier issues go, just look at the previous threads concerning him, and you’ll get a good picture of the criticisms.

    • La Cieca

      This was written 28 years ago:

      “At some point, Met officialdom will have to recognize the continuing failures of the current arrangement, under which the titular artistic director of the company, James Levine, makes sure that he gets the singers he wants for his own performances and seems content to leave [Jonathan] Friend to improvise the remainder of the season. . . . Mr. Levine has been the Teflon man in all this. Ultimately responsible for the Met’s continuing casting difficulties is the apparent reluctance of the artistic director to exercise artistic direction. If Mr. Levine does not wish, for his own good reasons, to spend the time and energy necessary to oversee that job responsibly, it may be time for him to take that orchestral post we keep hearing rumors about.”

  • Luvtennis

    Technically, it should be “The Reclimbening.”

    And yes, there is some very skillful diplomacy going on here. Many moments of damning with faint or no praise brought to you with a determined smile. But there are also genuine moments of praise with regard to musical “execution” while taking a more neutral stance on musical “conception.”

  • chicagoing

    As Maestro Levine is much discussed here I thought that I should take the opportunity to see him conduct the CSO the weekend before last. Because it turned out to be unseasonably warm I sacrificed the first half of the program to maximize my daylight outdoor time and only showed up at intermission for Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. I was self- concious about being a voyeur as I had purchased a terrace seat- the area behind the orchestra reserved for the chorus when they are on the program. The CSO had built an enclosed platform for the conductor and a twenty foot ramp which bisected the orchestra for him to roll up to take his postion. Once in place an attendant put a music stand in place. I know less about conducting than I do about singing but I was impressed at the vigor and animation Levine displayed. The fact that he had to clench the baton in his teeth in order to free his hands to boost and reposition himself in his scooter between movements was the only noticeable concession to his physical condition. It was fascinating to watch him conduct although it seemed to distance me from the music. The ovation at the end was noticeably long and enthusiastic but on a Saturday night there were far more empty seats than usual. The upper balcony was only one quarter full and there were may empty seats in the boxes as well.

  • Liz.S

    It’s also interesting this was featured on the Met Orch site. After that heartfelt good-bye to Fabio they bid last weekend, showing some rapport with the new MD is a good idea to balance things out (or to hush any rumors.) The diplomacy is everywhere

    • TaminoNY

      I think the timing of this posting by YNS is very interesting, considering it comes only days after Luisi’s farewell performance as Principal Conductor. It is as if YNS wanted to remind us that Levine is still a major presence at the Met as Luisi departs. Of course, at this early stage of his Met tenure, YNS will have to be gracious toward Levine.
      It will be most interesting to see what transpires in the next 3 seasons until YNS assumes the music directorship.

      • Porgy Amor

        This piece by Nézet-Séguin was the final in “a series of posts celebrating Maestro Levine’s tenure as Music Director,” which began in early October. The encomia leading up were by past and present orchestra members, the Met’s chief librarian, and so on. So I don’t know if we should read that much into the timing of the YNS posting. It’s probably been planned for a while.

  • My understanding, as flawed as anyone’s let me say, is that the Board signed off on Levine’s replacement and Gelb’s scheme to embarrass Levine by going public with his visit to the doctor’s office. They also liked YNS as a replacement. It’s not like those are highly intelligent or deeply serious people but even they were aware that Levine’s intensifying physical decline was creating trouble.

    Union committees for example complained that orchestra and chorus could no longer follow Levine and didn’t always understand what he wanted. I believe Gelb felt that the intensive fund raising the institution needs would be difficult going forward without a new, vigorous Music Director. YNS had the advantage of a prominent post near New York and was well liked by the orchestra. He has gone over well with American music critics such as they are. He had already been simplifying his foreign entanglements per the request of the Philadelphia orchestra, so the Met was a possibility. He seems to be genuinely a nice person so perhaps this is a friendly gesture.

    On the other hand he is quite the driven careerist and is unlikely to give Gelb much grief. Despite the frustration many were feeling with Levine’s health issues he had a substantial power base in the house, one that was inimical to Gelb. Gelb wanted to move to secure his absolute power. YNS, nearby, with one powerful position already was presumably willing to come and go as needed (and as could be scheduled) without desiring to make the Met the locus of his career.

    Levine’s entire career was centered on the Met. This was angrily denied here by idiots in years past but they didn’t know what they were talking about. Levine did try to escape. Von Karajan had promised him Berlin, but when Levine jumped in for Herbie on a tour he alienated the orchestra so totally that evaporated. He got the third ranked symphony in Munch, only to get bad reviews and often nasty and unfair personal press. Although he had many prominent years at Bayreuth so in his time did Barenboim and Sinopoli. He was not the musical power there (Barenboim was). Occasional guest engagements even where well received are not a career base. His “people” clotted the Met and couldn’t be gotten rid of. I think Gelb wanted to get rid of him from the first and thought age would do it and the decline of that super power among managers, Ronald Wilford, who at CAMI had had influence on nearly every major conductor in the world and was one of Von Karajan’s few friends in the business. But despite Wilford’s advanced age and decline, Levine was intending to stay on, although his problems were more and more obvious.

    No one need weep for Levine, but it was a curious career even by older standards for conductors. Toscanini, Mahler and Serafin were international conductor who had seasons at the Met (Serafin the longest). Panizza was glad to come to the Met in the depression but he had a remarkable resume. Busch, Bruno Walter were famous conductors, Walter especially who appeared occasionally. Szell and Reiner were refuges who needed work (as did Busch). They hated Bing (Szell especially) but went on to greatness at the Cleveland and Chicago orchestras. Bing depended on Fritz Stiedry at first. He was a very distinguished Mahler/Schoenberg ally who had been caused to flee Russia with his wife by Stalin because he championed Shostakovitch. But he was an older man by then.

    Bing used Cleva for Italian rep, also the more gifted Cimara who had a stroke. They were typical opera house conductors although Cleva lasted longer. But Bing found Mitropoulos who made a tremendous impact. He was important at the NY Philharmonic where war was waged on him by the Bernstein faction helped by a typical scumbag at the New York Times — who spread the word that he was that unthinkable monster — a gay man.

    Von Karajan asked Mitropoulos why he was wasting time in New York especially at the Met, notorious for its low orchestral standards. But Mitropoulos had a very serious heart condition and wanted to stay in one place. But his appearances in Europe were electrifying and he was moving to spending more time there when he keeled over at a rehearsal at La Scala in 1960.

    Bernstein only appeared a few times at the Met. Solti used it to get a toe into America and left it far behind as soon as he could. Abbado lasted one engagement and told Bing he would never come back and would look forward to learning of his death. All of these people had immense international careers and only a few were most prominent for their work in opera (Von Karajan worked a deal brokered by Wilford to sell his records, so he could conduct the Ring. Despite creating a sensation he fled after Rheingold and Walkuere).

    None of these conductors needed the Met expect for short periods but it was Levine’s only ace in the hole. So, although accounted a major conductor by the many, it was an oddly circumscribed career. As for how major, well, I suppose that is always a matter of opinion.

    • Krunoslav

      Why no mention of Wigglesworth?