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The #MeToo Movement Now in Classical Music: More Allegations That James Levine Is Sick Abusive Perv

In December I wrote about the world-renowned opera and symphony conductor, the besieged and beleaguered James Levine, accused by several men of sexually molesting and abusing them when they were young musicians, going back to the 1960s. The alleged victims began to come forward because of the ongoing news of celebrities being outed as abusers and harassers, such as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose.

Well, as sick and disgusting as the stuff was that Levine was accused of doing, now there are further revelations as discussed in this Boston Globe feature article. It now appears that Levine, now 74, had a “cult” following among the young musicians studying under his mentorship.

But interviews with nearly two dozen former students and musicians from Levine’s Cleveland days, including six from the maestro’s inner circle, indicate the conductor’s alleged sexual behavior was part of a sweeping system to control this core group. As Levine yoked his musical gifts and position to a bid for power, he dictated what they read, how they dressed, what they ate, when they slept — even whom they loved.

Former members, many of whom went on to play in some of the country’s top orchestras, say the maestro encouraged them to break off relationships with people outside the group. He discouraged them from reading newspapers, watching television, or going to the movies with outsiders. Levine’s dominance was nearly absolute, they say, as he drew his disciples close for nightly meetings that included everything from chamber music and studying opera scenes, to loyalty tests and anonymous group sex he said would enhance their musicianship.

“Get me a bucket,” as Mr. Creosote would say.

Apparently, Levine got away with this kind of treatment of young people because of the intimidation, and the pressure that the young people felt toward not compromising their future career chances. They really wanted to be successful professional musicians. It sounds similar to the show-biz personalities, the actors and actresses who want to star in that Big Movie, and so on. It’s really sad.

The famous cellist Lynn Harrell did not state that he was a victim but that he was aware of what was going on, according to the Globe article.

So I don’t doubt the accusers here, with so many of them now. What, they’re all making it up? James Levine until now had been widely respected and critically acclaimed as a conductor who has performed with all the world’s major orchestras and opera companies. He was music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 40 years.

And I had wondered, well, who was it that may have treated James Levine that way, in that kind of invasive and abusive way as to exert power and control. Was it Leonard Bernstein? Commenters on the Globe article (or the article, I can’t remember now), say that it couldn’t have been Bernstein who was homosexual but wasn’t an abuser.

Levine has continued to deny the allegations.

Here are some more quotes from the recent Globe article:

“This was a cult,” said one former member who declined to be identified because he has never told his family about the experience.

“I was so young, I didn’t understand what the hell was going on,” said the former member, who is no longer a professional musician. “The guy was such a brilliant musician [I figured] maybe he knows what he’s talking about, so for a couple of years I was pretty much brainwashed.”

And, after detailing some of the sicko allegations by some former students, the Globe article continues:

Not everyone Levine approached, however, fell prey to his machinations.

(The student), who played violin in the student orchestra under Levine, said he was thrilled when the conductor first suggested they meet independently to work on a Beethoven sonata.

But (the student), who was 18 at the time, said when he arrived at the practice room Levine seemed less interested in playing music than he did in asking probing questions about the young violinist’s sexuality.

Levine started, (the student) said, with a bizarre sequence of queries, ranging from mathematics to favorite authors.

“One of the first ones was, ‘Do you use utensils when you eat?’,” recalled (the student), who went on to play with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He then asked (the student) about his masturbation habits.

Hmm, that sure is an appropriate question to ask someone you work with or someone who is your student. It would be interesting if Levine has ever been in therapy. If so, his file might be as large as Mr. Carlin’s file on the Bob Newhart Show.

And get this:

“We’d have a mutual masturbation session where we’d have to blindfold ourselves and pair off in twos,” said (another former student), who first described the alleged encounters to The New York Times. “The test for us would be: Can you tell if it’s a girl or a guy?”

Now, would someone mind telling me what THAT has to do with classical music, with Beethoven symphonies or operas? Huh?

Also, outside-the-group socializing or other extra-curricular activities were discouraged, including with the students’ families. It really was a “cult,” apparently.

(The former student), whose family lived in Ohio, recalled he was once punished for secretly driving 40 minutes to attend his sister’s wedding in the spring of 1970.

“When I was caught, I was brought back and held down and tickled and slightly beaten,” recalled (the former student), who said that more than one person held him down as the group pounced.

Yech. I’ve had enough.

What’s really shameful is that so many people were well aware of Levine’s shenanigans, such as probably many of the musicians and managements of the world’s great orchestras, yet they continued to work with Levine, and appoint him as their chief conductor for decades. Sad.

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