Happy birthday James Levine!

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James Levine (June 23, 1943) is an American conductor and pianist who was the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera for four decades. Although he retired from conducting in May 2011 because of health concerns, Levine has since returned to performing since May 2013. Levine has also conducted for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, the Ravinia Festival, and numerous international orchestras.

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James Levine was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to a violinist and an actress. He displayed a talent for the piano at a young age, and took lessons with Walter Levin and Rudolf Serkin. After graduating from Juilliard in 1961, Levine joined the American Conductors project, and then assisted the acclaimed Hungarian conductor George Szell, eventually joining him as assistant conductor. In 1970, he made his debut as a guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as with the Welsh National Opera and the San Francisco Opera. In June 1971, Levine was called as an emergency replacement for an ailing István Kertész, in the season opener of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's summer festival, the Ravinia Festival. This began a long association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Levine served as the music director of the same festival from 1973 until 1993, during which time he made several recordings with the orchestra.

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In 1990, Levine was asked by Roy Disney to arrange music for the soundtrack of Fantasia 2000. Levine arranged and conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the entire soundtrack, except for one segment from the original 1940 Fantasia. In the film, Levine also speaks to Mickey Mouse before introducing the Pomp and Circumstance Marches.

On June 5, 1971, Levine debuted at the Metropolitan Opera conducting Tosca. In 1973 he was appointed the Met's principal conductor, and music director in 1976. In 1983, Levine served as the conductor and musical director for Franco Zeffirelli's screen adaptation of La Traviata, which featured the Met orchestra and chorus members. In 1986, he became the Met's first artistic director, and held the title until 2004.

 

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Under his direction, the Met became known as one of the best opera ensembles in the world. Levine introduced many new productions of works from many composers, including Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Stravinsky, Rossini, Debussy, George Gershwin, and several others.

For the 25th anniversary of his own Met debut, Levine conducted the world debut John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, commissioned for the occasion. (Image source)

In October 2001, Levine was named the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, becoming the first American-born conductor to be given the honor. In 2011, Levine stepped down from his conductor positions as the result of growing health concerns. After two years of surgery and physical therapy for a number of issues, Levine returned to conducting on May 19, 2013 in a concert with the Metropolitan Opera at Carnegie Hall.

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Monday, 23 June 2014
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