The BSO Begins Its Post-Levine Era

By Jared Bowen

Oct. 1, 2011

Watch the video segment that aired on September 29 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — The musical strains you hear from Symphony Hall beginning this week could easily echo the strains of relief. The post James Levine era has begun. No more fretting over the maestro's sudden cancellations. No more slumping ticket sales. No more hits to morale says Boston Symphony Orchestra Managing Director Mark Volpe.

"In terms of the orchestra can you imagine rehearsal, rehearsing four to five times a week not knowing whether [Levine's] going to make it, not knowing what condition he's going to be in," Volpe said. "And also, not to be melodramatic, but there were times when it was clear he was suffering."

To be clear, the BSO maintains great sympathy for Levine who ended his tenure this year after a series of health crises forced him to cancel nearly a fifth of his concerts during his seven years in Boston. "He was an important figure and the first several years were quite exciting," Volpe said. "And we always knew health was a risk and I don't think anyone anticipated, especially Jim, the health situation would become so central to our relationship."

But now the BSO is ready to move on — to find its 15th Music Director in the organization's 130-year history. It's a process that could take years, although Volpe won't commit to a timeframe. "The reality is there are people we haven't seen ever, a few conductors are coming to make their debuts with the Boston Symphony and a few conductors we haven't seen in many, many years — 15, 20 years that are coming back. So I think people should be patient," Volpe revealed.

Where he is more explicit is in outlining the criteria for Levine's replacement. Asked what he's looking for, "I think first and foremost a great, great conductor," Volpe answered. "A great artist and someone who can be, forgive the presumptuous dimension of this statement, but the moral force for music in Boston and beyond…We want someone to make Boston their primary address."

In the meantime the BSO has filled this season with star conductors and performers like renowned German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. To open the season, Mutter is assuming the double role of performer and conductor. Post-Levine, the orchestra is very strong she said. "Every group, the first fiddle, the second, the cellis, the violas, wonderful oboe and horn and flute playing. Really tremendous joy and of course perfect playing."

Over the course of her two performances, Mutter will perform all five Mozart violin concerti — pieces for which she has deep affection. "It's the simplicity of his music, the beauty and his depth of soul which shines through even in very early pieces where there's a sudden modulation from a major key into a minor and it almost breaks your heart," she said.

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