James Levine accused of molesting underaged teen during Ravinia tenure

December 03, 2017

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Celebrated conductor James Levine has been accused of molesting a teenage boy over many years with the abuse commencing during Levine’s tenure as music director of the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park

The New York Post reported Saturday that the Illinois victim, now 48, filed a report with the Lake Forest police department last October explicitly detailing several instances of sexual abuse by Levine, beginning in 1985 when the boy was 15 at the Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest and continuing for years afterward. The sexual relationship continued in New York where Levine served as the acclaimed music director of the Metropolitan Opera from 1976 through 2016.

Though the man reported the abuse several years after the statue of limitations had expired, the Lake Forest police opened an investigation and referred their findings to the Lake County States Attorney, the Post said.

The unnamed victim said in his statement to police  “It nearly destroyed my family and almost led me to suicide. I felt alone and afraid. He was trying to seduce me. I couldn’t see this. Now I can.”

With long-silent victims of abuse now speaking out about sexual harassment and predatory behavior by powerful, high-profile men in Hollywood, Congress and the media, it was inevitable that stories would begin to appear about sexual misbehavior in the backstage classical music milieu where conductors wield great power with few consequences for unprofessional behavior.

Rumors have swirled about a seamy, scandalous side to Levine’s private life for decades. Yet with no victims coming forward and few media outlets willing to look into politically and economically dicey stories concerning a famous and popular conductor at one of the world’s most celebrated and venerable arts institutions, the issue stayed largely underground within the business.

After a successful last-minute substitute podium debut at Ravinia in 1971 conducting Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, Levine was named music director of the Highland Park music festival two years later. He remained in that role as chief conductor and guiding light at Ravinia–the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra–until 1993.

In recent decades Levine’s storied career has been largely centered on the East Coast–primarily as music director of the Metropolitan Opera, with a more controversial, illness-ridden tenure leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Levine, who has been beset by back problems and Parkinson’s in recent years, returned to a hero’s welcome at Ravinia in 2016 and again this past summer. He also conducted the CSO downtown last year in his first Orchestra Hall appearance in decades.

The Ravinia Festival created a new post for Levine as conductor laureate, which is to become effective in 2018. 

The Metropolitan Opera announced Saturday night that it has launched an investigation into charges of sexual abuse by Levine while at the Met. Levine continues to conduct performances at the opera company, including concerts of the Verdi Requiem just last week.

The Met released a statement on its Twitter account stating, “We are deeply disturbed by the news articles that are being published online today about James Levine. We are working on an investigation w outside resources to determine whether charges of sexual misconduct in the 1980s are true, so that we can take appropriate action.”

Ravinia released a statement late Sunday afternoon: “Ravinia first learned of the allegations raised against James Levine through a media inquiry late Friday afternoon, December 1, and subsequently learned of the details of these accusations when various newspaper articles were published the following day. We understand from these articles that investigations are ongoing. Ravinia finds these allegations very disturbing and contrary to its zero-tolerance policies and culture. Ravinia will take any actions that it deems appropriate following the results of these investigations. Ravinia has no other information to share at this time.”

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