I guess the first time I heard Maestro James Levine conduct was watching a DVD of the Three Tenors (Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras) in Paris, as well as Fantasia 2000. Since then, I’ve gotten to see him conduct (only on the screen though) in a variety of Met productions (e.g. Falstaff, Nabucco, etc.), as well as listening to some of his recordings (e.g. Wagner’s Ring Cycle). The man is a legend in the world of opera, having served as the music director of the Met for 40 years, from 1976-2016 (he’s music director emeritus now)!
So, what a treat it was to hear Maestro Levine conduct the CSO yesterday evening. Serving as his official subscription concert debut, Maestro Levine led the CSO in a program of Mozart (Symphony No. 31 (Paris)), Schoenberg (Five Pieces for Orchestra), and Berlioz (Symphonie fantastique). Because of his extensive work in opera, like Maestro Muti, Maestro Levine is really focused on allowing the orchestra to “sing” as it plays. He’s well-known for thoroughly working with singers throughout his career, and it couldn’t be more evident last night as he was constantly singing along to each of the pieces, trying to bring out the voices of the orchestra, especially in the Mozart and the Berlioz. The Schoenberg wasn’t my favorite of pieces, but regardless, the entire program was a memorable experience to hear live. I didn’t get to hear live the Berlioz conducted by Maestro Muti a couple of years back (it’s now a recording, so that’s okay 😀 ), but I absolutely enjoyed Maestro Levine’s reading of the piece – so full of color, especially in the 2nd movement, which has always been my favorite part of the piece. At the end of the concert, after a standing ovation for Maestro Levine and the orchestra, we were all treated to an encore piece – “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – in honor of the Cubs winning the Series. The hall was electric – everyone loved it.
Afterwards, I and a couple of others headed backstage to meet Maestro Levine, and we were all treated to a number of stories by Maestro Levine about his time at Ravinia and at Symphony Center (recording all the Beethoven piano concerti with Alfred Brendel!!) and, of course, at the Met. It was amazing just being in the presence of this legendary and inspiring conductor, and it would be great if he could visit Chicago more often (maybe to conduct at Lyric? 🙂 ), because I probably won’t ever make it to the Met to hear him conduct opera. Anyways, a truly memorable experience, and a nice way to end the school week! Next week, hopefully I can make it out to hear Jaap van Zweden (incoming music director of the NY Philharmonic) conduct Brahms’ Requiem – that should be another memorable program 😀