Muti returns to podium as Levine steps down

  • James Levine

    James Levine

Updated 3/31/2011 6:14 AM

It is with a touch of irony that while Riccardo Muti makes his return to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a series of concerts this month after several health issues interrupted his debut season as music director, a former maestro long associated with the CSO is taking a step back from the podium for health reasons.

James Levine, who spent two decades as the Ravinia Festival's music director (1973-93), recently announced he is ending his seven-year tenure as the Boston Symphony Orchestra's music director because of continuing back problems. Levine also has decided to reduce his conducting assignments at New York's Metropolitan Opera,


Levine, 67, has had several health issues since joining the Boston Symphony in 2004, leading to numerous cancellations. Despite two operations, the neurological back condition, which has led to his conducting in recent years from a chair, began to affect his ability to make the precise arm and hand gestures necessary to conduct effectively.

"I would have dearly loved for it not to come to this, but I must say, I can't lose the conviction that I'm a very lucky guy, really," Levine said in an interview with The Boston Globe. "I just think it's so important for the orchestra to have what it needs. Somehow I could tell the orchestra when they looked at me, they weren't seeing what they need, And, I could feel I wasn't giving what they needed, because I was distracted by the fever and the pain."

Levine, who has canceled his concerts this spring and summer, will officially resign Sept. 1. The BSO will begin a search for his successor immediately.

Levine's medical problems began in 2006 when an onstage fall resulted in a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, requiring surgery. Levine also missed time three years ago when he had a cancerous kidney removed. His latest back surgery caused him to miss 22 concerts during the BSO's 2009-10 subscription series at Symphony Hall, plus eight concerts last season at the orchestra's summer home, the Tanglewood Music Festival.

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In October, Levine returned to Symphony Hall with a successful all-Richard Wagner program, but the back condition continued to worsen, forcing the decision to resign. Although his future at the BSO is unclear, Levine says he plans (health permitting) to return to the BSO podium as a guest, both in Boston and Tanglewood.

Riccardo Muti's return: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's musicians, management and concertgoers are hoping all goes well with next weekend's return to the podium of Riccardo Muti, whose first year as music director hasn't gone as planned (to say the least).

Muti's opening month of concerts last fall was cut short when the maestro suffered stress-related exhaustion and returned to his home in Italy for treatment and rest. Then, his midseason residency in February was derailed before it began following an onstage fall during a rehearsal, resulting in facial fractures and leading to the implantation of a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat.

Now, Muti is scheduled to return Thursday, April 7, Saturday, April 9, and Tuesday, April 12, to Symphony Center/Orchestra Hall with 7 p.m. concert performances of Giuseppe Verdi's late operatic masterpiece, "Otello," with another concert fit in between (1:30 p.m. Friday, April 8) featuring Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, plus Luigi Cherubini's Overture in G Major and Franz Liszt's symphonic poem "Les Préludes."


Following those concerts, the CSO will travel to New York's Carnegie Hall for the Orchestra's first concerts outside Chicago with Muti as music director. The Chicago Symphony Chorus and Chicago Children's Choir will join Muti and the CSO on Friday, April 15, for its only New York performance of "Otello." On Saturday, April 16, Muti and the Orchestra will perform the all-Berlioz program that opened the 2010-11 season at Orchestra Hall: "Symphonie Fantastique" and its lesser-known sequel, "Lélio," with actor Gérard Depardieu as narrator. The final Carnegie Hall date on Sunday, April 17, repeats the April 8 program of Cherubini's Overture in G Major, Liszt's "Les Préludes" and Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.

Muti is scheduled to return for two weeks of concerts in May, one of the programs featuring Yo-Yo Ma as soloist in Robert Schumann's Cello Concerto.

For information on ticket availability for next week's "Otello" performances as well as all upcoming Orchestra Hall concerts, visit or call (312) 294-3000 or (800) 223-7114.