UPDATED: James Levine steps down as music director of Boston Symphony Orchestra

The Phoenix has learned that James Levine will step down as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra tonight.

UPDATED: 3:32 PM: The BSO has issued a press release confirming this development. Scroll down for the full text.

Additional details were expected later today. 

It's unclear how the announcement affects Levine's upcoming or future commitments at Tanglewood, the orchestra's summer home in the Berkshires.

On Monday, Levine withdrew from the remainder of his BSO commitments this season — two programs at Symphony Hall, including the world premiere this week of a BSO-commissioned violin concerto by British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and an East Coast tour that included dates at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center — citing the ill effects from a recent procedure addressing his ongoing back issues, further complicated by a viral infection.

Levine's commitments at the Metropolitan Opera, where he has served as music director since 1976, remain as scheduled.

Levine, 67, was named BSO music director designate in October 2001, and took over the orchestra's artistic leadership in 2004. His tenure has been marked by artistic brilliance and critical acclaim — when he was on the podium. Myriad health problems, including a torn rotator cuff suffered in a 2006 on-stage fall, 2008 kidney surgery to remove a cancerous cyst, and back surgery, have forced the cancellation of numerous concerts. Last season, he was forced to miss half of the BSO's season, and all of Tanglewood.

Here's the text of the release issued by the BSO this afternoon:

BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe announced today that as of September 1, 2011, James Levine will step down from his current role as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 2004. Discussions between the BSO and Maestro Levine are underway to define an ongoing new role for Mr. Levine. Mr. Volpe has also announced that the BSO will immediately form a search committee to begin the process of appointing the next Boston Symphony Music Director.   

“The BSO has been incredibly fortunate to have had one of the greatest conductors of our time at its helm since 2004,” said BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe.  “That being said, given Maestro Levine’s health issues, this has been a challenging time for all of us in the Boston Symphony Orchestra family, especially our beloved orchestra and devoted audiences.”

“We wish Maestro Levine the absolute best as he steps down from his role as BSO Music Director to tend to the health issues that have forced him to be away from the music-making he so profoundly loves,” continues Mr. Volpe.  “We look forward to continuing our conversation with Jim about defining a new role where he can focus solely on the music and defining artistically stimulating projects that would be meaningful to him and the orchestra, building upon his BSO legacy thus far.  As we begin the search to appoint the next BSO Music Director, it is imperative that we take this time to express our deepest gratitude to Jim for the extraordinary performances that have inspired his loyal listeners in Boston and around the world.”

“Given the challenges regarding my health and the ensuing absences they have forced me to take from my work with the BSO, I believe it is best for everyone, but especially the orchestra and our wonderful audiences, for me to step down as music director,” said James Levine.  “I make this decision knowing that I need to focus more of my attention on getting back to better health, so when I do return to the BSO podium I can continue the important work the orchestra and I have done together during the period of my music directorship. As the BSO and I define a new relationship that I hope will benefit all involved, I wish the orchestra the very best in the search for the next Boston Symphony Music Director.  It has been an honor and a privilege to have served in that role these past seven years.” 

“With his many accomplishments during his seven years as BSO Music Director, there is no doubt that James Levine will join the ranks of the greatest conductors in the BSO’s 130-year history," said Stephen B. Kay and Robert P. O’Block, co-chairmen of the BSO Board of Trustees.  "On behalf of the BSO’s Board of Trustees and Overseers, we want to express our enormous gratitude and deep respect to Maestro Levine for sharing his brilliant musicianship with our orchestra and all of us who cherish the music of the Boston Symphony.  We wish him the very best in his continued recovery and look forward to his return to the BSO in a new role that is beneficial to all involved."

“We’ve experienced some of the most meaningful and endearing musical work of our lives under the leadership of James Levine,” said BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe.  “On behalf of all the musicians of the BSO, our heartfelt best wishes go out to Maestro Levine as he continues to focus on recovering from the health issues that have forced him to take time away from his BSO schedule.  We look forward to continuing our very important work and influential collaboration with Maestro Levine when he is able to return to the BSO podium.” 


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