Tuesday, August 19, 2008

James Levine, Guest Conductor

Okay, James Levine fans (and I know your name is legion, and not just at the Globe), quick - how many concerts will Mr. Levine conduct at the BSO this coming season? Here's a clue - the season consists of 29 separate programs (31 if you count two BSO Chamber Players concerts). But if you guessed that Levine was showing up for, say, two-thirds to three quarters of that season, you'd be wrong. By an order of almost 2. Mr. Levine will only be leading 12 (really 11+, as there's overlap between two of the programs) of those 29 (or 31) - a little more than a third, well short of one half. And his appearances are weighted toward the fall - next spring he'll only be in town for the month of February. It's hardly news, of course, that Boston's just one stop on Levine's global circuit, which includes not only his No. 1 job at the Met, but also occasional or regular stops in Vienna, Berlin, Bayreuth, Salzburg and Verbier. But one wonders, really, given this schedule - and his problematic health - just how much attention Boston gets from him outside of his appearances here. Of course Levine's performances are often thrilling (and occasionally not so thrilling, in IMHO), but I couldn't really say that the BSO plays generally better when he's not around - or at least, I couldn't say that it plays consistently better, or that he's forged a new "house style" which other conductors can rely on. And something tells me that consistency will become more problematic as time goes on, particularly this spring, when he'll really be more of a "Guest Conductor" than a "Music Director."

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