The brilliant American pianist and conductor, James Levine, came from a musical family. His maternal grandfather was a cantor in a synagogue; his father was a violinist, who led a dance band; his mother was an actress. He began to play the piano as a small child. At the age of 10, he was soloist in Mendelssohnís 2nd Piano Concerto at a youth concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He then studied music with Walter Levin, 1st violinist in the La Salle Quartet. In 1956 he took piano lessons with Rudolf Serkin at the Marlboro (Vermont) School of Music. In 1957 he began piano studies with Lhévinne at the Aspen (Colorado) Music School. In 1961 he entered the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and took courses in conducting with Jean Morel. He also had conducting lessons with Wolfgang Vacano in Aspen. In 1964 he graduated from the Juilliard School and jointed the American Conductors project connected with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where he had occasion to practice conducting with Alfred Wallenstein, Max Rudolf, and Cleva.
In 1964-1965 James Levine served as an apprentice to Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra; then he became a regular assistant conductor with it (1965-1970). In 1966 he organized the University Circle Orchestra of the Cleveland Institute of Music; also led the Student orchestra of the summer music institute of Oakland University in Meadow Brook, Michigan (1967-1969). In 1970 he made a successful appearance as guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra at its summer home at Robin Hood Dell; subsequently appeared with other American orchestras. In 1970 he also conducted the Welsh National Opera and the San Francisco Opera. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in June 1971, in a festival performance of Tosca; his success led to further appearances and to his appointment as its principal conductor in 1973; he then was its music director from 1975 until becoming its Artistic Director (the first in the Company's history) in 1986.
Under the leadership of James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera is now in a golden age. During his tenure at the Met, he has developed the orchestra and chorus to an unparalleled level of achievement, excellence and public recognition. Levine spends more than seven months each year with the Company (unique in today's music world) and has led numerous house premieres -- including works by W.A. Mozart, Verdi, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Weill, Alban Berg, Gershwin, Rossini and John Corigliano -- as well as an enormous number of works from the standard and not-so-standard repertoires. The Met has recently announced two new commissions -- by Tan Dun and Tobias Picker - to be conducted by Maestro Levine in the first years of the new millennium. This season at the Metropolitan, he will lead a new production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde -- the first at the Met in 25 years -- as well as several major revivals (including Verdi's Otello with Plácido Domingo, A. Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande and Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann), three cycles of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen and the world premiere performances of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby (commissioned in honour of the 25th anniversary of his Met debut).
Among James Levineís many recordings for Sony Classical with the Met Orchestra are Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer; Verdi's Il trovatore, Aida, Luisa Miller and Don Carlo; Alban Berg's Suite from Lulu; Three Excerpts from Wozzeck; Three Pieces for Orchestra. Scheduled for release in November of 1999 is the soundtrack for Fantasia 2000, also featuring the pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Chicago Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras.
Maestro Levine has led the Metropolitan Opera on many domestic and international tours, including a visit to Expo '92 in Seville, tours to Frankfurt - in 1994 for its 1200th anniversary celebration in 1994 and again in 1996 - and three visits to Japan since 1988. The company telecasts several productions around the world each season, broadcasts each week from December to April on radio across North America (and regularly across Europe) and appears on an extensive library of studio recordings. Following the tremendous success of their first concert tour in 1991, the Met Orchestra and James Levine have initiated an annual series of orchestral programs with international soloists, including three performances each season in New York's Carnegie Hall and more across America and Europe. (This season's concert soloists include Evgeny Kissin, Olga Borodina, Sylvia McNair, Anne Sofie von Otter and Samuel Ramey.)
James Levine performs regularly with the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna and also in European capitals, the USA and the Far East. He also works each season with the Berlin Philharmonic, has had a long association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (including 20 years (1973-1993) as Music Director of the Ravinia Festival, where the orchestra is in summer residence), and is a regular guest with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He also served as Music Director with the Cincinnati May Festival (1974-1978). In 1975 he began to conduct at the Salzburg Festivals.
In 1999 James Levine became Chief Conductor of the Münchner Philharmoniker, having made his debut there in 1997. At the Bayreuth Festival he conducted Wagner's Parsifal annually between his 1982 debut there (conducting the Centennial Production of the work) and 1993, and from 1994 until 1998 he directed Der Ring des Nibelungen in a staging by Alfred Kirchner and Rosalie. Beginning in 1996 he has conducted an extended World Tour with "The Three Tenors". More recently, in the summer of 1999, he conducted the orchestra of Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland and returned to the Aspen Festival in Colorado (where he spent fifteen summers between 1957-1974) for two concerts to celebrate the Festival's 50th anniversary.
James Levine is also a distinguished pianist and an active recital collaborator, especially in Lieder and song repertoire. He continued to make appearances as a pianist, playing chamber music with impeccable technical precision. But it is as a conductor and an indefatigable planner of the seasons at the Metropolitan Opera that he inspired respect. Unconcerned with egotistical. projections of his own personality, he presided over the singers and the orchestras with concentrated efficiency.
James Levine has the distinction of being the first recipient of the annual cultural award of the City of New York. He was named Musician of the Year by the journal Musical America and was the subject of a cover story in Time Magazine. He has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Sarah Lawrence College and The Juilliard School and is the subject of a full-length documentary, which has been televised in Europe and the USA.