CHICAGO (AP/CBS) — Ravinia is no longer going to have anything to do with a noted 74-year-old conductor who is now accused of sexually molesting young men and a teenager decades ago.
James Levine was the music director at Ravinia for 20 years until 1993. This coming summer he was to have begun his conductor laureate for five years, now that will now be happening.
Ravinia announced Monday night they are cutting ties with Levine, saying it is deeply troubled and saddened by the sexual abuse allegations against him.
“Based on recent accounts in the media regarding James Levine, Ravinia has severed all ties with (him),” the statement read. “Ravinia maintains a zero-tolerance policy and culture on sexual harassment. We are deeply troubled and saddened by the allegations and sympathize with everyone who has been hurt.”
Four alleged victims have come forward – three who have attended a Michigan music school where Levine taught and a man who claims Levine molested him in Lake Forest starting when the man was 16-years old, back in the 1980’s.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Levine’s most recent, and apparently final, performance at the festival was an Aug. 8 concert of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” with the CSO and Chorus.
The big question that remains after Levine was suspended from the Metropolitan Opera amid accusations of sexual abuse is: Why did it take so long for the company to act after it was informed by police that he had been accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy?
The Met was in crisis mode Monday after The New York Times published interviews with three men who said that Levine, 74, had sexually abused them when they were teenagers.
The opera company said after the report Sunday that it was suspending its relationship with Levine, its music director from 1976 through 2016. As music director emeritus, Levine was still conducting and had been scheduled to lead upcoming productions, including a planned New Year’s Eve gala featuring Puccini’s “Tosca.” He conducted Verdi’s “Requiem” Saturday — a live, global radio broadcast that could well prove to be his last Met appearance. The first report of the allegations, in the New York Post, was published not long after the performance.
Those quick actions of Metropolitan Opera and Ravinia cutting ties with Levine, however, came more than a year after a police detective in Illinois first reached out to the Met.
The detective from the department in Lake Forest, Illinois, first contacted the opera in October 2016 and said she was investigating an allegation made by a New York man, Ashok Pai, who reported that Levine sexually abused him in Illinois when he was 16.
The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said he briefed leaders on the opera company’s board about the investigation and also spoke to Levine, who denied the allegations. But at the time the Met took no action.
“The Met did not wish to interfere with the police investigation and thought it was the purview of the Illinois police department to follow through and question those who could corroborate (the) allegation,” the opera’s spokeswoman, Lee Abrahamian, said.
That police investigation slowed last fall, but the Lake County state’s attorney’s office spokeswoman, Cynthia Vargas, told The Associated Press on Monday that it was still active.
Possibly complicating the decision for the Met last year on whether to act against Levine was the fact that it had — for decades — been asked by reporters about persistent, unproven stories about his sexual habits and had always written them off as the product of an overactive rumor mill.
As part of its Sunday report on Levine, the Times unearthed a 1979 letter written by the Met’s executive director Anthony Bliss to a board member who had received an anonymous letter accusing Levine of misconduct.
“We do not believe there is any truth whatsoever to the charges,” Bliss wrote.
Bliss also suggested in his letter to John T. Connor that, perhaps, the allegations were driven by a vendetta against homosexuals.
“I do not believe that the existence of homosexuals within management, or for that matter on our Board, can be considered a cause for dismissal,” he said.
Levine himself addressed the rumors in The New York Times in 1987, recalling an old story that he had been arrested “in Pittsburgh or Hawaii or Dallas.”
“Both my friends and my enemies checked it out and to this day, I don’t have the faintest idea where those rumors came from or what purpose they served,” Levine said.
Levine addressed the stories again in 1998 when they were alluded to in German newspapers after he was named as music director at the Munich Philharmonic. He called them “such nonsense.”
An author, Johanna Fiedler, also wrote about the Levine rumors in a 2001 book, “Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera,” commenting that inside the company “the stories were dismissed as preposterous.”
“Everybody in the classical music business at least since the 1980s has talked about Levine as a sex abuser,” said Greg Sandow, a faculty member at the Juilliard School and a widely respected veteran music critic. “The investigation should have been done decades ago.”
Gelb said Levine will not be involved in any Met activities while a lawyer hired by the opera conducts “a full and complete investigation.”
Andrew Ousley, president of the New York-based firm Unison Media that specializes in classical music publicity and marketing, said any organization confronted with allegations like the ones made against Levine shouldn’t wait to act.
“I would always say, be out with it because in this era of social media and exposure that the internet offers, the truth will come out,” he said.
(CBS Chicago and The Associated Press contributed to this copy. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)