by Robert Sutherland, chief librarian
It has been an honour and privilege to have been able to work with Maestro Levine for the past twenty-four seasons. I still remember the first pre-season rehearsal of my first season at the Met - Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. Within minutes, intonation, blend, and line were noticeably improved. By the end of the first rehearsal, the piece sounded very good. By the end of the second rehearsal, it sounded great. Some time later, when it was performed in Carnegie Hall, it was amazing. The sound, blend, and ensemble playing were the technical foundation, allowing music to come alive during the season to come.
This was reinforced the following summer when we were recording. Maestro Levine has a gift for knowing exactly what to tweak, what to bring out, what can be improved in the time available and what cannot. Combined with a highly-developed understanding of the psychology of an orchestra and its members, he always achieved excellent results in a short period of time.
Another aspect of his musicianship that impressed me (and still impresses me!) is his amazing ability to conduct long lines of music and keep the feeling of movement regardless of how slow the tempo might be. My first experience of Parsifal, with Maestro Levine at the podium, was just that - the evening melted away like no time had passed at all. I have often wondered how a five and a half-hour opera could go by so quickly.
Perhaps his greatest gift, however, has been in his work with singers. Maestro Levine has an innate ability to know what a singer will do or sing next, and thus be able to accompany with the orchestra in such a way that the performance is seamless and the music flows. Watching him work with the Lindemann Young Artists has been both a treat and a revelation. He has a real genius for understanding where they are in their development, what repertoire best suits them, what repertoire is suitable for challenging them without causing damage, and how to make them sound better than they, perhaps, realized was possible.
There is no question in my mind that Maestro Levine is one of the greatest musicians of our time. The Levine Years at the Met have been a golden age and a gift to all of us who have been able to share them with him.
Robert (Bob) Sutherland