Boston Symphony management to industry: Reflect upon reports of sexual misconduct

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra management is calling for intensified efforts "to ensure sexual misconduct has no place in our industry," and is taking steps to review its own policies as well.

The written statement issued late Tuesday came in response to allegations that James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera's music director emeritus and the former BSO music director, sexually abused four young men at music schools in Illinois and Michigan beginning in the late 1960s.

Describing the allegations reported Sunday in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and other media as "horrific," the orchestra's management urged the classical music industry to seriously reflect upon the reports of sexual misconduct.

"The Boston Symphony Orchestra has not worked with James Levine since he stepped down as music director in 2011; he will never be employed or contracted by the BSO at any time in the future," the statement emphasized.

The orchestra's leadership asserted that the organization's programs and policies, including Tanglewood and the Boston Pops, meet "top industry standards on all issues of employee safety."

Nevertheless, the management is reviewing its standards "regarding workplace abuse and harassment issues to make certain they continue to meet and exceed the highest standards."

In 2018, the BSO plans to organize a symposium with human resource experts "who specialize in policy-making around these relevant issues to ensure the safest possible environment for all involved in our organization."

The management's second written statement since Sunday followed concerns voiced online in social media and in "The Slipped Disc," a widely read classical music blog, that Levine's various employers might have fallen short of maximum "due diligence" before hiring the maestro.

Speculation surrounding his personal life has swirled since the late 1970s, without specific evidence until this week.

Levine, 74, who now uses a wheelchair because of health issues, has declined to comment on the allegations. He has seen upcoming high-profile bookings canceled after accusers went public, identifying themselves and offering lurid accounts of his alleged transgressions.

- The Metropolitan Opera dismissed Levine from all future conducting assignments, including the New Year's Eve debut of a high-stakes new production of Puccini's "Tosca." It has also launched an independent investigation.

- The prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan canceled a February engagement for Levine to conduct its orchestra after the student council called for him to be replaced.

- The Ravinia Festival in Illinois terminated Levine's five-year contract to lead the Chicago Symphony there starting next summer as conductor laureate.

The BSO stressed that it has received no complaints about Levine during his tenure as music director from 2004 to 2011. He spent portions of five summers at Tanglewood, from 2005 through 2009. Police in Lenox and Stockbridge told The Eagle this week that they had received no allegations against the conductor.

In its statement, the orchestra management doubled down on its commitment "to a zero-tolerance policy towards anyone who exhibits inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Behavior by any employee of the BSO that runs counter to these core values would not be tolerated and would be met with the most serious consequences."

The BSO also asserted that, when it considered hiring Levine as music director, it pursued due diligence in line with its employee-hiring process through a third party, "including a background check with a criminal screening and an analysis of any possible civil claims, as well as numerous conversations with music professionals across the country associated with Mr. Levine throughout his long career."

The statement acknowledged that, "although the current allegations paint a different story about Mr. Levine, the BSO's vetting process in 2001 did not reveal cause for concern." Levine was hired in 2002 as music director designate, beginning his work in Boston two years later.

On Sunday, The New York Times and New York Post published articles on a Lake Forest, Ill., police report filed in 2016 by musician Ashok Pai, accusing Levine of molesting him in the late 1960s near the Ravinia Festival, where he was studying with the conductor.

The other accusers are bass player and professor Chris Brown, formerly with the St. Paul (Minn.) Chamber Orchestra; James Lestock, a cellist now living in North Carolina, and Albin Ifsich, a violinist with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, who accused Levine of abusing him beginning in 1968 at the Meadow Brook School of Music in Oakland, Mich.

Met Opera officials are responding to the cascade of accusations by e-mailing donors to assure them that "all appropriate actions" are being taken, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The opera house and its general manager, Peter Gelb, have been criticized for not investigating Levine right away after learning of the Illinois police inquiry last year.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.

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