James Levine Biography

Pianist, Conductor (1943–)
James Levine is a renowned musician and conductor best known for his work as music director of the Metropolitan Opera.


James Levine was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 23, 1943. Levine studied piano and violin as a child, graduating from Julliard with credentials in conducting. He joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1971 and was named Music Director in 1976. In addition to his decades of renowned work at the Met, Levine has served as director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and has toured and taught widely.

Early Life

James Lawrence Levine was born on June 23, 1943, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Levine, who came from a musical family, studied the violin and piano as a child. At the age of 10, he made his solo debut during a youth concert at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Early Career

James Levine attended the Juilliard School in New York City, where he studied conducting. After graduating in 1964, he joined the American Conductors project, associated with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He apprenticed with George Szell at the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra and spent the remainder of the 1960s as an assistant conductor.

Metropolitan Opera

In June 1971, Levine made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, where he conducted a festival performance of Tosca. It was the beginning of a relationship that would span decades. Levine continued to work with the Met until his official appointment to the position of principal conductor in 1973. He advanced to the role of music director in 1976.

Levine's leadership helped to cement the reputation of the Met as one of the world's finest operatic ensembles. He implemented an international touring schedule that increased visibility of his orchestra and chorus worldwide. In 1983, he conducted the Met musicians in creating the score for the film version of La Traviata. Levine also appears opposite Mickey Mouse in the Disney film Fantasia 2000. During this time, Levine also continued to perform as a violinist and pianist.

Later Career

James Levine has shown an interest in developing young talent throughout his career. From 2000 to 2006, he led a student orchestra in Verbier, Switzerland. He also founded the successful Lindemann Young Artists Development Program at the Met and has conducted youth ensembles at Tanglewood.

In addition to his work with the Met, Levine has a longstanding relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 2004, he began a five-year stint as the music director for the BSO. Although the demands that Levine placed on the BSO finances and on its musicians were substantial, he has been credited with revitalizing the orchestra during his tenure as director. In 2011, facing health concerns and having reached the end of his contract, Levine withdrew from the BSO.

Health Problems

Levine ceased conducting the Met regularly in 2010 due to severe health problems, including sciatica. In 2011, he announced that he would cede principal conducting responsibilities to Fabio Luisi. Though Levine returned to conducting in May 2013, his scheduled professional activity has been limited. He now conducts from a wheelchair with two assistants by his side.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!