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Metropolitan Opera suspends James Levine, while BSO says it had no complaints of sexual impropriety by him as music director

Michele McDonald/Globe staff/file

James Levine in the BSO library in 2009.

By Globe Staff 

James Levine, former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, was suspended by the Met late Sunday after three men accused the famed conductor of initiating sexual activity with them when they were teenagers.

The allegations, which began surfacing in news reports over the weekend, stretch back as far as the 1960s.

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Earlier on Sunday, the BSO said it had never been made aware of any allegations of sexual impropriety against the conductor during his seven-year span as BSO music director. “During Mr. Levine’s tenure with the BSO, 2004-2011, the Boston Symphony Orchestra management was never approached by anyone in connection with inappropriate behavior by James Levine,” the BSO said in a statement to the Globe. “The BSO finds this information deeply disturbing and awaits the findings of further investigations on the matter.”

After serving as the Met’s music director for four decades, Levine, now 74, became its music director emeritus last year.

“We are suspending our relationship with James Levine, pending an investigation, following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Levine that took place from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, including the earlier part of his conducting career at the Met,” said Peter Gelb, general manager for the Met, in a statement. “Mr. Levine will not be involved in any Met activities, including conducting scheduled performances at the Met this season.”

The Met noted that Gelb’s actions are “fully supported by the leadership of the Met Board and its Executive Committee.”

“While we await the results of the investigation, based on these new news reports, the Met has made the decision to act now,” said Gelb. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”

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The Met suspension came after the New York Post published an article over the weekend detailing a 2016 police report by the Lake Forest, Ill., Police Department in which a man alleged that Levine began sexually molesting him when he was a teenager in Illinois in the 1980s.

On Sunday, The New York Times identified the man as Ashok Pai in an article that also included allegations by two other men: Chris Brown, a bass player who said Levine fondled him when he was 17 at Michigan’s Meadow Brook School of Music in 1968,and James Lestock, who said Levine initiated sexual contact with him that same summer when, at 17, he was studying cello at the school. Levine, then 25, was a member of the summer program’s faculty that year.

According to the Post, the man later identified as Pai alleged to police that he was 15 when Levine first held his hand “in a prolonged and incredibly sensual way,” later fondling him sexually at around age 16 in an alleged cycle of abuse that lasted for years and nearly drove him to suicide. In Illinois, the age of consent is 17.

According to the report, the alleged fondling began at an inn near the Ravinia Festival in Illinois, where Levine was music director for two decades. Levine returned to conduct at Ravinia in 2016.

Levine’s manager did not respond to requests for comment.

Pai reportedly shared his allegations with a former board member of the Metropolitan Opera. Gelb confirmed Saturday that the Met was made aware of the allegations in 2016.

“At the time, Mr. Levine said that the charges were completely false, and we relied upon the further investigation of the police,” Gelb said in a statement to the Globe prior to Levine’s suspension. “We need to determine if these charges are true and, if they are, take appropriate action. We’ll now be conducting our own investigation with outside resources.”

Reached Sunday after the initial allegations were made public, the BSO stated that it first learned of the allegations against Levine on Saturday. The BSO said Levine has not conducted the orchestra since January 2011, and he “is not scheduled to conduct the orchestra at any time in the future.”

The union that represents Met orchestra musicians also registered its alarm on Sunday. “We are horrified and sickened by the recently reported allegations of sexual abuse by Mr. Levine,” the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 AFM, said in a statement. “The Metropolitan Opera has an obligation to all employees to provide a safe workplace free of sexual harassment and discrimination. . . . It is incumbent upon our community to decisively and immediately denounce actions of abuse, assault, and sexual harassment.”

When asked whether the BSO was investigating Levine’s tenure in Boston, a spokesperson for the BSO said the symphony was not currently conducting a review.

“The Boston Symphony Orchestra adhered to a due diligence process, including a personal and professional review of all aspects of James Levine’s candidacy prior to his appointment as music director in 2004, and decided to move ahead with his appointment,” said the statement.

Reached by phone on Sunday, one longtime member of the BSO said that he never witnessed anything untoward regarding Levine. “I don’t know of any incidents while [Levine] was music director of the BSO,” said the orchestra member, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions. “I never ever saw him do anything with anybody.”

In its statement, the BSO said it “is committed to a zero tolerance policy towards anyone who exhibits sexual harassment behavior in the workplace. All of us at the BSO remain vigilant in our commitment to fight against all types of inappropriate and offensive behavior, and to continue the essential work of creating a safe and supportive work environment. Behavior by any employee of the BSO that runs counter to these core values and beliefs would not be tolerated and would be met with the most serious consequences.”


Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay