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Levine allegations prompt BSO review of sex harassment policies

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press/file

James Levine, former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducting the BSO on opening night at Tanglewood in July 2006.

By Globe Staff 

The classical music world has been reeling since allegations of sexual misconduct by conductor James Levine surfaced over the weekend, setting off a wave of reactions from Chicago to New York to Boston.

On Sunday, New York’s Metropolitan Opera suspended Levine, its revered former music director, after reports of allegations that Levine had engaged in improper sexual activity with teenagers dating back to the 1960s. Four men have now come forward with allegations, and the Met, where Levine served as music director for four decades until 2016, has announced its own independent investigation.

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra, where Levine served as music director from 2004 to 2011, stated on Sunday that it had conducted a due-diligence process before hiring Levine for that position and that it had received no complaints about Levine during his time at the helm.

Because unproven rumors regarding Levine have trailed him for decades, observers have raised questions, on social media and elsewhere, about whether institutions that appointed the conductor to artistic leadership roles had truly exercised due diligence.

On Tuesday evening, the BSO issued a second statement to the Globe, offering more information about that hiring process:

“While considering hiring James Levine as music director, through a third party, the Boston Symphony Orchestra adhered to due diligence in line with its employee hiring process, 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 said. “Although the current allegations paint a different story about Mr. Levine, the BSO’s vetting process in 2001 did not reveal cause for concern.”

Referring to what it called “recent horrific allegations” in the media, the BSO stated that it “and the classical music industry must seriously reflect on this moment and determine ways to ensure sexual misconduct has no place in our industry. Though the Boston Symphony Orchestra (including Tanglewood and the Boston Pops, among other programs) meets top industry standards on all issues of employee safety, the orchestra is reviewing its policies regarding work place abuse and harassment issues to make certain they continue to meet and exceed the highest standards. . . . The BSO is committed 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.”

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The BSO reiterated that it has not worked with Levine since his tenure as music director ended in 2011 and said Levine “will never be employed or contracted by the BSO at any time in the future.”

The orchestra also announced an intention next year “to convene 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.”

It was not clear whether such a symposium would be open to the public. Through a spokesperson, the BSO declined further comment.


Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.