NYC's Metropolitan Opera suspends conductor James Levine

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In this July 7, 2006, file photo, Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra on its opening night performance at Tanglewood in Lenox., Mass.

NEW YORK – Conductor James Levine, the longtime Metropolitan Opera music director and periodic guest with the Philadelphia Orchestra,  was suspended from the opera company on Sunday night after three men accused him of sexual abuse when they were teenagers, according to the New York Times.

Levine’s first accuser, now middle-aged, contacted the police department in Lake Forest, Ill., in October 2016 to report that when he was younger than 18 he’d had sexual contact with the conductor. He said he was reaching out to police in Lake Forest because some of his encounters with Levine took place there in the mid-1980s. Levine was music director at the Ravinia Festival, outside Chicago, from 1973 to 1993.

After two other accusations emerged on Sunday, Met general manager Peter Gelb announced Levine’s suspension after consultation with the board. Though Levine officially retired from the Met in 2016 — and was succeeded by Philadelphia’s Yannick Nézet-Séguin  — he has continued to conduct at the Lincoln Center opera company and was scheduled to open a new production of Tosca on New Year’s Eve.

Details of the Lake Forest police report were published Saturday on the website of the New York Post. Met officials, however, said they learned of the police report last year. “This first came to the Met’s attention when the Illinois police investigation was opened in October 2016,” the Met said in a statement. “At the time, Mr. Levine said that the charges were completely false, and we relied upon the further investigation of the police.”

An email to Levine’s manager seeking comment on the accusations was not immediately returned.

Historically, Levine, 74, has long been one of the most beloved figures in the opera world. Besides being Metropolitan Opera’s music director from 1976 to 2016, he was a guest at the great opera festivals of Europe (including Salzburg and Bayreuth) and had a rich history with the Philadelphia Orchestra from his 1970 debut at the summertime Robin Hood Dell concerts through the mid-1990s. Music lovers still talk about Levine’s performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 3 at the Academy of Music. He also recorded the complete symphonies of Robert Schumann with the orchestra. He was informally courted at various times for the post of music director for the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Levine was scheduled to return to the orchestra in February 2016 but was still recovering from a series of illnesses and surgeries that had kept him sidelined for seasons at a time. The concert was one of the most in-demand tickets of the season, and had come about from the personal invitation of Philadelphia’s current music director Nézet-Séguin. “I thought, ‘If he’s back in health, why not give it a go?’ ” said Nézet-Séguin at the time. “I approached him personally and he was interested. … It’s a major thing for us.”

However, Levine canceled the concert, which was to include the Saint-Säens Symphony No. 3.

Rumors of misconduct have dogged Levine for decades, though without any concrete proof until recently. The accuser in Lake Forest, whose name is being withheld by the Associated Press, contacted reporters from several news organizations and posted a handful of items on social media accusing Levine of abusing him when he was young. The Lake Forest department assigned a detective who spent at least seven months investigating the allegations, according to a redacted copy of her written reports on the case.

The accuser, who at the time was hoping for a career in music, told police the conductor had invited him to audition for him in New York and then encouraged him to engage in sexual “experimentation.” He also said that his relationship with Levine extended well into adulthood and that the composer gave him money over the years when he was having financial problems, amounting to more than $50,000. The man told police he last spoke with Levine in 2014. At the time, he said, Levine said he wouldn’t send him money anymore.

The Associated Press does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent. In this case, the man asked that his name not be published.

The accusations against Levine, among the most prominent classical music conductors in the world, are the latest in a stream of sexual misconduct charges involving high-profile men in entertainment and the media that have rocked the nation since accusations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein were reported in October.

The Met said it has appointed Robert J. Cleary, a former U.S. attorney and the current head of the investigations practice at the Proskauer Rose law firm, to lead the investigation into Levine, the AP reported.

Inquirer writer David Patrick Stearns contributed to this article, which also contains information from Associated Press reporter Karen Matthews.