Press & Reviews
"Mostly, his account of the "Posthorn" achieved those qualities, thanks in great measure to the orchestra's beautifully tuned brass chords, elegant flute and oboe playing, and a string sound that blended an often velvety tone with precise, unified ornamentation. Even when the reading veered toward heaviness, in both minuets, Mr. Levine usually applied an unexpected balance or a thoughtful phrasing touch that effectively disarmed any objections."
— The New York Times, Allan Kozinn,
January 25, 2011
"The concert concluded with a rousing rendition of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. With scores like this one, which seasoned musicians could play backward in a coma, the challenge is always conveying a sense of excitement. Mr. Levine and the orchestra did so admirably here, tearing into the famous opening bars with determination and surging through the symphony with a blend of grittiness and tonal beauty."
— The New York Times, Vivian Schweitzer, January 25, 2010
"But the crazed Scherzo, played with reined-in zest and a beguiling grace in the gentler middle section, has seldom sounded so vibrant and, in a way, sensible. And Mr. Levine drew glowing sound and plangent lyricism from the great Met Orchestra in the Adagietto."
— The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, December 21, 2009
"This music is catnip to Mr. Gergiev, who had
the Met players magnify its growls and its grandeur.
If the Met musicians didn't produce the same level of ferocity that Mr. Gergiev's Kirov players did in recordings of the same repertory, they came close. They also did justice to Mussorgsky's (and his orchestrators') gentler and more introspective moments, like the misty vision of "The Old Castle" in "Pictures" or the delicacy of the "Lullaby" in the "Songs and Dances of Death."
— The New York Times, Allan Kozinn,
May 20, 2008
"My good opinion of the Chicago Symphony was clarified a few years ago in this same hall by way of the Bavarian Radio Symphony. Brahms by the Germans came at the listener in a thick wall of sound, dense with concentrated effort and natural musicality, and very moving. Hearing the Chicago a week later was like rolling up the shades and turning on the lights. Suddenly the minutest transactions inside were made clear. At no loss of power, in spirit or in decibels, music became transparent....A handful of American orchestras play this way; the Cleveland Orchestra, the Met Orchestra and the Boston Symphony are the others. No others in the world can."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, May 19, 2008
"I am running out of good things to say about the Met Orchestra and its music director, James Levine. If there is someone out there with a new repertory of complimentary adjectives suitable to this exquisite marriage of taste and heart, I would be glad to give way....People who play in opera orchestras work long hours and rarely act as happy as these musicians. Maybe it is the visibility: the chance to climb up from the pit, sit onstage and let audience members connect the face to the sound. Maybe it is simply the happiness of the orchestra's situation: loaded with individual talent, well paid and cared for and never seeming to tire of its music director."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, May 22, 2007
"It was probably just a coincidence of
scheduling that the Met Orchestra's concert
on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall followed the four-day visit by the Berlin Philharmonic. Whatever the case, the comparison reflected very well on the home team....The Berlin Philharmonic remains one of the glories of the symphonic world, and under Simon Rattle it seems newly energized. The musicians of the Met, who of late have been busy playing operas by Mozart, Verdi and, of all people, Franco Alfano, do not get to perform the symphonic repertory very often. But on Sunday, in a program of three early-20th-century masterpieces — Bartok's Suite from "The Miraculous Mandarin," Schoenberg's "Erwartung" and Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" — James Levine drew world-class performances from his devoted players that deftly balanced contrasting qualities: assured yet spontaneous, emphatic yet never driven, richly textured yet always lucid."
— The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, January 31, 2006
"Other passages sounded as if they would not be out of place in Debussy (although those gave way to rhythmically sharp, muscular stretches that Debussy would not have countenanced). There was even a touch of pure Romantic portamento in some of the string passages, certainly an odd but not unwelcome touch. Time was when the Variations for Orchestra would have received dutiful applause. This performance drew a standing ovation. Mr. Carter, who at 96 attends most of his New York performances, was on hand to acknowledge it."
— The New York Times, Allan Kozinn, January 25, 2005
"The Gershwin, on the other hand, is a love letter: full of rhythmic and metric surprise, with harmonies far in advance of the popular music of the day, interspersed with some weak passages, but always a work of inspiration and energy. A Met Orchestra that spends most of its life in a theater pit playing Verdi and Wagner adapted to Varèse and Gershwin with energy and sophistication."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, January 11, 2005
"Just when New York could use it, Haydn's ''Creation'' arrived on Sunday afternoon, reassuring us that chaos is banished, God is ascendant, and the world is in C major. This oratorio, a great hymn to the Enlightenment, took Europe by storm at the end of the 18th century; if its shining optimism has had more trouble penetrating the despondency of our own times, it seemed to reach a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall.....These Sunday afternoons with James Levine and the Met Orchestra have been of such extraordinary quality that one is tempted to use the word 'historic.'"
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, May 7, 2002
"That said, there is no substitute for cultivating
these repertory works over years of repeated
performances. This is why the Met Orchestra just gets better and better as it revisits scores like ''Le Nozze di Figaro'' and ''Die Meistersinger.'' It would be unfair to expect the players to triumph in a one-time attempt at the Mahler Sixth....But triumph they did. Without resorting to the pointless exercise of ranking major orchestras, one has to say that the Met Orchestra is absolutely on a par with the Cleveland. If anything, in terms of sheer technique, the playing had even more precision, though that surely reflects Mr. Dohnanyi's approach to music making, which highly values flexibility and refinement.....The stylistic understanding the Met players have gained from performing the operas of Wagner, Strauss and Berg so often greatly enriched their Mahler. The first movement, which begins with a relentless, driving A minor march, was gripping for the crunching rhythmic bite and textural clarity that Mr. Levine elicited. But when the second theme arrived, a subdued chorale for woodwinds, the players phased the wistful melody in one arching line, on one continuous breath. These are musicians who benefit from working every day with singers."
— The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, January 29, 2002
Shostakovich 4—Gergiev—"The orchestra gave this music an electrifying performance but also addressed the contrastingly nostalgic sections of the Moderato con moto and the Largo with real warmth and solidity."
— The New York Times, Allan Kozinn, December 5, 2000
"One of James Levine's goals in starting a series of concerts
for the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall was to showcase his
superb musicians in repertory that they would not get to perform otherwise. So what was the point, one might have asked, of beginning Sunday afternoon's concert with the Prelude to Wagner's ''Meistersinger,'' an opera the orchestra has played splendidly in recent seasons at the Met?..... It took about two measures of music to understand Mr. Levine's reasoning. Take those musicians out of the Met's pit and place them on the Carnegie Hall stage and their true achievement becomes gloriously clear. Carnegie Hall loves this orchestra's luminous sound. Mr. Levine conducted a spacious, stirring performance, and it was fun to watch the players give their all to the Prelude, knowing that, for once, they did not have to pace themselves for four more hours of Wagner."
— The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, November 9, 1999
"Something extra happens when the enormously skilled and dedicated musicians of the Metropolitan Opera's orchestra perform symphonic programs at Carnegie Hall, especially when they take on a piece like Brahms's Second Symphony, the main work in Sunday afternoon's concert, the last of the season, conducted by James Levine....Given the crunching schedule of a repertory opera house, these players don't otherwise get to perform a standard symphonic work like this one. The Met Orchestra threw itself into it with the kind of infectious involvement and sense of discovery that you usually encounter only with an orchestra of unjaded, eager conservatory students. The Brahms performance was a high point of the New York concert season."
— The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, May 4, 1999
"THE YEAR IN REVIEW: MUSIC; Yes, Jaws Dropped, and Hearts Beat Faster...1. LEVINE'S DVORAK -- The year's striking musical moments often came during events ostensibly about other things. James Levine's Met Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall in mid-November advertised Milton Babbitt's new piano concerto, but it was a performance of Dvorak's G major Symphony that made the jaw drop and the heart beat faster. Here was a locus of points: the sophistication of a big-time orchestra, the dead-on contact with late 19th-century style, and a simple sympathy with the dancing and singing of rural Central Europe."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, December 27, 1998
"The Met Orchestra under James Levine produced
two events of extraordinary interest at Carnegie
Hall on Sunday afternoon. They could not have been more different. One was the premiere of Milton Babbitt's Second Piano Concerto, the second a performance of the Dvorak G Major Symphony, the likes of which we may never hear again....The other happening of note was Dvorak. The Mozart, with its gently glowing string playing, hinted at what was to come. For orchestras of great virtuosity are not enough, as the New York Philharmonic at its worst so demonstrates. Heart and style are also not enough, as Friday's concert by the Dresden Staatskapelle in this same hall showed equally....Yet occasionally the two qualities merge, as they did in Dvorak's wonderful symphony. With Mr. Levine and his splendid players at work, soaring spirit and technical perfection created one of those seldom-in-a-lifetime experiences. I have been listening to orchestras for over 50 years and can scarcely recall anything like it."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, November 17, 1998
"But Berlioz's story depends also on color, on volume and on the drama of offstage instruments, and in these respects, too, it was a story vividly told. The ''March to the Scaffold'' had tremendously loud climaxes; the ball scene was finely spun -- a dream of a dance. There was a beautiful moment leading toward the main allegro of the first movement, with instrumental voices gently meshing, and there were excellent solos, whether raw (the English horn imitating a shepherd's pipe) or sophisticated (the principal clarinet, played superbly throughout the concert). A great bell, played from the wings in the finale, made a splendid noise."
— The New York Times, Paul Griffiths, February 24, 1998
"The overture of Rossini's ''Semiramide'' is hardly in that category. Yet, few orchestral performances this season have impressed me more than the Met Orchestra's rendering of this sprightly overture on Sunday afternoon. The players, clearly excited to be more visible and audible than they are in the Met's pit, played with a technical command and articulateness that was remarkable, even for them."
— The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, November 11, 1997
"The orchestra, which has proved so consistently impressive in its symphonic adventures, could hardly miss here, with a composer so attuned to its nightly concerns. The violins sang with all the fervor of the soloists; the cellos negotiated the perilous liftoff at the start of the Offertorium with aplomb; the brasses sustained focus as well as force through the "Tuba mirum."
— The New York Times, James Oestreich, December 10, 1996
"His approach to Mahler  was more characteristically broad and meditative. First and foremost, the interpretation offered great tonal beauty and an unerring balance of parts. The Met Orchestra loses very little in comparison to the Berlin Philharmonic, which recently filled Carnegie with its splendor. If anything, the Met's sound is more smooth, more blended, more on the Vienna model. Take particular note of the balance: the brass never blared out of place, the winds moved in and out of the foreground in complete accord with the score."
— The New York Times, Alex Ross, October 23, 1996
"The present lofty state of the orchestra is, after all, one of Mr. Levine's prime achievements in the house, and the players sounded every bit the fine symphonic ensemble they aspire to be in their odd moments."
— The New York Times, James Oestreich, April 23, 1996
"What an elegant creation this orchestra has become
under Mr. Levine. As usual there was a top-heavy
quality to the balances: extreme clarity and prominence among the winds and brass, and from the lower strings a more distant rumble. One evidence of the Met Orchestra's fineness is how precisely we notice the ambiguous intonation of winds against horns. It is a phenomenon natural to all modern orchestras, this coupling of tempered and natural tunings, but in less pristine circumstances we tend to overlook it (Mahler 6)."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, October 17, 1995
"Thomas Hampson and Ben Heppner were the singers, and the music was "Das Lied von der Erde," by Mahler. The adaptability of the Met Orchestra under Mr. Levine is striking. Lushly hedonistic in "Der Rosenkavalier" at Friday's Metropolitan Opera performance, here it showed a neurotic sensitivity that was subtlety itself. So fine is Mahler's aural imagination that much of this huge piece sounds like chamber music. And so it was played on Sunday."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, March 2, 1995
"The reading of "Don Quixote" that closed the concert was one of the finest orchestral performances I have heard in the last few seasons. It offered the staggering beauty of tone one is accustomed to hear from this ensemble night after night, and it went further into a rich emotional realm that often eludes modern-day Strauss interpreters."
— The New York Times, Alex Ross, January 24, 1995
"The Met performance also made clear how calculated delicacy serves Stravinsky's larger purpose. Organisms in nature share symmetries, and yet no two are alike. Fastidiously identified by Mr. Levine in this splendid performance, brass choirs, fragmented wind solos and shuddering string rhythms appeared out of the melee as fiercely independent entities, each with its individual size and shape and yet part of a larger biological function."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland, March 4, 1993
"As the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra emerges
more frequently from the theater pit and into
the relatively open air of the concert hall, it becomes evident that this is an orchestra not like others. Whether its distinction is due to the contained acoustical environment it is used to, to its accustomed role as vocal accompanist or simply to the sensibilities of its director, James Levine, there is a weightlessness to the sound, an extraordinary fineness and a marked lack of heft from its deeper elements."
— The New York Times, Bernard Holland,
May 12, 1992
"The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is far from just a pit band. Not only has it been led by such conductors as Toscanini, Walter, Szell, Bohm, Karajan and Reiner, but over the last decade James Levine has devoted to it almost as much time and attention as the old-fashioned music directors gave to symphony orchestras. Mr. Levine has made the ensemble a powerful instrument that can healthily exist away from the house."
— The New York Times, Edward Rothstein, May 7, 1992
"Still, in the epilogue of the "Immolation Scene" from Wagner's "Gotterdammerung" at the concert's end, with the full orchestra in full cry and Mr. Levine coaxing ecstatic arches of sound from his violins, the results were spectacular."
— The New York Times, John Rockwell, May 5, 1991.
"James Levine has made the Met orchestra second to none, and for Mr. Kleiber the string players seemed to find a hundred new delicacies of timbre and phrasing. One of many small miracles was the sound of the muted sting measures towards the end of Iago's Credo which are marked dolcissimo and ben legato, with phrasing and portomento slurs superimposed and syncopated accents. Internal balances were exact. Details emerged in perfect clarity. The playing was energetic, but had translucency, an avoidence of fatness, a let-the-singer-through quality that I missed when, a few days later Mr. Levine conducted "Die Entfuhrung".
— The New Yorker, Andrew Poter's review of "Othello", with Kleiber conducting, March 26, 1990