Former Ravinia Music Director Accused Of Sexual Misconduct

James Levine, an acclaimed classical music conductor who served for years as the musical director of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, was suspended from that post Dec. 3 because of sexual misconduct allegations dating more than 30 years to his tenure as musical director of Ravinia Festival near Chicago.

James Levine
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
– James Levine

Forest Park, Ill., police received a report last year from a man who claimed he was 15 years old when Levine inappropriately touched him, leading to several years of alleged sexual abuse, by the man Ravina Festival recently created the position of Conductor Laureate to honor.

The New York Post first reported an unidentified man, who met Levine through the Ravinia festival, filed the report alleging the abuse that began with “incredibly sensual” hand-holding but escalated to incidents that brought the man to “the brink of suicide.” The New York Times later reported similar accounts from two other men.

“I began seeing a 41-year-old man when I was 15, without really understanding I was really ‘seeing’ him,” the Post reported the man said in a written statement to police. “It nearly destroyed my family and almost led me to suicide. I felt alone and afraid. He was trying to seduce me. I couldn’t see this. Now I can.”

The Post reported he said Levine gave him $50,000 in cash over the years.

The Associated Press and the Times identified the accuser as Ashok Pai, now 48.

According to the Times, Pai said he was sexually abused by Levine starting in the summer of 1986. Pai said he reached out to police in Lake Forest because some of his encounters with Levine took place there in the mid-1980s. Since the initial Post report, at least two other men have reported similar incidents.

Although the Metropolitan Opera was made aware of the 2016 police report, it did not act against Levine until the reports of additional alleged victims were made public Dec. 3.

“Based on these new reports, the Met has made the decision to act now, while we await the results of the investigation,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”

The Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802, responded to the allegations with a strongly worded statement Dec. 3.

“We are horrified and sickened by the recently reported allegations of sexual abuse by Mr. Levine,” Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi saidin the statement.  “The Metropolitan Opera has an obligation to all employees to provide a safe workplace free of sexual harassment and discrimination. 

“Throughout history, artists have stood for our society’s values and priorities. As musicians of the Met Orchestra, Local 802 and members of labor unions, we have the power to bring about positive change. It is incumbent upon our community to decisively and immediately denounce actions of abuse, assault and sexual harassment.”

Levine has yet to publicly respond to the claims, but a statement reportedly issued by the Metropolitan Opera says the famed conductor denies all charges.

Levine was a guest conductor at Ravinia Festival, which runs from June through September, from 1973 to 1993. In addition to being the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia hosts a variety of top shelf concerts in its 8,142-capacity amphitheatre and other venues.

The 2017 season included multiple dates with artists including Stevie Nicks, John Mellencamp, Santana, and the

Ravinia Festival hadn’t responded to the allegations against Levine by Dec. 3. According to its website, Levine was named in April to the newly created post of Conductor Laureate in April, “a title reserved for an exalted musician whose eminent leadership has formed and shaped an institution’s artistic quality over time,” according to a press release.

According to the statement, Levine is to conduct multiple programs during two-week annual residencies as part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s summer residency beginning in 2018.

“Every presenter strives to share the world’s greatest artists with their audiences, and this historic appointment is prime proof of Ravinia’s devotion to the music, the listeners, and to the man himself,” Ravinia Festival CEO Welz Kauffman said in a statement at the time. “Ravinia’s love of Levine has shone brightly for decades, and we’re thrilled that this exciting new Levine Residency demonstrates that the feeling is mutual.”

Levine, considered one of the worlds’ foremost maestros, also served seven years as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.