The Verbier Festival remembers its Conductor Laureate James Levine, who has passed away after a long illness.
James Levine first conducted at the Verbier Festival in 1999 when the Festival’s orchestra-in-residence was the Curtis Symphony Orchestra (Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia). Shortly thereafter, in 2000, the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra was formed with Levine as its first Music Director. Under his direction, the training orchestra attained international acclaim; hundreds of the orchestra’s members have gone on to prominent positions in leading symphonic orchestras all over the world.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. Here was this incredible musician, at the height of his career, willing to take a chance on a crazy dream of creating a top-level orchestra high up in the mountains,” recounts Verbier Festival Founder & Director, Martin Engstroem. “This was typical of Jimmy’s generous spirit and love of music. His vast knowledge of the orchestral repertoire made his rehearsals more than simply working sessions, but true orchestral masterclasses.”
Levine was also a fine pianist and often appeared with guest singers and soloists on the Verbier Festival’s Mainstage and with orchestra musicians in performances of chamber music. He performed in eight consecutive editions of the Verbier Festival starting in 1999 and made final appearance at the Festival in 2006 in an all-Beethoven evening highlighted by the glorious Ninth Symphony.
The conductor began a long relationship between the Verbier Festival and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, of which he was Music Director for more than 40 years. To this day, the Verbier Festival Orchestra welcomes the MET’s principal chairs to coach its musicians each summer.
In 2017, the Verbier Festival communicated its disappointment and sadness after learning of allegations of Levine’s sexual misconduct.