One thing we like best about Cincinnati is the richness of the arts scene – theater, symphony, opera, fine arts. Katja has always been an opera lover, as were her parents, and she has a certain pride that the Metropolitan Opera’s musical director is a Cincinnatian. She has met James Levine’s mother Helen and is always happy when she sees her at the symphony. Levine was born in Cincinnati in 1943 to a musical family. His maternal grandfather was a cantor in a local synagogue, and his father was a violinist and leader of a dance band. Levine began playing the piano as a young child and made his concert debut at age 10 as a soloist at a youth concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He studied music with Walter Levin, first violinist in the LaSalle Quartet, then took piano lessons with Rudolf Serkin. After graduating from Walnut Hills High School, he entered Juilliard in 1961 and graduated three years later.
Levine was assistant conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra in the late 1960’s and made his debut in 1970 as guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra at its summer home at Robin Hood Dell, a favorite destination of Katja’s parents. He debuted as guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in a 1971 performance of Tosca and became principal conductor in 1973. He has subsequently conducted over 2500 performances at the Met and has been awarded the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. When we go to New York, the first thing Katja wants to see is the Metropolitan Opera, and Ami always gets us tickets. Levine is also a distinguished pianist who has accompanied many of the great singers of our day. Under his leadership the Met orchestra and chorus have been recognized among the world’s finest, he has initiated yearly orchestra tours of Europe and Asia, and he began the PBS TV broadcasts of the Met. Katja has devoted Saturday afternoons to his Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts for years and years. James Levine is currently taking a break from conducting because of back surgery, requiring him to cancel a recent appearance at Cincinnati’s opera gala. We hope he’s back soon.