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BSO Knew In 2001 Of Rumors About James Levine But Saw 'No Cause For Concern'

Conductor James Levine at a dress rehearsal for "Tosca " at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009.  (Mary Altaffer / AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Conductor James Levine at a dress rehearsal for "Tosca " at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

In a statement issued Friday, the Boston Symphony Orchestra said it was aware of rumors about James Levine before hiring him as music director but that its "thorough vetting process in 2001 did not reveal any cause for concern."

The BSO said Tuesday it would not work with Levine again, after a New York Times report on allegations that he had sexually abused teenagers led the Metropolitan Opera to suspend its longtime conductor. In its two statements earlier this week, the Boston orchestra had not acknowledged knowing of the rumors before hiring Levine.

Levine himself commented Thursday for the first time on the allegations, calling them "unfounded" in a statement first reported by The New York Times.

“As understandably troubling as the accusations noted in recent press accounts are, they are unfounded,” Levine said in the written statement, issued Thursday night. “As anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor.”

The Times published accounts from three accusers who said Levine sexually abused them in incidents dating as far back as 1968. A fourth accuser later came forward.

One accuser had filed a police report  in Lake Forest, Illinois, but Illinois prosecutors said Friday that they had investigated the allegation and concluded "no criminal charges can be brought." A statement from the state's attorney's office said the decision rested on multiple factors, "including the relevant age of consent" in 1986 and 1987, the time of the alleged incidents.

The BSO's statement Sunday said that Levine had not conducted there since 2011; its Tuesday statement said Levine “will never be employed or contracted by the BSO at any time in the future.” These earlier statements also say that the orchestra "adhered to a due diligence process, including a personal and professional review of all aspects of James Levine's candidacy" before hiring him in 2001, and that that process "did not reveal cause for concern."

On Friday, the BSO elaborated on its pre-employment consideration of the rumors. The statement says managers knew "that the rumors were vetted by investigative reporters at some of this country's most prestigious news outlets, none of whom were able to substantiate any of the rumors." And it reiterated that it had "worked with a third party to adhere to due diligence, ... including a background check with a criminal screening and an analysis of any possible civil claims, as well as many conversations with music professionals across the country associated with Mr. Levine throughout his long career."

The Friday statement concludes: "Although the current allegations paint a different story about Mr. Levine, the BSO's thorough vetting process in 2001 did not reveal any cause for concern."

The Times asked for comment on Levine's statement Thursday from Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met. Gelb said, “It’s a sad state of affairs, but of course our investigation has to continue,” according to the Times.

Two of the accusers told the Times that they stood by their accounts.

“He is lying,” James Lestock told the Times in an email, the newspaper reports. “The examples of instigating sex with a minor, physical abuse using physical pain leading to break down crying, all happened. I will take a lie-detector test. Will he?”

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