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    Metropolitan Opera terminates relationship with James Levine over ‘sexually abusive’ conduct

    James Levine had been music director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2011.
    Globe staff file/2010
    James Levine had been music director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2011.

    New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Mondayterminated its relationship with legendary conductor James Levine after an independent investigation found “credible evidence” that its music director emeritus had “engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met.”

    The opera company launched the investigation into Levine in December after three men accused him of sexual misconduct in The New York Times, allegations that stretch back to the late 1960s. Levine had previously served for four decades as music director at the Met. He was also music director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2011.

    In its statement Monday, the Met said the investigation “uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers, over whom Mr. Levine had authority. In light of these findings, the Met concludes that it would be inappropriate and impossible for Mr. Levine to continue to work at the Met.”

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    The opera company did not describe the nature of the alleged abuse.

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    The Met added that it had also fired Levine as artistic director of its young artists program.

    A Globe investigation recently found that as a young conductor working in Ohio in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Levine attracted a cult-like group of music students at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In interviews with the Globe, members of the group said Levine had exerted immense control over them, dictating many aspects of their lives and coercing them into individual and group sex acts.

    Levine’s dismissal comes as a number of high-profile figures in the arts have been disgraced in recent months following allegations of sexual misconduct. It also marks a dismal end to one of opera’s most celebrated careers: During his tenure at the Met, Levine was often credited with turning its orchestra into one of the world’s finest, amplifying their mutual renown through recordings, high-definition simulcasts in cinemas, and television programs.

    He also maintained a lengthy association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, serving as music director of the Ravinia Festival in Illinois for two decades, and he was chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic from 1999 to 2004.

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    Levine, who has long suffered physical ailments, became music director emeritus at the Met in 2016. Last month the company announced that Yannick Nézet-Séguin will assume the role of music director next season, two years earlier than originally planned.

    After the allegations surfaced against Levine in December, the BSO stated that it had conducted a due-diligence process before hiring him as music director and that it was unaware of any allegations of sexual impropriety against him during his seven-year tenure here. It added that it had not worked with him since 2011 and that it was “reviewing its policies regarding work place abuse and harassment issues to make certain they continue to meet and exceed the highest standards.”

    Reached on Monday, a BSO spokesperson stated that “the BSO continues to find the recent reports about sexual misconduct against James Levine deeply disturbing” and that Levine “will never be employed or contracted by the BSO at any time in the future.”

    Levine, 74, has previously denied the charges, calling them “unfounded.”

    “As anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor,” he said in an earlier statement.

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    Rumors of alleged sexual improprieties had hounded the conductor for decades. The Met suspended Levine in December after three men stepped forward in The New York Times to accuse him of sexual misconduct. A fourth accuser emerged soon afterward.

    ‘In light of these findings, the Met concludes that it would be inappropriate and impossible for Mr. Levine to continue to work at the Met.’

    Two of those accusers — Albin Ifsich and James Lestock — were part of an insular group of students Levine led while working as a conductor in Cleveland. The men told the Globe that in addition to coercing them into sex acts, Levine could be psychologically controlling and physically abusive.

    Ifsich said that he was 20 when Levine initiated sexual contact with him and that Levine told him sex would enhance his musicianship.

    “I thought it was sex for my improvement, sex to make things better,” Ifsich told the Globe. “Obviously that’s not what it was, but we were led to believe that.”

    Lestock, who said he was a 17-year-old cello student when he first had sexual contact with Levine, said the conductor once turned physically abusive while trying to get him to expand his emotional range.

    “He asked me to take my clothes off and he started pinching me,” said Lestock, who added that he began to cry.

    “The emotional and physical pain got so great — I didn’t know why he was hurting me.”

    The Met investigation, which was led by former US attorney Robert J. Cleary and lasted more than three months, included interviews with more than 70 people.

    On Monday, the opera company sought to dispel any notion that it may have abetted Levine’s alleged behavior: “The investigation also found that any claims or rumors that members of the Met’s management or its Board of Directors engaged in a cover-up of information relating to these issues are completely unsubstantiated,” the Met said in its statement.

    Upon learning of Levine’s dismissal, Ifsich, who played for years in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, compared Levine to Darth Vader, saying he was a talented musician who’d gone to the “dark side.”

    “I see this as a tragedy,” said Ifsich. “I feel a justice has been served.”

    Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay. Kay Lazar of the Globe staff contributed to this report.