Ira Levin, Conductor, Pianist

Ira Levin is known internationally for the great versatility of his musical activities. He has conducted over 1200 performances of 75 operatic titles and is equally at home in concert, with a vast symphonic repertoire. He has worked with many of the world’s leading instrumentalists, singers and stage directors and conducted at important opera houses and orchestras worldwide. He is also an award-winning concert pianist and was the pupil and teaching assistant of the legendary Jorge Bolet at the Curtis Institute of Music. His over 40 publications include orchestrations of major works by Brahms, Liszt, Busoni, Franck, Reger, Rachmaninoff and Respighi, piano transcriptions and cadenzas to several Mozart concertos.

He was the principal guest conductor of the famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires from 2011-15, where he conducted 12 major opera productions, including the South American premieres of Enescu’s Oedipe, Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and Glanert’s Caligula. He was the Music and Artistic Director of the Theatro Municipal in Sao Paulo (2002-2005) and the Theatro National in Brasilia (2007-2010), the principal conductor of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf-Duisburg (1996-2002), the Bremen Opera (1988-1996), as well as the principal guest conductor of the Kassel Opera (1994-1998). He gave his triumphant New York debut in April 2017, conducting Respighi’s La campana sommersa at the New York City Opera.

He has recorded several CDs to great critical acclaim with the London Symphony, Scottish National Orchestra and the Norrlands Symphony Orchestra and of his own piano transcriptions.

Respighi La campana sommersa, New York City Opera (2017)

The conductor, Ira Levin, drew out the lush orchestral colors and vivid evocations — of prancing elves and such — that course through the work. (Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times, April 2, 2017)

The performance—led, confidently, by Ira Levin—had an unexpected intensity and commitment (Russell Platt in The New Yorker, April 3, 2017)

Much of the credit for the powerful impact of Friday night’s performance was due to Ira Levin, who conducted the combined NYCO Orchestra and Italy’s L’Orchestra del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari with lushness and maximum impact. Levin led the 70-player ensemble with technical assurance and astute attention to the composer’s contrasts. Though not always technically pristine, the playing was still assured and effective, with substantial solo flute and oboe contributions, and a magical sequence for solo harp.The musicians brought red-blooded sonority to the fore in the ecstatic Technicolor climaxes. (Bruce Hodges in New York Classical Review, April 1, 2017

The orchestra played this ornate score with easy virtuosity under the baton of conductor Ira Levin, managing to create a warm, enveloping sound. (James Jorden in The Observer, April 1, 2017)

A melding of orchestras, New York and Cagliari, under Ira Levin, made Respighi’s intricate, experimental sound seem bigger than it was without ever drowning the impressive clarity of the singers. It was, especially for an unfamiliar score on an opening night, a seamlessly well-ordered performance. One hopes the revived NYCO will build on such sure and fascinatingly unfamiliar foundations. (John Yohalem in Parterre, April 1, 2017)

Marschner Der Vampyr, Grand Théâtre de Genève (2016)

The American conductor, Ira Levin, impressed with a dramatic tension from the orchestra pit, with all of the balances well judged  (Julian Sykes in Le Temps, 20.11.2016)

The production of Der Vampyr by Marschner is a well-deserved success thanks to the care taken from the musical direction under the careful and musical baton of Ira Levin, with the Orchester de la Suisse Romande in excellent shape. (Jacques Schmitt in ResMusica, 23.11.2016)

In Geneva the romantic sonorous world of Heinrich Marschner emerged with the Suisse Romande sounding extraordinarily good under the direction of Ira Levin (Wilhelm Sinkovicz in Die Presse, 22.11.2016)

At the musical level, the great merit of the American conductor Ira Levin – in front of a superlative Orchester de la Suisse Romande and chorus of the Grand Theater of Geneva – was to maintain the dramatic tension of the work, with commitment and communicative fervor.
(Emmanuel Andrieu in Opera Online, November 27, 2016)

Under the direction of Ira Levin, the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande impressed with it’s enormous variety of nuances and dynamics in all registers, from the powerful bass to the piercing highs. Each desk contributed to this music full of disturbing effects but always with musicality, without artifice. A delightfully frightening and spectacular evening. (Charles Arden in Olyrix, November 22, 2016)

4 concerts with the Neue Philharmonie Westfalen, New Westphalian Philharmonic (2016)

With the orchestra completely under his command, Ira Levin led Beethoven’s Coriolan overture with an air of authority through both the turbulent and the melodic passages. With Mozart’s 17th concerto, he showed an ease of execution, tasting every phrase and ornament to the fullest with an opulence of tone. His direction from the piano with his left hand and eye contact with the orchestra was effective and absolutely right on. He is neither a piano playing conductor nor a conducting pianist, he is both united in one person, which was also shown by his bewitching performance of Chopin’s “Barcarolle” as an encore.  Haydn’s symphony Nr. 102, played with luminous power, was a grandiose end to the program. Levin conducted the entire program by memory and according the orchestra’s spokesman, rehearsed as well without using the scores at all. Blessed strokes of genius (Barbara Seppi in Westdeutsche Allgemein Zeitung February 29, 2016)

Two standing ovations are rarely experienced. What Ira Levin offered had to be seen as well as heard. After a powerful performance of Beethoven’s “Coriolan” overture he was both conductor and soloist in Mozart’s piano concerto K. 453. Highly cultivated, his playing fascinated with a natural mastery which was complimented by the tonal luster of the orchestra and a profound interplay ensued. His own cadenzas worked perfectly and he carried the orchestra with dynamic subtlety and a large dose of forward impulse. He received a standing ovation for his virtuosity in the first of two encores, Liszt’s “Wilde Jagd”. Haydn’s symphony Nr. 102 was played so temperamentally and electrifyingly under the sovereign conducting of Levin that the finale had to be repeated. (Rainer Ehmanns in Westdeutsche Allgemein Zeitung February 26, 2016)

Verdi: Don Carlos, Teatro Colón (2015)

This was just about the highlight of the the entire season, above all the performance of the orchestra, conducted with true authority by Ira Levin. His version found the exact expressive tone for every moment, whether refined or austere and harsh. His strong rhythmic sense always placed the orchestra where it should be, as a support to the singers and stage. (Jorge Araoz Badi in La Nacion September 22, 2016

 Massenet: Werther, Teatro Colón (2015)

“The hero of the evening was the conductor Ira Levin. The interest maintained by the fascinating melodicism of Massenet was scrupulously sustained in the orchestra under the hands of the conductor. Ira Levin achieved a special transparency and above all  contributed to create the indispensable sensual  climate while avoiding an overly sentimental approach as happens in so many versions” (Jorge Araoz Badi in La Nacion April 16, 2015)

Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Teatro Colón (2014)

“In the second part, Schumann’s Symphony in C major Op 61, the quality of the Philharmonic was remarkable, a very polished performance. It was an excellent performance by the principal guest conductor of the Colón, Ira Levin, showing great gestural precision for example in the difficult second movement, the Scherzo. In the first movement, where accuracy makes the difference, every character of the music was impressively imposed, as well as in the great symphonic discourse of the Adagio, which shined under his sober gestures and complete absorbtion in the music. From high to low, the orchestra sounded compact, bright, lyrical and expressive. An exquisite, poetic and personal Schumann.”  (Cecilia Scalasi in La Nacion July 16, 2014)

Detlev Glanert Caligula, American Premiere, Teatro Colón (2014)

” The music triumphant. Showing a mastery of composition, many of the instrumental ideas of Glanert are new and each one of it’s effects are clearly justified. This fact alone allows the conductor Ira Levin to become the most important interpreter of the work. The fluidity and clarity he drew from the orchestra, without the slightest exaggeration, made the music reach a high level of communicative tension.. The players of the orchestra demonstrated their merits in playing a work that demands unconventional resources. Their reading of the score was faultless and invariably maintained the quality throughout”. (Jorge Araoz Badi in La Nacion April 3, 2014)

Berlin debut with the Berlin Symphony in Berlin Philharmonic Hall (November 10, 2013)

“Ira Levin is an extremely versatile and powerful musician. He is equally a brilliant piano virtuoso, excellent conductor and masterful arranger. His orchestration of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica  impressed in it’s immense mastery of the sonic apparatus, from the most refined chamber music-like textures to the most overwhelming climaxes, and this was achieved with great conviction and flawless technique, actually rather unbelievable, considering the the short rehearsal time. Then followed Mozart’s 14th piano concerto, played freshly by Levin with stunning subtlety and clear structural awareness. What kind of sound does this man have, with a richness of color in which he weaved a magic spell without without ever sounding “romantic” or arbitrary! And he knows how to lead and communicate very well from the piano. The audience celebrated him and he offered two encores that were not less impressive. After the break, Schumann’s 4th Symphony  was compelling in it’s sensible phrasing, refined sonorities and natural sounding tempi. Those who were present will certainly want to hear this musician, who lives in Berlin, more often.” (Christoph Schlüren in The Listener, November 18, 2013

Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Teatro Colón (2013)

With a musician and director like Ira Levin, it is worth recording the refinement, brightness, plasticity, and above all, intense vitality that the orchestra exhibited. (Jorge Aráoz Badí in La Nacion, December 6, 2013)

R. Strauss Die Frau ohne Schatten, Teatro Colón (2013)

“Ira Levin, increasingly popular and in demand here from season to season, prepared the Estable Orchesta del Teatro Colón excellently for the difficult musical challenges of this work. He achieved with his conducting over the four evenings an increasingly growing success with the audience. On the last night there were standing ovations for him and the musicians before the third act. Levin, who already jumped in successfully at the last minute with this work at the Dresden Semper Opera in 2002, knows it, and Strauss and Wagner in general, very well and once again impressed with his soulful interpretation of the complex score. The purely symphonic and many dramatic moments were fully exploited,  the orchestra lightly controlled by a leash. It sounded at times voluptuous, just as you  imagine for this great masterpiece. However, in the more chamber music-like passages,  Levin’s music making also showed great refinement, bringing out the many and often subtle nuances, and he displayed great consideration for the singers. The applause for all participants increased from night to night, and the Colón closed this series with another highlight in it’s hitherto so impressive performance history of the “Frosch”. (Klaus Billand in Der neue Merker, June, 2013)

“Ira Levin does a brilliant job on the podium and the orchestra under his guidance played with subtly differentiated dynamics, solid in every section, and with the fluidity that the Straussian style demands. This 2013 version might be remembered in a few years’ time as one of the great opera productions of the century. Impeccable.” (Margarita Pollini in Ambito Financiero June 13, 2013)

“Conducting a work like Die Frau ohne Schatten is no easy task, and the work of Ira Levin and the orchestra was totally worthy of praise.  Balancing all of the various sonorities, his baton brought out the many nuances and subtleties of the score, ranging from overflowing orchestral intensity and exacerbated agitation to poignant lyricism and mysterious and dreamlike atmospheres. The various details were well controlled by Levin and the orchestra was in a state of grace, playing with great richness of expression, which, aided by the splendid acoustics of the Colón, created unforgettable moments like the ending of the second act, the wonderful solo passages for the cello and violin and the sublime ending of the opera”  (Joel Poblete in Orfeo International June 28, 2013)

“But the great protagonist of the evening was the orchestra, the great music of Strauss under the subtle and fluid conducting of Ira Levin.” (Federico Monjeau in El Clarin June 13, 2013)

“Every aspect of the virtuosic score was treated with respect by the conductor Ira Levin, who carefully maintained the necessary balance between the pit and the stage. He was greeted with well-deserved  enthusiastic and sustained applause when he gestured to the orchestra and cast.” (La Nacion June 15, 2013)

“The highest of interpretations, headed by the orchestra conducted with great rigor and musicality by Ira Levin.” (Diego Fischermann, Pagina 12 June 13, 2013)

Rachmaninoff Aleko and Francesca da Rimini, Teatro Colón (2013)

“Ira Levin has both as as conductor and pianist an abundant experience with Rachmaninoff’s music. With this knowledge it is easy for him to bring out the strengths of both works. His conducting is unusually flexible and he animated the Estable Orchestra to an astonishingly sensitive and plastic music making. The first fruits of his work as principal guest conductor in sensitizing the orchestra to a greater awareness of stylistic differences and sound quality were very much in evidence.” (Josef Oehrlein in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 7, 2013)

Enescu Oedipe, Teatro Colón (2012)

“It was scenically and musically a magisterial realization, an impeccable local premiere. Ira Levin was completely at home in Enescu’s dark impressionism and obtained a very high level with the orchestra of the Colón” (Federico Monjeau in Clarin May 30, 2012)

“A spectacular production from Fura del Baus. The musical aspect was no less successful. With a sharp focus on details, Ira Levin achieved a consistent and inspired realization of the score with the Estable orchestra.” (Pablo Gianera in La Nacion May 31, 2012)

Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Teatro Colón (2012)

“The Philharmonic and Levin reached the highest levels of excellence and of interpretation.The orchestra, very well conducted by Ira Levin, interacted with the violin soloist Akiko Suwanai on the same prominent plane of equality. Levin gave an intense, fitting and very expressive interpretation of Dvorak’s Sixth Symphony. To the delight of the audience the third movement was repeated as a prize.”      (Pablo Kohan in La Nacion June 9, 2012)

Colina Three Cabinets of Wonder with the London Symphony Orchestra (2011)

“This CD will, in every parameter under consideration, receive an unqualified rave from me. I was, in fact, left emotionally overwhelmed. Conductor Ira Levin does a masterful job and every detail of the orchestration is clearly audible in this superb recording. This CD is not only a must, but rises to the “desert island” level. Purchase it now!” (David DeBoor Canfield in Fanfare 2011)

“As this recording of concert works by Michael Colina featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ira Levin reveals, the composer is an eclectic painter of expansive and colorful sonic canvases, which Ira Levin and LSO play to the shimmering and vehement hilt.” (Donald Rosenberg in Gramophone 2011)

First stereo recording of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony in the 1899 edition (2010)

“The interpretation of Levin and the Symphony Orchestra of Norrlands Opera is excellent. To begin, it is meticulous in regards to the numerous indications in the score. There is not one questionable decision about the tempos, which Levin manages with intelligence, or the phrasing. The transparency of texture and perfectly calibrated dynamics are impacted from the first notes, everything is heard, each note as written. And this is not only attributable to the edition, but also the preparatory work as well as the minute analysis of the score. There is a great conviction behind the whole interpretation, both with the baton as well as the orchestra, which plays with a high level. It converts the recording into a vehement defense of the 1899 edition. Without a doubt this recording is one of the most interesting of the recent Bruckner panorama, a masterly reading of the Sixth Symphony on Lindoro.” (Miguel Ángel González Barrio in Diverdi, December 2010)

Wagner Tristan und Isolde and R. Strauss Die Frau ohne Schatten, Dresden Opera Festival (2002)

“Countless bravos and stormy ovations concluded the performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde…The real star of the evening was the Staatskapelle, giving the performance such urgent passion, such indomitable lust and magic glorification and thus gave the work it’s true breath of life. Ira Levin conducted this performance at very short notice, replacing Semyon Bychkov, and did so without rehearsals. This speaks for his sovereignty and strong nerves. The performance expressly underlined his high artistic level. Bravo!!” (Jens Daniel Schubert in Sächsische Zeitung, March 10, 2002)

“There is no doubt that this Die Frau ohne Schatten was the most sumptuous performance of this year’s Opera Festival in Dresden…  Ira Levin, who replaced the ill Marc Albrecht, was in full control of the orchestra..these were four and a half hours of great opera where time flew by…” (Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, March 25, 2002)