Ira Levin has conducted more than 1000 performances of over 60 operas. His hundreds of concert programs as a conductor and pianist have included most of the standard repertoire and many lesser-known works. He has worked with many internationally renowned conductors, instrumentalists, singers and stage directors.
He has performed with orchestras and at opera houses throughout the world. These include the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Frankfurt Museum Orchestra, the Düsseldorf Symphony, the Duisburg Philharmonic, the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz, the Badische Staatskapelle of Karlsruhe, the Bremen Philharmonic, the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra in Lisbon, the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony of Taiwan, the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, the Dublin Opera, the Montpellier Opera, the Norske Opera in Oslo, the Norrlands Opera in Sweden, the Cape Town Opera, and many others. He recorded a CD of works by the American composer Michael Colina with the London Symphony Orchestra in January of 2010, which appeared in 2011 on Fleur de Son/Naxos and received excellent reviews. A second CD with Levin and the LSO of works by Colina will appear in September 2012.
A Chicago native, he began piano lessons at the age 9 and entered the Northwestern University School of Music’s program at age 12. At age 17 he began his piano studies with the legendary Jorge Bolet at Indiana University, following him the next year to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he became Bolet’s teaching assistant as well. While at Curtis, he studied conducting with Max Rudolf, had chamber music coachings with Mischa Schneider and Felix Galimir and appeared in performances of Leonard Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety conducted by the composer.
Michael Gielen hired him in 1985 as an assistant conductor at the Frankfurt Opera, where he gave his debut in 1986 with Fidelio and remained until 1988. He then went on to become principal conductor at the Bremen Opera 1988-1996 and principal conductor at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Duesseldorf-Duisburg 1996-2002. From 1994 until 1998 he was principal guest conductor at the Kassel Opera. In addition to the major operas of Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, Strauss and others, he has conducted such rarities as Braunfels’ Die Vögel, Martin’s The Tempest, Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel, Busoni’s Arlecchino and the German premiere of Carl Nielsen’s Maskarade. He also conducted Richard Strauss’ complete Der Bürger als Edelmann at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in 2001, narrated by Sir Peter Ustinov
In March 2002 Ira Levin made his highly successful debut at the Semper Opera, during the Dresden Opera Festival, conducting Tristan und Isolde on a few hour’s notice with no rehearsal and to a glowing press. He was then invited back by the Semper Opera two days later to conduct Die Frau ohne Schatten under the same circumstances.
He was invited in 2001 to assume the post of music and artistic director of the Theatro Municipal and the Municipal Orchestra in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the first North American to head one of the most important opera houses in South America. He held this post from 2002 – 2005, bringing the Municipal and its orchestra national and international acclaim. He conducted the first Janacek opera in Brazil’s history, Jenufa, in 2004, and the Brazilian premieres of Janacek’s Missa Glagolitica, Shostakovich’s 4th Symphony, Mahler’s 10th Symphony (in the Cooke version), Sibelius’ Kullervo, Nielsen’s Symphonies No. 3 and 5, Schmitt’s Le Tragedie de Salome, Schoenberg’s Concerto for String Quartet, piano concertos by Corigliano and Jolivet and many other classic and modern works. In November of 2004 Ira Levin and the Municipal Orchestra of Sao Paulo won the coveted Carlos Gomes award for the best orchestra in Brazil. He was the music and artistic director of the National Theater of Brazil, in Brasilia, from 2007 – 2010, bringing the orchestra hugely diverse concert seasons and international attention as well as one of the largest didactic programs in South America, of which over 45,000 students from the public schools attended. He also took the orchestra on highly successful tours in Brazil and South Korea.
He was invited by the Symphony Orchestra of the Norrlands Opera in 2008 to conduct the first modern recording of the 1899 first edition of Bruckner’s 6th Symphony. It was released by the Spanish Lindoro label in April of 2009 and garnered rave reviews, including from some of the world’s leading Bruckner scholars. The world premiere recording of the 1892 first edition of Bruckner’s 2nd Symphony, with the same forces, will be released in 2012.
He made his extremely successful operatic debut at the fabled Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires with Lohengrin in September 2011, and was immediately invited back for the 2012 season to conduct the first-ever staged performances of Enescu’s Oedipe in the Americas. After the enormous critical and popular success of that, and the symphonic concerts he also conducted, he was invited yet again, this time to conduct three major opera productions at the Colon in 2013.
An award winning pianist, he won the first prize at the American Chopin Competition in 1980. He has performed throughout the United States, South America, and Europe. He continues to appear in recital and concert, often leading concertos from the keyboard as well. In 1991 he played Busoni’s monumental piano concerto in Lucerne.
An example of his versatility took place in October of 2007, when, after a world-renowned pianist cancelled at very short notice a performance of Brahms’ piano concerto No.2 in Brasilia, Levin played and conducted the work himself by memory. His CD of his own original transcriptions, Ira Levin Piano Transcriptions, was released by Lindoro in 2007 and was chosen by the prestigious magazine Revista Bravo! as the best classical CD of the year in Brazil.
The Finnish Edition Tilli will conclude publishing his complete transcriptions for piano in 2012. His orchestrations of Busoni’s colossal Fantasia Contrappuntistica and Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on BACH were published in 2011 by Edition Tilli and will be followed in 2012 by his orchestration of Cesar Franck’s piano quintet.