Press 2

MAHLER  Symphony #3

 Mahler in the passionate conducting of Ira Levin.

“One is proud to listen to the Municipal Orchestra playing such a complex work as Mahler’s Symphony # 3. Maestro Ira Levin proved to have the most rare attribute: the ability to clearly sustain the enormous arch from the initial movement until the end. This quality made his rendering of last Friday very logical and persuasive. The rigorous sonata form from the first movement was very well defined. The rendering of the Menuetto was very sensitive and the Scherzo, with its horn solo, was full of vitality… But the highest point of the concert was the splendorous way in which the Municipal Orchestra played the final Adagio…Ira Levin conducted it in a passionate way, leading the execution to a fantastic climax in the vibrating and sensual coda. ….. what remains is the pride of witnessing the OSM facing a complex work like this in such great form.” (O Estado de Sao Paulo, September 14, 2003)


Orchestra and singers were the high points…

“The orchestra was the star in last Friday’s premiere at Theatro Municipal. Its instrumental sections were well balanced through the richly colored designs of Strauss’ score. The brass gave a nice performance and Ira Levin showed a judicious sense of the musical line conducting the opera Gabriel Faure referred to as “a tone poem with obligato voices”.

Not only in the Dance of the Seven Veils but also in passages like Jokannaan’s return to prison, the orchestra demonstrated itself to be in great shape besides providing a secure and not intrusive support to the good singing throughout… the quality of the musical performance balancing the scenic equivocations.” (O Estado de São Paulo, October 29, 2003)

 MAHLER Symphony #2

 “The interpretation of Mahler’s Symphony nº2 in C minor, which opened the Theatro Municipal’s Season last Sunday, was marked by a meticulous preparation of each orchestral group through an analytical vision of the work which, however, never lost the broad sense of form. Maestro Ira Levin achieved an excellent artistic result from both orchestra and chorus in this large piece that begins with a funeral march and culminates in the statement: What you have conquered will bear you to God. The building of the long initial Allegro maestoso was very clear…Levin made a judicious choice of the many tempi, balancing them in a logical and consistent manner without rushing but keeping the tension throughout.

In contrast to the first movement, he brought a delicate rendering of the Andante moderato with its accent of Viennese ländler…The chorus had a remarkable participation in the last movement with its long instrumental introduction whose parts were carefully built by Mr. Levin who proved a great sense of dramatic pace. Following Mahler’s express instructions, Maestro Levin kept the chorus seated when singing the moving a cappella enunciation: Arise, yes, you will arise from the dead…asking the singers to stand only to the exulting final luminous affirmation.” (O Estado de São Paulo,March 16, 2004)


 “The conducting of Mr. Levin in the first two concerts of the Brahms cycle was marked by an extreme care with all the details of the scores, respecting its tempi oscillations as well as the clarity of the inner voices achieved by the transparent treatment given to the orchestral fabric. Levin showed a vigorous conception of the overtures: the Academic Festival, opus 80 overflowed with joy and exuberantly presented the themes from German student songs.

On the other hand, the Tragic Overture, opus 81 offered a remarkably dramatic contrast between its central episode and the external declamatory sections…It was in Symphonies 1 and 4 in which the Municipal Orchestra demonstrated its maturity. Both renderings showed an orchestra conscious of its potential and able to respond to all the details of Mr. Levin’s meticulous reading, always attentive to details that are rarely observed. An example of the above was his organized view of Symphony nº1, clearly unfolding it´s structure and details while playing with dynamic contrasts, Levin led it to an effervescent coda with an extremely dramatic pace. The ability to balance all the complex contrapuntal lines, control rubati, judiciously explore the dynamic nuances and easily assimilate the composer´s technical hurdles were some of the challenges to which the Municipal Orchestra responded with security, always prepared to react to it´s conductor´s demands. To summarize, the Municipal Orchestra and Ira Levin showed themselves to be fully prepared for such an ambitious artistic marathon”. (O Estado de São Paulo, May 28, 2004)


 The passionate vision showed by Ira Levin as soloist in Brahms´ Piano Concerto nº1, opus15

This was the highlight of the second part of Theatro Municipal’s Brahms Cycle. The simple presence of Maestro Levin on stage, even as a pianist, is enough to make us feel a different energy in his orchestra. Carefully working the passages of the initial Maestoso, stating the second main theme (poco più moderato) with great elegance and attacking the dialogues between piano and orchestra with a vigorous touch, Mr. Levin successfully built the long first movement. His reading of the Adagio had plenty of delicacy and solemnity, in agreement with the tradition that takes this movement as a posthumous tribute paid by Brahms to his friend Schumann. The final Allegro ma non troppo was full of imagination in both it´s cheerful and introspective moments. The pianist showed an extremely brilliant technique throughout. It was a performance which deserved the electrifying applause through which the audience manifested its excitement at the end of the concert”. (O Estado de São Paulo, June 4, 2004)


 “The mere inclusion of Schoenberg’s Concerto for String Quartet in B flat – as far as I known performed for the first time in Brazil– made the Municipal Orchestra’s subscription concert last Sunday a very special occasion. The rendering given by the Municipal String Quartet to this meeting between baroque and modern music (the work is a free adaptation of Haendel’s Concerto Grosso opus 6, nº 7) was admirable and extrovert. From the opening Largo/Allegro to the exuberant Hornpipe…the technical difficulties become more and more evident at every measure but were all brilliantly overcame by the quartet, enthusiastically supported by the conducting of Ira Levin.To play Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra well (as the Municipal Symphony did) is to pass a test of fire represented by one of the most incredible pieces from the 20th century orchestral literature. One at a time, all the sections are employed whether in the development of two ideas built in the Introduzione or in the game of the winds in the second movement or even in the opposition between the delicacy of a folk theme and the truculence of the Shostakovich quotation in the Intermezzo Interrotto. And we cannot forget the moto perpetuo of the finale to which Mr. Levin gave a vertiginous speed. The work is a challenge for all the musicians, inviting them to display their soloistic potential. The dark, introverted night music of the Elegy brings back – in its poco agitato passage – a theme heard in the introduction, the cultivated interpretation of this movement was probably the most satisfactory moment of the whole concert. The program opened with Brahms’ Variation on a Theme by Haydn; a wonderful addition to the composer’s cycle offered to us by OSM a few weeks ago. Here too the reading was of the highest quality whether in the vivacity presented by variations 5 and 6 and in the melodic enchantment of 4 and 7. The majestic closing passacaglia was played by Ira Levin and OSM with fantastic energy”. (O Estado de São Paulo, July 23, 2004)


Conducted by Ira Levin, this week’s concert excited the audience

The huge and vibrating sonority of his cello combined with the expressive but sober interpretation of Antonio Meneses offered a highly mature reading of Dvorak’s B minor Concerto, opus 104 last Sunday at Theatro Municipal.

The players were carefully and enthusiastically conducted by Ira Levin and interacted movingly with the soloist in all the crucial moments of the piece: the dialogue between flute and cello in the second part of the initial Allegro, in the woodwinds comments on the soloist’s cantilena from the Adagio non troppo and in the musical games played by the first violin and the cello soloist in the final subject of the Allegro moderato. The varieties of instrumental color and rhythmic combinations as well as the melodic invention make the Bachianas Brasileiras nº2 one of the most successful works of the whole cycle and a summit in Villa-Lobos production. The irresistible lyricism present in Canto do Capadócio or in Canto da Nossa Terra, the dance impulse in Lembrança do Sertão, the sensual effects obtained by the inspired orchestrator from the saxophone or from the trombone were all stressed by the vibrating approach of Ira Levin. The Municipal Orchestra, with its delicious virtuosity, presented its final closing toccata (Trenzinho do Caipira), full of imitative effects, with all the ingredients and naïve charm that enchant the audience.

Bachianas nº2 is seldom found in our concert programs which is an additional reason one must have to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to it again live.Through its orchestral opulence and kaleidoscopic rhythmic variety, Ravel’s choreographic poem La Valse is the kind of music which matches very well with Villa-Lobos. This work, whose elegance and (at the same time) vigorous textures never fails to enthuse, received an exciting performance leading to a culminating point of a concert which developed gradually both in the vigor of the realization and in the audience’s response. (O Estado de São Paulo September 18, 2004)


 The concert of the Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira at the Theatro Municipal last Saturday was completely sold out. The first work on the program, conducted by the celebrated maestro Ira Levin, was Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras#7 and the excellent performance was intensely applauded by the audience. Needless to say, the following Grieg Piano Concerto was played at the highest level by Nelson Freire…..The Franck Symphony in d-minor is very French, very clear and melodious and rich in it’s harmonies and orchestration. All of these elements were devotedly realized by the musicians of the OSB. The conducting of Ira Levin was vibrant and enthusiastic and maintained the very highest level of playing throughout. (Heitor Churchill in Movimento October 14, 2004)

 BRUCKNER Symphony # 5

 The Municipal Orchestra did a surprisingly good job playing the most difficult work of the composer

The symphony obtained from the OSM not only a vigorous and sound interpretation of the inter-related three themes from which the Allegro is made but also a serene (although not deprived from inner tension) rendering of the Adagio, rich in variations and canonic imitations. Here, as well as in the Scherzo molto vivace, Ira Levin managed to keep the tension throughout, not allowing it to dissipate in such a long and intricate piece. Yet it was in the Finale that the orchestra found its most persuasive accents. The way Mr. Levin built the chorale leading to the coda, a climax of grandiose sonority, constituted a landmark in the history of the Municipal Orchestra”. (O Estado de São Paulo, October 26, 2004)


Conductor obtains a performance of excellent level from the Municipal Orchestra

…But, most of all, this Lohengrin production was a triumph for conductor Ira Levin who from the first chords of the Prelude, with its magical divided strings, managed to capture and hold the audience’s attention. Levin obtained a performance of excellent level from the OSM, in fact one of the most convincing given during the present administrations’ term, and gave a tense, fluent dramatic rhythm to the performance. We are not only talking about succeeding well in the more obvious instrumental passages, like the exuberant Prelude to Act III, but most of all to have understood the narrative function of the orchestral commentary and to give an organic reading to the work. Working very carefully with  all the nuances of this opera, Levin and the OSM, together with the wonderful cast and the sensitive and responsible scenic direction, honored a title which São Paulo has not heard for 64 years. (Lauro Machado Coelho in O Estado de São Paulo, November 24, 2004)


 …I have been known to criticise Ira Levin notwithstanding his apparent qualities and being as well one of the best pianists I have ever heard. I have complained about his tempestuous energy and sound sometimes covering the singers’ voices. However, I have attentively followed his career and I do not hesitate to state that yesterday’s “Lohengrin” must have been his most perfect rendering of an opera and I believe no one could have done it better. The American Ira Levin made our orchestra sound like the Berlin Philharmonic. The Municipal Orchestra played splendidly and the tempi were as correct as what Wagner must have imagined when he wrote the opera. It is commonplace to say that Wagner is difficult to listen to. It is music for initiated audiences which are able to understand the accumulation of the many motifs he used in his music. Maestro Levin managed the miracle of bringing all those motifs together in a clear and coherent manner, giving the audience an orgiastic and unforgettable ecstasy. Bravi, conductor and players from the Municipal Orchestra! (Edson Lima in Movimento November 18, 2004.)


 19.11.2004 – In October of 2003, we reported about the first performance of Jenufa in Brazil, under the musical direction of Ira Levin, who has continued his policy of new and unconventional programming in São Paulo.

With a new staging of Lohengrin, he offered a work that was last heard 64 years ago in São Paulo. That not only calls for a certain amount of courage, but also a good orchestra. And, it was exactly that which contributed to the most impressive success which we witnessed. The great growth of the orchestra, which we heard at the Jenufa performance in 2003, has continued and Levin’s hard and consequent work has created an impressive Wagnerian sound-body. He moulded the work perfectly, concentratedly and certain, throughout the evening, and led the singers well. The ensemble between orchestra and stage was excellent. With all of this, one should bear in mind that there is no Wagner tradition here. (Klaus Billand in Der Neue Merker, Vienna– Austria


Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP)

  “Penthesilea” / I. Act “Walkuere” in concert 15.4.2006 – Ira Levin and OSESP made clear this evening the strong connection between Hugo Wolf and Richard Wagner. After such a performance, it remains a mystery why Wolf’s symphonic poem Penthesilea is not heard in the great concert halls more often. With a clear technique and intense concentration, Levin was able to achieve both great tension and transparency of the thick textures throughout the long work. At times, there was a chamber music-like finesse of great tenderness, floating strings and excellent harp playing contributing to the effect. The vehemence of the final section was projected in its full force, up to the final, transfigured f-minor chord. A great ovation from the public ensued for this unknown work!

 For the second part, Levin was joined by the excellent, internationally celebrated singers Violetta Urmana, Stephen Gould and Stephen Bronk, for the first act of Wagner’s Die Walkuere. Levin concentrated on the psychological aspects of the score, which he was able to communicate through transparent music making an clear delineation of the many solo entrances of the orchestra, for instance of the cellos when the Waelsung motive is first heard. He was able to achieve a convincing building of the tension from the first, tentative meeting of Siegmund and Sieglinde to the powerful moment of the taking of the sword from the tree.

 It is not easy, especially in this act, perhaps the most moving of the entire Ring, to project all the various emotions through the music only, without the support of the staging. Ira Levin managed to do just that with his sensitive conducting of the exceptional orchestra and singers and showed once again the high level of his competence in Wagner (Klaus Billand in Der Neue Merker, Vienna

 A Wagner full of subtleties and drama

The conducting of Ira Levin, in front of the State Orchestra, revealed the genius of the Die Walkuere score. The vocal soloists demonstrated a great variety of expression

The only extended orchestral piece of its author, the symphonic poem Penthesilea, by Hugo Wolf, occupies an outstanding position in the history of its genre.

The first Brazilian performance of this brilliantly disturbing work was performed by Ira Levin in the concert he conducted, on Thursday, at Sala São Paulo, as a guest of São Paulo State Orchestra (OSESP). Transparency is the word that adequately describes the way Levin tackled the dangerously dense writing of this score, managing to make its orchestral textures sound extremely clear, to the point that it was perfectly possible to hear an instrument like the harp through the more massive passages of Aufbruch der Amazon nach Troja or the violent Kämpfe, Leidenschaft, Wahsinn, Vernichtung that evokes Achilles destruction by Penthesilea’s hounds. Contrasting with these tragic sections, there was intense poetry in Der Traum Penthesileas vom Rosenfest, with its refined chromatic harmonies of clear Tristanesque origin, in which the strings glared with flaming sensuality. After these savage explosions, Levin led the piece to a conclusion of extreme suavity. The Brazilian premiere of Wolf’s symphonic poem was a welcome introduction to the evening’s greatest attraction, the concert form presentation of act 1 of Die Walküre – which confirmed Levin as an authoritative interpreter of Wagnerian music. The OSESP responded spectacularly to the conductor’s suggestions, emphasizing every inflexion of a narrative which has in the orchestra one of its main characters. Levin knew how to hold the dynamics in check, never covering the singer’s voices. But, every time it was possible, he unleashed the orchestral forces in a most exuberant way, creating thrilling moments – as when Notung, the sword, is taken away from the oak’s trunk; or in the sensual final celebration, by brother and sister, of their newly-found love. In addition he gave the strings, especially the cello section during the first scene, a radiant glow, when Siegmund and Sieglinde feel their mutual attraction, and made the brasses sound glorious when the hero sees, in the oak, the sword his father promised to leave there for him. The quality of the conducting was matched by the high level of the singing. Stephen Bronk was a surprising good Hunding…….Stephen Gould, owner of an equally huge voice, has a beautiful somber tone…..The soprano, Violeta Urmana, offered a marvelous interpretation of Sieglinde……………The orchestra, the conducting, the soloists, everything was united, in Hugo Wolf as well as in Wagner, to show OSESP in one of its greatest moments. It was a concert that will not easily be forgotten. (Lauro Machado Coelho in Estado de São Paulo 17.4. 2006)

 PORGY AND BESS in South Africa

With the Cape Town Opera,Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and Voice of the Nation Chorus. Artscape Opera 21 –30 September.

The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra gave one of its most memorable performances in quite a while. Conductor Ira Levin did a sterling job of steering the orchestra through a quagmire of complex rhythms. (Carl Fourie in Die Burger 23. 9 2006) 

 The orchestra, conducted by Ira Levin, and singers all succeeded in conveying the very difficult music directly and sincerely. (Matildie Thom in The Argus – 24 September 2006)

Gershwin’s evocation of “original negro folk music” produced a richly evocative score, heavily reliant on the Spiritual as well as secular blues traditions. The score is an extremely taxing one, and conductor Levin’s careful preparation was evident in a well-executed accompaniment, crafted to demonstrate as much the lyrical, even elegiac, episodes in the score as the  jazzy.  The only criticism is perhaps that the bigger numbers lacked the necessary brassy oomph. (Deon Irish Cape Times – 27.9 2006)

 Orchestra of Brasilia at Campos de Jordao festival

Levin manages everything with elegance. In a memorable presentation, the Orchestra of the National Theater displayed an exact sense of style in Campos do Jordao.

The orchestra of the National Theater of Brazil could be heard for the first time outside Brasilia since Ira Levin assumed the position of its artistic director and chief conductor at the beginning of this year. And, in relation to the previous phases of the orchestra, a vast leap in quality has been made under its new conductor. The program, including classical works, and then moving to Danish post-romantic and Brazilian nationalistic, demonstrated the exact sense of style with which Levin made the orchestra address each piece.

Transparency of textures and elegance of phrasing marked the Symphony No 82 in C Major, the “Bear” the first of the series of Joseph Haydn’s Paris symphonies. The martial tone of the opening Vivace assai, the double variations of the Allegretto, the subtlety of orchestration in the Minueto all prepared the explosion of sound in the Vivace, where the elegance of the strings matched the accuracy of the woodwinds. In this final movement, one of the most surprising in the vast Haydn edifice, Levin and OSTNCS reached an enviable level of polish of execution.This was followed by the real culmination of the evening, the Symphony No 4 of Carl Nielsen….With this work Levin showed how he could extract from his orchestra the most subtle expressive gradations, the convulsive crescendos and fortissimos of the opening, incandescent Allegro, contrasting with the sudden pianissimos and the sweet song of the oboe against the string pizzicatos of the Poco Allegretto and, above all, the dramatic dialogue in the finale of the two tympanis that, according to the indication of Nielsen, should be placed at opposing sides of the orchestra.

Especially in this work, the quality of the brass section, which has many passages of extreme complexity, was notable. Finally, the intense lyricism of Nimrod, the most beautiful of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, was a perfect encore to end a very good concert. (Lauro Machado Coelho in Estado de Sao Paulo, July 24, 2007)


 After a slight delay due to technical problems with the curtain, the wait was more than worthwhile. For three hours, a blistering tension and intensity came from the stage and orchestra pit, proving the impressive capacity of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. Ira Levin and the Duesseldorf Symphony made Shostakovich’s effective mixture of symphonic flow, bombastic film music and luxurious Mahlerian lyricisism into a heart-stirring sound experience. At the end, cheering and applause for the singers and the conductor.

(Michael-Georg Mueller in Neue Ruhr Zeitung, Feuilleton 3. 11 2008)

 The chorus and orchestra achieved great things and Ira Levin held all of the threads together, serving both the work and the singers at the same time. It was a great evening of opera.

(Armin Kaumanns in Aachener Zeitung / Aachener Nachrichten 3.11 2008)