In Memoriam: Jesse Levine, Internationally Renowned Violist and Conductor

Jesse Levine, a renowned violist and conductor who taught at Yale’s School of Music for 25 years, died at his home on Nov. 11 after a long fight with pancreatic cancer.

Levine was professor in the practice of viola and chamber music and coordinator of the string department at the Yale School of Music since 1983.

“Jesse dearly loved his students and our school,” says its dean, Robert Blocker. “In his quarter-century on our faculty, he shared his commitment to the highest standards of artistic excellence. His major contribution to the School of Music was inspiring his students to discover their distinct musical voice, and his influence will be felt for generations. We are deeply saddened by the loss of a wonderful artist, teacher, colleague and friend, but are grateful for the contributions to music and to our school.”

As a violist or a conductor, Levine performed in Europe, South America, Israel, Australia, Mexico and throughout the United States. He was principal violist of the Buffalo, Dallas, Baltimore and New Jersey symphony orchestras. He was the music director of several orchestras, most recently the New Britain (Connecticut) Symphony Orchestra. Previously, he was the music director of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra, the Orquesta del Principado de Asturias in Spain, the Chappaqua Orchestra (New York) and the Feld Ballet (New York City).

Levine was a guest conductor of many orchestras in the United States and abroad. Known for his work in contemporary music, he was frequently invited to conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in its annual North American New Music Festival and participated in the annual June-in-Buffalo Festival. In the dual role of conductor/teacher, he led the National Youth Orchestra of Spain in Madrid, the Youth Orchestra of Andalucia in Seville and the Youth Orchestra of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. As a member of the Bruch Trio he has recorded the music of Max Bruch, Rebecca Clarke, Jean Francaix, Gordon Jacob and Mozart for Summit Records.

Levine previously served on the faculties of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Sony Brook and Purchase, and the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. He presented master classes at conservatories and festivals in Spain and France.

Levine was born in 1940 in the Bronx in New York City to a family of first- and second-generation Jewish Polish immigrants. As his father was a cellist, he was raised in a home filled with music. Levine took up the viola at an early age and spent his formative years studying with William Kroll.

Early career highlights included summers as principal violist at Tanglewood, performing the Stravinsky elegy on stage with the composer (and introducing him to his mother), as well as several missions to Argentina as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department. He studied principally at Mannes College of the Arts. He also studied conducting with Igor Markevitch in Monaco.

A job playing the Harry Belafonte show in New York gave Levine his first commercial success. He used his first payments from the show to purchase the viola that served him for his entire career.

In his last days, Levine was still teaching - giving life to what he called “viola power.”

He is survived by his wife, Jill Pellett Levine; his sons, Alexander and Josh; and his sister, Lisa Nowakowski.

The School of Music is planning a memorial concert on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m. in Battell Chapel, corner of College and Elm streets.

Donations in Levine’s memory may be made to Pancreatic Cancer Research at the Yale Cancer Center, 157 Church St., New Haven, CT 06510, or online to the Pancreatic Action Center Network (www.pancan.org), 2141 Rosencrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90246.

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