From Alex Ross, classical music critic for The New Yorker, some very well-considered words:
Here are some thoughts on the evergreen Levine matter. I agree with you up to a point, disagree thereafter. The BSO repertory is to my taste a bit of a late-modernist snooze. Carter is to my taste an overrated composer, the Max Reger of our time. To my taste Levine’s choices in contemporary music are highly circumscribed and even small-minded, etc., etc. But it’s his taste, and this is significant. If the question were, should Levine be director of the Boston Symphony (as opposed to, say, Robert Spano, whose taste is more to my taste), then your arguments would hit home. But he’s there now, no going back. Would you want to force Levine to avoid the music that he truly believes in, to conduct music he dislikes? This is so often how contemporary programming turns out — programming by committee, where certain agreed-upon middle-of-the-road composers get their hour in the sun whether or not anyone believes in them. Obviously, it’s how new operas get picked at the Met. Me, I think it’s a good thing that the BSO has let Levine run amok, at least for this first season. Audiences respond to fervor. These “difficult” composers have no problem with the public when star musicians deliver them with conviction — I think of the huge ovation that Pollini’s performance of a Stockhausen Klavierstück received a few years back. Myself, I thought the piece was hokum, but Pollini’s mad conviction won me over.
Another point: if every orchestra were pushing these same guys, I’d feel differently. But they’ve become comparative rarities, historical artifacts.
Everyone else is doing Adams, Reich, et al. The old-school modernists don’t deserve the lion’s share of the spotlight, but they don¹t deserve to be totally forgotten either. Let us beware of dead-horse-kicking when it comes to 12-tone music, serialism, and the like. Carter’s huge Symphonia should be heard at least once, right? It still hasn’t been done in New York, and I am sure Levine is intent on bringing it to Carnegie. All told, although I hope that Levine’s taste in contemporary music broadens and deepens in coming years, I can’t criticize him for following his heart.