Completing twenty nine seasons leading the Philharmonic, Joel Levine is the longest serving music director in our City’s history. On retirement in June 2018, he was named “Founder and Conductor Emeritus” by the Philharmonic Board of Directors now serves as the Orchestra’s Archivist and Historian. Including his tenure with the Oklahoma Symphony, Maestro Levine has been active for forty years on the podium at Civic Center Music Hall. Under his leadership, the orchestra appeared on international, national and local television broadcasts and released several recordings. Maestro Levine’s reputation for exceptional musical collaboration has enabled the Philharmonic to present one of the country’s most distinguished series of world-renowned guest artists. He collaborated with many of the greatest performing artists of our time and has been called a “remarkable musician and visionary” by Yo-Yo Ma.
For three decades, Maestro Levine conducted many of the city’s historic programs including “Porgy and Bess” with the legendary Cab Calloway, the Paris Opera Ballet starring Rudolf Nureyev, “Rodeo” for Ballet Oklahoma under the direction of Agnes DeMille, the Philharmonic’s 100th anniversary production of “La Boheme,” the State of Oklahoma’s official Centennial Celebration, and the National Memorial Service following the Oklahoma City bombing. He also conducted Young People’s programs around the State for thousands of children, twenty-five OKC productions of “The Nutcracker” since 1980, and led programs featuring Oklahoma’s celebrated native stars including Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Jimmy Webb, Patti Page, Blake Shelton, Toby Keith, Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O’Hara, Megan Mullally, Sandi Patty, Susan Powell and Leona Mitchell.
He has received international recognition for performances reflecting many different styles in the classical repertoire. His program of Schubert and Schumann symphonies with Germany’s Brandenburg Symphony Orchestra led the reviewer to write: “Joel Levine proved that he is an absolute master of his profession; the audience honored this impressive performance with much applause.” Engagements in the great European capitals include concerts with the Czech National Symphony in Prague’s Dvorák Hall, and the Symphony Orchestra of Portugal in Lisbon. Other international invitations have included orchestras in Spain, Israel, Belgrade, Bucharest, and an appearance with the Mexico City Philharmonic.
Maestro Levine has conducted many of America’s major ensembles including three seasons with The National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the orchestras of St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Seattle, Denver, Nashville, Milwaukee and New Orleans. The national press has praised his performances: “the orchestra played with clarity and energy” (Los Angeles Times), “fine musicianship” (Washington Post), “Levine brings the needed sheen and rhythmic verve to the music” (Minneapolis Star), “Levine drew a crisp, bold and tonally lustrous account of the varied score from the orchestra and full-throated chorus” (Houston Post). His Detroit Symphony performances received “four stars” – the highest rating from the Detroit News.
Known for his work with major artists in the world of classical dance, he has conducted for three of the greatest male dancers: Rudolf Nureyev, Edward Villella, and Peter Martins. For the Kansas City Ballet, he collaborated with famed choreographer, Alvin Ailey and conducted the first contemporary performance of a “lost” Balanchine ballet, “Divertimento.”
Maestro Levine’s résumé includes collaborations with many of the immortal names of jazz, musical theater, film and television. Several of his recordings with Mexico’s Xalapa Symphony Orchestra are in international release and have been broadcast on the BBC.
Maestro Levine has taken an active role in the cultural life of Oklahoma City since he arrived in 1976 as music director for Lyric Theatre. He worked actively for the passage of MAPS 1 and played a key role in the renovation of our hall. For his work as a founder of the Orchestra, he received The Governor’s Arts Award (1989), was named Oklahoma Musician Of The Year (1991), is a 2008 “Treasures of Tomorrow” honoree of the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, received the 2014 Stanley Draper Award for his contributions to downtown Oklahoma City, and has received an Honorary Doctorate in Music from Oklahoma City University