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An optimistic Levine takes his surgery in stride

James Levine, the perpetual optimist, admitted yesterday that he's been ''aggravated" by all the upheaval that has followed his onstage fall in Symphony Hall March 1 during the ovations that followed a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But he says he is determined to turn his forthcoming surgery for a rotator-cuff tear into a ''constructive experience," and he plans to use his forced sabbatical from the podium not only to rehabilitate his arm and shoulder but to address his overall health.

In the immediate aftermath of his accident, Levine canceled three Symphony Hall concerts and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's first national tour with him at the helm. Late Saturday night, the Metropolitan Opera announced that Levine was canceling all his spring appearances with the company as well as a long-planned tour of Japan.

In his first interview since the Met's announcement, the music director of the BSO and the Met was nevertheless eager to put a positive spin on this development.

The surgery is scheduled for Monday in New York. Levine, speaking by phone from New York yesterday, did not want to name his doctors or the hospital but said all the physicians he consulted in Boston and in New York were ''sensational."

A three-month period of recovery and physical therapy is projected. ''So it is a reasonable idea that I will be able to start conducting again at Tanglewood in July," Levine said. ''The doctors all agreed that I should have the operation sooner rather than later, and they seem to think that after therapy my arm and shoulder will not be like they were before, but even better."

Levine says he has been told that the procedure will last between 60 and 90 minutes. ''These doctors have put athletes back on the field and a great pianist back at the keyboard, so I have complete confidence in them," he said.

Levine will spend most of the recovery period at his home in New York. ''My shoulder and arm are so important to what I do that I must take the full time for the rehab; there's no point in fighting the laws of nature."

Nevertheless, Levine has big plans for his enforced leave of absence from the podium.

''It's a paradox, but I'm excited about this next three months," he said. ''I have never had that much time away from conducting in my life. I have natural good health, and I have seldom been ill enough to cancel a performance. I hate missing the Boston Symphony tour and the spring at the Met; it was all so well planned. But this accident brings an unexpected opportunity to make adjustments to my overall healthcare in a period when I don't have to conduct. I'm talking about my chronic stuff, like the sciatica, but also about diet and exercise. This gives me and my doctors a chance to establish some new patterns for my general health."

Levine says that he wants to take a more holistic approach to his recovery. ''The short-term part of this has been difficult for everybody, but in the long term it may turn out to be a blessing."

Levine also wants to make some adjustments to his long-term professional schedule. ''I want to fix something I've never been able to fix before: I shouldn't work for too long without building in a short break," he said. ''To go and go and go until I'm exhausted isn't a good idea anymore. So I want to create some holes in my schedule."

Mark Volpe, general director of the BSO, said earlier this week, ''Jim has five weeks with us this summer at Tanglewood. We will want to make sure that we plan things so that the pace of his activities is consistent with his ongoing recovery. He expects to conduct all his scheduled public concerts with the Boston Symphony and with the students. We will try to be flexible about how many other things he does; we know he will want to do everything. Right now, he is very focused on getting better, and to the extent that mental health influences physical health, he's got everything he needs. He's already planning what he wants to do in 2010 and 2011."

Levine, 62, points out that he comes from a long-lived family. His father died at 80, and his mother, 90, attends nearly all of his BSO concerts. ''She has fallen a few times," Levine said, ''so I must have inherited that gene. The doctors tell me that I have the best 25 years of my career ahead of me, and I certainly hope so. The electric current is flowing between the Boston Symphony Orchestra and me. I think these first two seasons are only the beginning, and I can see the future very well."

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