Just months after learning one of the world’s most powerful music conductors was a pedophile, the New Yorker magazine’s top critic, Alex Ross, wrote a fawning tribute to him.
That conductor was James Levine, 74, who until earlier this month was the Metropolitan Opera music director emeritus. And in the late 1980s he met Ashok “Shoky” Pai, a teenager at the time and a burgeoning prodigy in the classical music world.
In summer 2013, after decades of abuse at the hands of Levine and following intense therapy to deal with the trauma, Pai reached a point where he was ready to go public. He went to the police to file a formal complaint and then sought out journalists who would help tell his story.
According to dozens documents, emails, a police report, and interviews with multiple people directly involved, including Pai, RadarOnline learned of an extraordinary tale of abuse of power, position and stolen innocence and how two of the most revered institutions in journalism, The New York Times and The New Yorker, worked to protect a powerful cultural elite against the allegations.
When [Pai] turned 15, he went to a summer concert by himself to see Levine, then aged 41, in action. When he learned the trains had shut down, and he was stranded, Shoky accepted a generous offer: a ride home from his idol.
Levine’s motivations, it seems, were not rooted in generosity.
“He started holding my hands in the car in a very kind of sensual and uncomfortable way,” explained Shoky.
“In my driveway, he started holding my hand in a prolonged and incredibly sensual way. I was not aroused, as I never was during my relationship with him as I am a heterosexual individual. But there were some feelings of affection and mostly confusion. He was saying things that I wanted to hear and was intrigued by. Things like, ‘I want to see if you can be raised special like me. You can use me any way you want to. I can easily create a foundation to fly you to Salzburg. Come to New York so I can audition you as a conductor.’”
From that moment, a classic pattern of abuse began, as the older, powerful man used his position to exploit the hopes and dreams of his younger, ingenuous victim.
When Shoky was 16, Levine began inviting him to concerts without his parents, and later, private one-on-one dinners. The evenings often would end at Levine’s apartment or hotel.
“He always said I should take off my clothes when I come to his hotel,” said Shoky.
“The very first time I went to Levine’s hotel he greeted me in a bathrobe. He would get me naked and into bed. He would masturbate me and try to and masturbate himself. We met more often at his hotel or apartment. He said it was part of my development.”
In 2015, after five years of therapy, Pai reached out to the one person he thought could help him the most and expose Levine’s pedophilia: Alex Ross, music editor of The New Yorker and its chief critic. Ross. Ross was a respected journalist with unparalleled access to powerful figures in culture. He had been covering Levine for decades and rumors about Levine’s behavior had been swirling around inner circles for just as long.
When Shoky picked up the phone and called Ross at his home office, he was amazed at The New Yorker critic’s reaction to his revelations.
“I was shot down and told, ‘I’m not interested,’” said Shoky, who claims he was simply hung up on. Shocked but undeterred, he made a second attempt to have a conversation with Ross, but it ended just as awkwardly. According to Shoky, Ross labeled him a liar. Worse: he said the conversation made him feel intimidated, and worried that something more sinister was at play. (Ross, via a spokesperson, disputed this account.)
A defiant Shoky was not about to let things go, however.
He also contacted James Stewart, another newsman, who splits duties as a staff writer at The New Yorker and a columnist at The New York Times. In a series of emails obtained by Radar, Shoky raises his interactions with Ross, a colleague of Stewart’s.
“I do want to reflect again about Alex Ross and his screaming at me, I want to make sure you are clear I think it’s totally unethical, inappropriate and wrong for Alex Ross to speak and yell at a sex abuse victim the way he did with me,” Shoky wrote. He concluded, “It’s not cool.”
Stewart pledged to take on Shoky and personally discuss the story with The New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick. He would later concede investigating the story himself would take too much time — and, remarkably, it “would seem like piling on” by reporting about the Met, as he’d recently written about Levine…
After reaching out, and nearly a month of silence, Pai (“Shoky”) was told his story wasn’t something either the Times or the New Yorker was interested in covering. When Pai reached out directly to New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick he received a seemingly open reception. But that, too, would turn out to be a ruse. Even after receiving detailed accounts of the abuse written by Pai, which Remnick acknowledged recieving, he shelved the story.
Then, to Pai’s horror, six months after his last exchange with Remnick, Pai saw the New Yorker had published a fawning 863-word tribute to his abuser, titled ‘James Levine’s Accomplishment at the Met,’ and written by none other than Alex Ross, the man who Pai initially tipped off about the abuse.
In that article, Ross wrote, “[Levine] is an outwardly voluble man who has kept his personal life hidden, and few people, even those who have worked with him for decades, can say that they know him well. But as a musical personality he has exuded warmth and inspired trust….”
Being shut out from the media establishment, Pai decided to go to Metropolitan Opera board members and back to the police…
feature image Alex Ross via RadarOnline
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