Maestro Zubin Mehta takes a final bow with Israel Philharmonic
Internationally-renowned conductor Zubin Mehta still retains his Indian citizenship despite having lived abroad for years.
Legendary Indian orchestral conductor and musical director Zubin Mehta had once famously said that it's music which is the real opium of the masses. Whether a musical Marxist or not, the Bombay-born superstar has conducted over 3,000 concerts across five continents for more than half-a-century now, with countless awards and honours to his name. But on Sunday, Mehta took the stage in Tel Aviv for an emotional final performance as music director of the Israel Philharmonic, retiring after 50 years with the orchestra.
“You’re not usually tongue-tied for words, but at this moment I’m feeling so strongly,” he said in an interview aired during Sunday’s intermission by medici.tv, which streamed the concert live. Mehta's final performance with the Israel Philharmonic included Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, known as Resurrection, at Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium. Mehta was joined by pianist Yefim Bronfman, soprano Chen Reiss and mezzo-soprano Okka von der Damerau.
As one would expect from a true-blue music prodigy, Mehta believed in taking western classical music out of the noble palaces, and spreading it amongst the people, as he had faith in the power of music as a unifier. In an interview in 2012, the maestro said it was his dream to conduct a performance in Kashmir and bring together divided, wounded people through music. In 2013 that dream of his realised in him conducting the controversial 'Ehsaas-E-Kashmir' concert at the Shalimar Bagh, Mughal Gardens in Srinagar
In a long and glorious career, Mehta has famously played at several conflict areas with poignant settings. This included a performance near the site of the Nazis’ Buchenwald concentration camp in 1999, where he also conducted Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, leading a group of Israeli and German musicians.
Zubin Mehta was born in 1936 in Bombay and received his first musical education under his father Mehli Mehta’s guidance; his father was a noted concert violinist and the co-founder of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. After a short period of pre-medical studies in Bombay, he left for Vienna in 1954 where he eventually entered the conducting programme under Hans Swarowsky at the Akademie für Musik. Zubin Mehta won the Liverpool International Conducting Competition in 1958 and was also a prize-winner of the summer academy at Tanglewood. By 1961 he had already conducted the Vienna, Berlin, and Israel Philharmonic Orchestras and has recently celebrated 50 years of musical collaboration with all three ensembles.
But when it came to his final bow with the Israeli ensemble, he said, “From my heart, what this orchestra has given me .. not only this one but all the generations before them. I cannot begin to even describe what I have learned with these musicians.”
An 83-year old master, but a life-long learner, is perhaps also something which adds to the legend of Zubin Mehta. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra appointed Mehta music advisor in 1969, music director in 1977, and music director for life in 1981.
When it came to the question of why this proud son of India doesn't play in the country more often, Mehta said it's the lack of quality music halls which prevents him from playing here again and again. “I wish we could have just one less mall - and one more hall'', lamented Mehta when asked if things haven't changed in India even after the economic boom.