A FEW WORDS WITH
MAESTRO ZUBIN MEHTA
MUSIC DIRECTOR FOR LIFE,
11 November 2014, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO)
gives its Singapore
début in a concert at the Mastercard Theatre of Marina Bay Sands. Leading the
orchestra is its Music Director for life, the eminent India-born conductor ZUBIN MEHTA, who has distinguished
himself in the world’s great concert stages, including The Three Tenors concert
in Rome and Los
Angeles, and Zhang Yimou’s spectacular production of Puccini’s
Turandot in the Forbidden
I had a chance to speak with the Maestro speaks for a short telephone interview for THE PEAK (below).
As lifestyle magazines go, there is little space for details which music-lovers are interested in, but here is a transcript of the full interview.
You had originally planned to study medicine but then switched to music. How did this come about?
My parents wanted me to be a doctor, but I defaulted! I attended pre-medical classes in
but chose to be a musician instead. My parents were very supportive. My father
Mehli Mehta (left) was a violinist, founder of the Bombay String Quartet and Bombay
Symphony Orchestra, and for 35 years the conductor of the American Youth
Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles.
He was a most important influence, and arranged for me to study at the Vienna
Academy of Music in 1954.
Being an Asian studying music in
during the 1950s, essentially a world community
dominated by Europeans, must have been a daunting prospect. Did you face any obstacles
being accepted as a musical equal, coming from a different culture? Vienna
There were not many Asians in
during those days - only a few Japanese students - and I was the only one from India.
I felt no anxiety or discrimination, and was accepted whole-heartedly by the
Viennese musical community.
My first concert as a conductor was organised by the Jeunnese Musicales, which had started in
The first professional engagement was with the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Vienna,
which paid me a little bit. It was an all-Brahms concert with the First Piano Concerto and First Symphony. The soloist was Alfred Brendel. I met him in a
bookshop and asked him if he would like to play.
The next concert was all-Schoenberg: the First Chamber Symphony and Pierrot Lunaire. If you had talent, you will be engaged again. I conducted that orchestra for two seasons before being asked to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. About (the late Italian conductor) Claudio Abbado, we spent two years in
became friends for life. We never had an ugly word with each other.
Your close relationship with Israel and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra dates from the 1960s, a period of uncertainty when the existence of
as a nation was under threat. Could you
describe how this bond was formed? Israel
I first conducted the IPO in 1961. I had been asked to substitute for the great Hungarian-American conductor Eugene Ormandy. Apparently the orchestra had heard of me, and I immediately accepted! The concert programme included Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements and Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony, and that was how it all started. In 1967, my close friends Daniel Barenboim and his wife Jacqueline Du Pré (left) were there for the Victory Concert at the end of the Six Day War which I conducted. Barenboim performed Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on the piano, Du Pré played Schumann’s Cello Concerto, and we finished off with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
In 1969, I was made Music Director and later Music Director for life. This is not a contract, but an honour. I could be terminated next week!
You have conducted in Singapore on at least three occasions, with the
Philharmonic at the National Stadium (1984)
and in front of the City Hall steps (1989), and more recently with the
Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino at the Esplanade (2005). What sort
of memories does New York hold for you? Singapore
Only very good and positive ones! I love your city for its order, organisation, discipline and cleanliness. My dear friend Shalom Ronly-Riklis, former Associate Conductor of the IPO, had conducted in
on many occasions and told me all about Singapore.
When I finally came, and coming from India,
I could not believe this was Asia!
My first concert in 1984 was at a small hall, I think the Victoria Concert Hall. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew attended that concert, and I told him to please build a really big concert hall for
you have the Esplanade Concert Hall, and conducting there in 2005 was a
has now accepted Western classical music with open arms, with the
formation of symphony orchestras, new concert halls and millions of students
studying music. Do you think that same “revolution” will take place in China , the world’s second most populous nation? India
It is slowly happening now in
We have a professional symphony orchestra (Symphony Orchestra of India) in Bombay
and the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation (founded in 1995, above) that teaches young
children to play Western instruments. We will see the results in the next
Q: Music and the arts can be a force of change for the better in world affairs. Does the
Philharmonic have a role to play in helping to resolve present Israel and Israel conflict? Palestine
We have to try our best. My hope is for the orchestra to play in Ramallah,
when it becomes a country, which will be very soon. We will go and perform as a
sign of friendship and peace.