Zubin Mehta (born April 29, 1936) is an Indian conductor of western classical music. He is the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Zubin Mehta was born into a Parsi family in Bombay, British India, the son of Mehli and Tehmina Mehta. His father Mehli Mehta was a violinist and founding conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. Mehta is an alumnus of St. Mary’s School, Mumbai, and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Mehta initially intended to study medicine, but eventually became a music student in Vienna at the age of 18, under Hans Swarowsky. Also at the same academy along with Mehta were conductor Claudio Abbado and conductor–pianist Daniel Barenboim.
Mehta’s first marriage was to Canadian soprano Carmen Lasky in 1958. They have a son, Mervon and a daughter, Zarina. In 1964, they divorced. Two years after the divorce, Carmen married Zubin’s brother, Zarin Mehta, now the Executive Director of the New York Philharmonic. In July 1969, Mehta married Nancy Kovack, a former American film and television actress. Mehta is a permanent resident of the United States, but retains his Indian citizenship.
In 1958, Mehta made his conducting debut in Vienna. The same year he won the International Conducting Competition in Liverpool and was appointed assistant conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Mehta soon rose to the rank of chief conductor when he was made Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 1960, a post he held until 1967. In 1961, he was named assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; however, the orchestra’s music director designate, Georg Solti, was not consulted on the appointment, and Solti subsequently resigned in protest; soon after, Mehta himself was named Music Director of the orchestra, and held the post from 1962 to 1978.
In 1978 Mehta became the Music Director and Principal Conductor of the New York Philharmonic and remained there until his resignation in 1991, becoming the longest holder of the post.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) appointed Mehta its Music Advisor in 1969, Music Director in 1977, and made him its Music Director for Life in 1981
Since 1985, Mehta has been chief conductor of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence. Additionally, from 1998 until 2006, Mehta was Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. The Munich Philharmonic named him its Honorary Conductor. Since 2005, Mehta has been the main conductor (together with Lorin Maazel) of the new opera house of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencia, Spain.
Mehta conducted the Vienna New Year’s Concert in the years 1990, 1995, 1998 and 2007. He has also made a recording of Indian instrumentalist Ravi Shankar’s Sitar Concerto No. 2, with Shankar and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1990, he conducted the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in the first ever Three Tenors concert in Rome, joining the tenors again in 1994 at the Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. In between those appearances he conducted the historic 1992 production of Tosca in which each act took place in the actual setting and at the actual time specified in the score. This production starred Catherine Malfitano in the title role, Plácido Domingo as Cavaradossi and Ruggero Raimondi as Baron Scarpia.
Act I was telecast live from Rome’s basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle on Saturday, July 11, at noon (Central European Daylight Savings Time); act II was telecast later that evening from the Palazzo Farnese at 9:40 p.m.; act III was telecast live on Sunday, July 12, at 7:00 a.m. from the Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as Hadrian’s Tomb.
In June 1994, Mehta performed the Mozart Requiem, along with the members of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the ruins of Sarajevo’s National Library, in a fund raising concert for the victims of armed conflict and remembrance of the thousands of people killed in the Yugoslav wars.
On August 29, 1999, he conducted MahlerSymphony No. 2 (Resurrection), at the vicinity of Buchenwald concentration camp in the German city of Weimar, with both the Bavarian State Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, sitting alongside each other. He toured his native country India and home city Mumbai (Bombay) in 1984, with the New York Philharmonic, and again in November–December 1994, with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, along with soloists Itzhak Perlman and Gil Shaham. In 1997 and 1998, Mehta worked in collaboration with Chinese film director Zhang Yimou on a production of the opera Turandot by Giacomo Puccini which they took to Florence, Italy, and then to Beijing, China, where it was staged, in its actual surroundings, in the Forbidden City with over 300 extras and 300 soldiers. for nine historic performances. The making of this production was chronicled in a documentary called The Turandot Project which Mehta narrated.
On November 29, 2005 Mehta appeared with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performing Bruckner’s 8 symphony. On December 26, 2005, the first anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Mehta and the Bavarian State Orchestra performed for the first time in Chennai (formerly called Madras) at the Madras Music Academy. This tsunamimemorial concert was organised by the Madras German consulate along with the Max-Mueller Bhavan/Goethe-Institut. 2006 was his last year with the Bavarian State Orchestra.
Mehta received praise early in his career for dynamic interpretations of the large scale symphonic music of Anton Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Franz Schmidt. His conducting is renowned as being flamboyant, vigorous and forceful.
Honors and awards
Mehta’s name is mentioned in the song “Billy the Mountain” on the 1972 album Just Another Band from L.A. by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention.
At the Israel Prize ceremony in 1991, Mehta was awarded a special prize in recognition of his unique devotion to Israel and to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1995, Laureate of the Wolf Prize in Arts.
In 1999, Mehta was presented the “Lifetime Achievement Peace and Tolerance Award” of the United Nations.
The Government of India honoured Mehta in 1966 with the Padma Bhushan and in 2001 with India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan.
In 2005, he was voted the 117th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.
In September 2006 the Kennedy Center announced Mehta as one of the recipients of that year’s Kennedy Center Honors, presented on December 2, 2006.
On February 3, 2007, Mehta was the recipient of the Second Annual Bridgebuilder Award at Loyola Marymount University.
In 2007 he received the prestigious Dan David Prize.
Conductor Karl Böhm awarded Mehta the Nikisch Ring – the Vienna Philharmonic Ring of Honor.
Mehta is an honorary citizen of Florence and Tel Aviv. He was made an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera in 1997. In 2001 he was bestowed the title of “Honorary Conductor” of the Vienna Philharmonic and in 2004 the Munich Philharmonic awarded him the same title, as did the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 2006. At the end of his tenure with the Bavarian State Opera he was named Honorary Conductor of the Bavarian State Orchestra and Honorary Member of the Bavarian State Opera, and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Wien, appointed him honorary member in November 2007.
In October 2008, Mehta received the Praemium Imperiale (World Culture Prize in Memory of His Imperial Highness Prince Takamatsu), Japan.
On March 1, 2011, Mehta received the 2,434th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On October 2, 2011 he received the Echo Klassik in Berlin, for his life’s work
Mehta’s life has been documented in Terry Sanders’ film Portrait of Zubin Mehta. A documentary film about Mehta, Zubin and I, was produced by the grandson of an Israeli harpist who played with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra before Mehta assumed the helm. The filmmaker joins the orchestra on a tour of Mumbai and meets with him for two interviews, in India and Tel Aviv.
In Christopher Nupen’s 1969 documentary The Trout about a performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet in London by Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman, Mehta plays the double bass
In 2009, Mehta established Mifneh (Hebrew for “Change”), a music education program for Israeli Arabs, in cooperation with Bank Leumi and the Arab-Israel Bank. Three schools, in Shfaram, theJezreel Valley and Nazareth, are taking part in the pilot project.
He and his brother Zarin constitute the Advisor Council of the Mehli Mehta Foundation.
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