Zubin Mehta is blessed with a rich musicality backed by knowledge and experience, a broad repertoire, and a personality that is loved by all. Indeed, he is seen by some as the greatest conductor of his day. While his forte lies in the large-scale symphonic works of Wagner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and others, he also displays an excellent interpretation of opera. He speaks positively about contemporary music and its contribution to the development of music. He has conducted many orchestras in a career spanning half a century, but his relationship with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), which he serves as Music Director for Life, is particularly strong. His humanitarian efforts have won him high praise, notably his concerts with IPO where Arabs and Jews are brought together in a prayer for peace in the Middle East.
On the podium, Zubin Mehta exudes authority as he leads his orchestras with a profound inner passion. But once removed from that milieu, he reveals a good-humored, playful side to his nature.
Mehta was born to a Parsee family in Bombay, India. His first musical inspiration came from his father Mehli Mehta, who was a violinist and conductor. He studied under Hans Swarowsky at the Vienna Academy of Music, where he was a contemporary of Claudio Abbado
Mehta won the Liverpool International Conducting Competition at the age of 22, making his full debut in the following year. He then rose to a series of posts as Music Director in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Bavarian State Opera. Since 1985 he has been Chief Conductor and since 2006 Honorary Conductor for Life of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence. He has maintained a strong relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducting the New Year Concert on four occasions.
He has a broad repertoire. While his forte lies in the large-scale symphonic works of Wagner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and others, he also has a passion for opera and is equally positive about performances of contemporary music.
He says the quality needed by a conductor is knowledge. "Style changes every 50 years. Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, Schönberg...We must be at home in all these different styles. We must have knowledge of the composer, how to interpret what the composer has written on paper, and must be able to impart it to the orchestra."
He has proved most successful in communicating these ideas with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), which he now serves as Music Director for Life after enjoying close ties for more than three decades. As the conductor of an orchestra, he has always sought activity that has not only musical affinity but also political significance for him as a human being.
"Musicians cannot change boundaries of people who are in conflict. But we can play music to people to bring them together. And this is what I do in Israel. We give concerts where Arabs and Jews sit together. Now they don’t agree politically but they both love Beethoven. I dream with the Israel Philharmonic to play in Egypt, I dream also to play in Syria."
In October, he will conduct the IPO in Bombay to mark the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth. He says his good friends Plácido Domingo and Daniel Barenboim will also be taking part.