When Zubin Mehta comes to his hometown, Mumbai, there is a ripple of excitement that runs through the city. a certain section of the city. He finds the times for a freewheeling chat.
CULTURAL AMBASSADOR: "I find complete peace in music," says Zubin Mehta. PHOTO: PTI
THE Maestro wore white. His face was flushed. He was standing in the noonday heat of Mumbai. Behind him was a beautiful old dwelling-place, one of those rare surviving specimens of an age long gone by. This was the house of world famous conductor Zubin Mehta, and now occupied by a senior member of a private company. He had lived there until the age of 18. In those days, the sea was a few feet away. Today you can barely see it as the view is obscured by a fishing colony.
When Zubin Mehta comes to his hometown, Mumbai, there is a ripple of excitement that runs through a certain section of the city. For lovers of Western music, there is no one like "Apro Zubin (our Zubin"), as the Parsees would have it. But it is not just the Parsees who claim this man, who turns 69 on April 29, as their own. Many others in Mumbai do even as Zubin Mehta continues to claim the city of Mumbai as his own.
"I had my Navjot (thread ceremony) here," recalls Mehta as we walk around the sea facing Parsee fire temple in Colaba. He went to St. Mary's School in Byculla and attended St. Xavier's College for one year before he got a scholarship to go to Vienna, Austria, where he began his career as a conductor.
Where is home now? "Officially, in Los Angeles," he says. But his work keeps him moving between Munich in Germany, where he conducts the Bavarian State Opera, to Florence where he has been the principal conductor for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra since 1985, and Israel where he is the permanent Musical Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Yet, despite his base outside India, Zubin Mehta has made many visits to the country of his birth as a professional conductor, the first in 1967. Each visit is memorable for people thirsting for high quality Western music. And this visit, in April 2005, was no different.
It was made particularly special as the soloist in the first two of the three concerts performed by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra and conducted by Zubin Mehta was the renowned Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. The idea of this set of concerts originated from Rostropovich, who is a close friend of Zubin Mehta and knew his father, Mehli Mehta well. Mehli Mehta was also a conductor and founded the Bombay Symphony Orchestra in 1935. In 2002, Mehli Mehta died at the age of 94. In his memory, Zubin Mehta has established the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation in Mumbai. The concerts, both Mehta and Rostropovich hoped, would begin the process of raising funds for a school of western music in Mumbai.
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, the 78-year-old Rostropovich is the son and grandson of distinguished cellists. He began playing the piano at the age of four and then moved on to learn the cello from his father. In 1955 he married Galina Vishnevskaya, leading soprano of the Bolshoi Opera, and they often performed together. Rostropovich is also remembered for the fact that he sheltered Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel laureate and Russian writer, for four years when the latter was facing persecution for his writings from the government of the Soviet Union. In 1974, Rostropovich and his wife decided to leave the Soviet Union. Today, he has a passport issued by the principality of Monaco, but literally lives in an aeroplane. "My passport has my family name, Rostropovich, my given name, Mstislav and my nationality: unspecified," he said, tongue firmly in cheek.
For two evenings, over 1,000 people sat mesmerised as the world's greatest living cellist drew out the sweetest sounds from his instrument as he and the orchestra played "Concerto for Violincello" and "Orchestra in B Minor op. 104" by Antonin Dvorak. When it ended, the audience did not want to let the Maestro go. To listen to such amazing music in the beautiful Jamshed Bhabha Auditorium in Mumbai is the stuff of dreams.
So is classical Western music to remain in the realm of a few small specialist groups scattered across India? Can this country produce more Zubin Mehtas? Ask him and he says he is convinced there is immense talent. But is it not too expensive for a middle class family to encourage their child to pursue a career in western classical music? Mehta feels that parents have to be alert and notice the talent in their children. And if they do, then they must find a way to encourage it. He points out that many musicians have emerged from Korea and China but the key has been parental influence. Of course, a good school of music would also help.
The morning before we met Zubin Mehta, he had spent an hour with a bunch of children who are members of the Singing Tree Choir trained by the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation. They sang for him. And the musicians of his orchestra played for them. Mehta's face lights up as he recalls the response of the youngsters, their unadulterated enthusiasm and the songs they sang. This is the future that he hopes to invest in through his foundation.
Send this article to Friends by