Expressing happiness over the turnout at his concert in Srinagar’s Shalimar Bagh, renowned music conductor Zubin Mehta said performing in Kashmir was a dream come true for him. The Mumbai-born music conductor and German Ambassador Michael Steiner, who organised the concert, spoke to CNN-IBN over what motivated them to come to Kashmir.
The transcript of the interview:
CNN-IBN: Having performed on Saturday night and after seeing the kind of atmosphere there, is there a sense of satisfaction?
Zubin Mehta: It was immensely satisfying just to see the expression on the faces of the audience in an open air situation, their expressions of gratitude and of being convinced of the power of the music. Then of course, watching our musicians was strange, giving their 20 per cent.
It was a combination of their virtuosity and the public reaction which makes me feel tremendously satisfied.
CNN-IBN: Because coming to Srinagar and performing in Kashmir Valley is an old dream of yours, isn’t it?
Zubin Mehta: Yes, since I have been a child, I wanted to do something for Kashmir. Then I became a musician, of course, obviously, I wanted to do my music here. And thanks to Ambassador Steiner and his wonderful group of colleagues, this has been made possible. Of course, the sponsors and my personal friends have all been wonderful.
They all believe in our cause. Cause means bringing music to Kashmir, that’s all. We didn’t want anything else.
CNN-IBN: You said before the concert that you did not chose Kashmir but that Kashmir chose you. Even though many Kashmiris were opposed to the concert!
Zubin Mehta: Kashmir is a land of beauty that has always chosen me. Kashmir, as a land of aesthetics quality, has no match in the world. There is not one person in the subcontinent who doesn’t love this area, myself included, that’s why I meant that Kashmir chose me. Kashmir has chosen me all my life.
CNN-IBN: Many who have visited Kashmir might feel that, but for those inside the Valley, many did not choose you. Did that hurt?
Zubin Mehta: I don’t think that they quite understood and I hope if they see this concert repeated on television, may be they will not understand, but they will be inspired because we came here to fulfil this dream of ours -- to inspire people, to sit together, to smile at each other, that’s all.
CNN-IBN: Ambassador Steiner, Zubin Mehta is saying that performing in Kashmir has been a childhood dream for him, ever since you announced that this was what you were planning to do, there has been much criticism coming from inside Kashmir, but also from other parts of country. Many have said that this is not the right time. Did you think of changing your idea at any point?
Ambassador Steiner: No, I think it was the perfect time. As many as 2,700 people showed up, two thirds of them were Kashmiris. They showed up. We were overwhelmed by the reactions, the smiling faces; I think it was a great success for Kashmir. So I think we achieved what we wanted to achieve -- to bring music to Kashmir -- not to embellish the situation. I am very happy that it has worked out.
CNN-IBN: Zubin Mehta, you are not stranger to conflict in the place you perform. You have even performed -- if I may quote you – when bullets flew?
Zubin Mehta: Yes, that is right because as musicians, it is our duty to not only perform in concerts, which is our life, but we have to go out whenever possible and do something to bring people together.
Well this is what music does and I am not talking only about classical music. Ravi Shankarji went all over the world. Nobody understood anything about Indian music in the beginning, but they were in Carnegie Hall till 2 am, they wouldn’t leave the hall. This is the power of the music.
CNN-IBN: Zubin, even while you were busy in rehearsals at Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, there was tension in other parts of valley. At any point, did you rethink the visit to Kashmir? After all, it isn’t just about the concert. There is also the question of the safety of every member of your orchestra.
Zubin Mehta: I am used to performing with the orchestras of different continents. This orchestra is from Munich. When I went to Munich to rehearse with them, they had no sense of fear. Nobody got up and said, ‘Look where are you taking us, to a semi war-zone’. Nobody said a word. And you know, they read a lot on the internet. So they are very well informed. They came here; there was not one person who stood up and said ‘Look, I feel threatened, I am afraid’. Not one.
CNN-IBN: And of course you promised to bring them back and perform in a larger environment.
Zubin Mehta: Well, I’ll bring them anytime, anytime Kashmir wants me. I'll come back.
CNN-IBN: Because one of the criticism has been that this was a restricted performance, that you didn’t allow as many Kashmiris in and that it was not possible for an average music lover to even come close to the concert area.
Zubin Mehta: Well, you know, this is not Mumbai. In Mumbai we have thousand two hundred places for spectators in the hall.
Yesterday, we let in 700 people already before the concert. The construction of Shalimar Bagh is such that if one sits at the back, he/she wouldn’t have seen a thing, so we have to restrict the number of spectators from that aspect. People came free of charge, they were chosen by the Kashmir government and the German embassy. And those who were against this concert, they asked the ambassador for tickets at the last moment.
CNN-IBN: Now that this is all over, do you have a message for those who opposed you?
Zubin Mehta: I am not involved in Kashmiri politics. I have to be a little bit above them, I have come with my music. I give my message -- let the healing start with the first note in this troubled land.
CNN-IBN: Zubin, you are going on to other concerts in the rest of the country. How does it feel every time you touch down in India, when you come back?
Zubin Mehta: Every time when I come back to Bombay, I feel as if I had never left.
CNN-IBN: Even so, in India, when you look at the community for western music, it isn’t perhaps what your father would have wanted, perhaps what you would have wanted. Does it disappoint you that the community for western classical music has still not grown to that extent in India?
Zubin Mehta: Well it is growing in Bombay. Now they have an orchestra in Bombay that has a public. Our foundation there has over 200 children studying classical music, there is something positive coming out. Don’t forget that India is the land of music. India has its own music. Every corner of this country has its own special music.
CNN-IBN: I asked about your father because of course he is an integral part of your music. I have had the privilege of meeting him many years ago. His first question was, ‘Do you play something, do you know western classical music’. Is this concert in Kashmir something he would have particularly wished for?’
Zubin Mehta: I think he would have been afraid by all the opposition, but he would have been well pleased with the results. And I am sorry he was not on stage to perform with me.
CNN-IBN: Zubin, we saw you smile at points in that concert. What was really your moment of the night there?
Zubin Mehta: Well when we first finished the piece with the Kashmiris, I was very proud then. They were cooperative from the beginning; they could speak our musical language but we couldn’t speak theirs. But music brought us together and believe me, we had no problem with the rehearsals. The young composer Sapore had trained them perfectly. So, it was a great moment of delight for me and it was the culmination of our dream.