If there's one thing conductor Zubin Mehta loves as much as he loves music, it is Indian food. 'I carry my chilies when I travel,' he told an interviewer. 'I grow my own chilies and carry them in my pocket.'
Mehta was 18 when he gave up a likely career in medicine and left India to attend the Academy of Music in Vienna. At 26, the Mumbai-born maestro became the youngest permanent conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Those years in the 1960s helped him carve a niche in the American consciousness.
They created a relationship between him and this country that culminated in him winning the Kennedy Center's 2006 honors for a lifetime of contributions to the arts and American culture -- the first person of Indian heritage to do so.
The song Billy the Mountain by late American singer Frank Zappa includes a character of whom it is said 'some folks say he looked like Zubin Mehta.' There is also a muppet, Zubin Beckmesser, named after him.
|Photo: Dieter Nagl /|
Among the most distinguished of modern conductors, Mehta has conducted major orchestras across the globe. Finding inspiration in his father Mehli Mehta, founding conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, he has -- combining concerts, recordings and tours -- conducted over 1,800 performances on five continents.
As Music Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Mehta, known for his flamboyance, conducted over 1,000 concerts, holding the position longer than any music director in the orchestra's history. One of many highlights for him took place in 1988, when the orchestra toured the Soviet Union for over a week, during which he came to know many Soviet leaders including Gorbachev.
Mehta has said one of his long time ambitions became a reality when, in 1994, he took the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to India. By conducting in Chennai and New Delhi, he helped bridge a political gap that had prevented them from performing in that country for three decades. He also lists recording with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar along with the London Philharmonic Orchestra as an emotional highlight of his career. 'I like to work with artists from across the globe,' he has said. 'The possibilities for such collaborations with artists of different background seem endless.'
In 1997 and 1998, Mehta worked with the eminent Chinese film director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern) on a production of the opera Turandot by Puccini. Starting in Florence, Italy, the collaboration went to Beijing where it was staged with over 300 extras and 300 soldiers for eight historic performances. When once asked where his well-known style came from, the maestro replied: 'It all comes from the music. I do whatever the music demands. Conducting is communication, and what I communicate at the moment is what I feel and what my musicians need.'
We, and millions worldwide, thank him for the music.