25.05.2012

Zubin Mehta: a brilliant, committed artist

The Council Foundation Award recognises his relentless work towards strengthening Spain-India relations

Zubin Mehta: a brilliant, committed artist

Conductor Zubin Mehta (Bombay, 1936) is the son of Mehli Mehta, founder of the Bombay Chamber Orchestra. Mehta first studied piano and violin with his father. At the age of 18, he abandoned his Medicine studies in India to attend Hans Swarowsky's orchestral conducting lessons at the Vienna Music Academy, where he also played double bass in the student orchestra.

His career evolved quickly, and he conducted the world's most prestigious orchestras. In 1958 he won a competition organised by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, whose prize included a year as an assistant to conductor Charles Groves. In 1959 he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1962 he became the conductor of LA Phil, where he stayed for 16 years. From 1961 to 1967, he held his position at LA Phil simultaneously with that of conductor of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. His spectacular conducting style and his versatility, which made him apt for any repertoire (from classics to the most complex contemporary scores), earned him great respect among music lovers.

After leaving LA Phil in 1978, he replaced Pierre Boulez as conductor at the New York Philharmonic. His success in this position secured him a new contract until 1990, making him the longest-standing ever conductor of this orchestra. His relationship with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was also close: in 1969 he was appointed music adviser to the Israel Philharmonic and in 1981 he became its Music Director for Life (he was the first to conduct a Wagner opera on Israeli soil). In 1998 he became music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Over the years, he leaned towards a more lyrical repertoire.

Zubin Mehta has always been committed to peace and human rights causes. One of the first concerts he conducted when he was 20 took place at a Hungarian refugee camp in Austria. He refused to conduct in South Africa to express his rejection of apartheid and promoted several shows in the US against the use of nuclear weapons. He conducted concerts in Bethlehem during the Six-Day War and in Buenos Aires after defeat in the Falklands. His picture made the headlines when he visited Tel Aviv wearing a gas mask during the Gulf War, and the same happened in 1994 when he conducted a concert sponsored by the UN at the ruins of the National Library in Sarajevo, in which José Carreras, Ruggero Raimondi, Cecilia Gasdin and Ildig Kamlosi performed.

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