Maestro mehta

Maestro mehta
Conductor Zubin Mehta leading the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Conductor Zubin Mehta's long history with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has moments of legend: In 1967, he flew into the country on a plane full of ammunition to replace a conductor who had fled on the eve of the Six-Day War.

The Mumbai-born conductor ended up staying.

Two years later, he became the orchestra's music adviser, then its music director in 1977, which became a lifetime appointment in 1981.

Forget the fraught politics of the Middle East. In a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles, Mehta says he wants to focus on the music as the Israel Philharmonic makes its Singapore debut on Nov 11.

This is part of a five-city tour of Asia, meant to promote "goodwill all over the world". "We're very grateful to be invited," the 78-year-old says. On the programme is Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, a work he first recorded with the orchestra in 1964.

The concert at Marina Bay Sands' MasterCard Theatres also features Vivaldi's Concerto In B Minor For Four Violins and Mozart's Symphony No. 36 (Linz).

Singapore is the fourth stop on the tour, which begins with Bangkok in Thailand on Monday and sees the orchestra visiting South Korea and Japan before coming here.

The trip concludes in China on Nov 16. It has been nearly a decade since Mehta was here and he is looking forward to coming back.

"I used to visit Singapore very often," he says, bringing up his last concert here in 2005, with Italy's Maggio Musicale Fiorentino at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

His first visit here was in the 1980s, with the New York Philharmonic, which he led until 1991 - the longest tenure in the orchestra's history.

Mehta is one of the most highly regarded conductors in the world, famed for his flamboyant style and with a resume that includes leading the fabled Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic by the age of 25.

A nod from him is enough to launch a career and his proteges include Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov and, more recently, the award-winning pianists of Duo Amal, Palestinian Bishara Haroni and Israel's Yaron Kohlberg.

Mehta's baton has led concerts from the crowd-pleasing (the 1994 Three Tenors concerts in Rome and Los Angeles featuring Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo) to those certain to captivate only aficionados (the complete four-opera Ring Cycle by Wagner - performed three times and with different orchestras).

He stands out as the lone Indian conductor in high-flying Western classical music circles. His brother Zarin is better known for his organisational and management skills and was president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic from 2000 to 2012.

"In India, there's so much music. Western music finds it difficult to compete," Zubin says. For that reason, he and Zarin co-chair the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation in their birthplace, Mumbai, to teach young children more about Western classical music.

"We have 250 young kids who are studying music. They may not become musicians, but they will go to concerts."

Mehta credits his passion for the Western art form to his father and first teacher Mehli, an accomplished violinist who died in 2002.

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