Saying Goodbye to Israel’s Musical Best Friend

Stand for Israel  |  July 31, 2019

Zubin Mehta
Zubin Mehta conducting the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre(NCPA) in Mumbai. A series of concerts were held to mark the centenary of Mehli Mehta, Zubin's father.

Those of us who stand for Israel are, regardless of where we live or where we’re from, are always heartened when other non-Israelis share our love for the Jewish state. So it has been for five decades with Zubin Mehta, the conductor and musical director for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, who, writes JNS’ Jonathan Tobin, is retiring after a lifetime of service to Israel and her people:

In recent years, we’ve grown accustomed to reading about Jews who don’t care much about Israel. That makes the willingness of one man who is not Jewish to dedicate so much of his life to Israel’s leading cultural institution extra special. Few people, Jewish or non-Jewish, have done as much to burnish Israel’s international reputation and demonstrate their love for the country as Zubin Mehta.

The 83-year-old Mehta, who is suffering from health problems, will officially resign in October after 50 years as music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He conducted his last concerts with the IPO this month with a series of performances of Verdi’s “Requiem,” and the native of Mumbai was appropriately feted as something like a national hero.

In the classical music world, conductors routinely take posts all over the globe, jetting in and out of venues. In that sense, Mehta was no exception; in his long career, he held music directorships in Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Munich and Florence.

But his ties with Israel are not just a matter of longevity. His relationship with both the IPO and Jewish state has been a love affair on the part of both the conductor and his Israeli audience.

Mehta was born in India into a musical family, yet was encouraged by his mother to study medicine. Instead, he went to Vienna to study music, where his meteoric rise as a star conductor began. By the time he was 26, he was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He had also become a ubiquitous presence on the international music scene, leading orchestras and conducting operas all over the world.

Anyone who has heard and seen Mehta conduct can easily understand his appeal. He is equal parts personal charisma and musical talent. His dynamic, flamboyant style of conducting endeared him to audiences, and his expertise in the romantic repertory for which the IPO is best known made him a natural fit for the orchestra…

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