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Zubin Mehta enthralls Chennai

Sarah Hiddleston

The maestro's concert at Music Academy reflects the triumph of the human spirit over adversity

INSPIRATION TO ACT: Zubin Mehta and the Bavarian State Orchestra performing at the Music Academy in Chennai on Monday in a concert dedicated to those affected by tsunami. "If we are able to inspire people with our music, we can raise more funds," Mr. Mehta said. — Photo: Shaju John (More photos on Back Page)

Chennai: They gave him a standing ovation even before he had lifted his baton. And when he was done, a packed hall in Chennai's Music Academy persuaded Zubin Mehta to follow with two encores.

Conducting the Munich-based Bavarian State Orchestra, of which he has been Music Director for the last eight years, the maestro opened the concert with Verdi's overture to the opera Il Forza del Destino (1862) - the Force of Destiny. This was followed by Schubert's Eighth Symphony "The Unfinished" (1822) and Beethoven's immortal Symphony No. 5 (1808).

The Verdi overture began tentatively, perhaps because the orchestra was unaccustomed to a somewhat drier acoustic than they might find in Europe. However, orchestra and conductor used their familiarity with the piece to demonstrate a thoughtful working together of the themes in the opera for which it was composed.

In Mehta's hands, Schubert's unfinished masterpiece was cleverly guided away from classical formality and assumed the character of an early romantic piece. This was evident in the orchestral sound that he produced and in his choice of a more moderate tempo — one that allowed Schubert's genius for melodic line to flow clearly between the various sections of the orchestra.

After the interval, the maestro dedicated the concert, held on the anniversary of the Asian tsunami, to all those affected by the disaster. He urged the audience to contribute generously to relief programmes. The maestro explained that all three works chosen for the concert express some sort of struggle: from the three brass chords that open Verdi's overture, to the intense introspectiveness of Schubert and finally to the eventual joyous victory of the human spirit over adversity in the majestic fugue of the final movement of the Beethoven symphony.

And majestic it was. The opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are amongst some of the most familiar phrases in western music. This was not a bombastic rendering, rather a careful — almost studied — exposition of Beethoven's theme of triumph over adversity.

The entire concert was a reflection of Mehta's relationship with the orchestra - one of mutual respect and understanding, born out of years of working together on the standard repertoire and on commissions for new and challenging work.

After a rapturous reception, Mehta heeded the cries for more and sent the audience home waltzing to Johann Strauss' Tritsch-Tratsch Polka followed by the overture to Die Fledermauss, traditionally performed on New Year's Eve.

President of the Music Academy N. Murali thanked the maestro for his "once in a lifetime performance" and drew attention to the sacrifice made by the members of the orchestra, which had travelled on Christmas day.

The orchestra will perform in New Delhi on December 28. The India tour, which was organised by the German Consulate and Max Mueller Bhavan in partnership with Tata Consultancy Services and Moser Baer, was supported by Lufthansa, Bosch, Siemens and Deutsche Bank.

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