Bombay Showcase

In hot pursuit of the maestro

REHEARSAL TIME: World-renowned orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta shares a light moment with tenorAndrea Bocelli (centre) and soprano Maria Katzarava at the Cricket Club of India, in Mumbai, on Tuesday. Photo: Prashant Nakwe  

Sweet dreams are made of this. A month ago, I heard the great western classical conductor Zubin Mehta was coming to Mumbai with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as part of his 80th birthday celebrations. Three shows were scheduled on April 17, 18 and 20. The actual day, April 29, will be celebrated in Vienna.

The story is simple. I have been chasing the maestro every day since Friday, April 15. The first occasion was at the launch of his authorised Penguin Books India biography, Zubin Mehta - A Musical Journey, by Bakhtiar K Dadabhoy. The next day was a formal ‘In Conversation’ session with noted physician Jehangir Sorabjee, also a huge western classical fan.

On Sunday morning, I attended Mehta’s rehearsal at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA. On Monday, a full-fledged concert at the same venue. Two more events follow after I write this. All concerts have been organised by the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation.

Four experiences. I managed to get his autograph too, and also a nice picture which didn’t look like a posed selfie. But first, some background.

When I first heard of these shows, I was informed he wasn’t giving any interviews. I tried pushing my luck. The obvious way was to do a Google search. So I typed zubinmehta@gmail.com and zubin@vsnl. The second one bounced, but the first one replied: “Thanks for your mail. But I am not the Maestro. Just share his name.”

What next? I went to the official Zubin Mehta site. Got his managing staff’s IDs. His assistant Natalia Ritzkowski got back: “I am very sorry but this will be impossible for Mr Mehta.”

No issues. I kept thinking. I wrote two pieces for this newspaper. First, I penned a fictitious symphony for Mehta in an imaginary key called ‘Z Major’. Mailed it to the management. No response. Then, I wrote a piece called The Conductor As A CEO, drawing a link between a philharmonic orchestra and a corporate conglomerate. Mailed that too. Must have been deleted as spam.

Moved on. Luck came in the form of two people inviting me for these events: Nira Benegal of Mehli Mehta Music Foundation and Neha Punj of Penguin. Luck and perseverance followed.

At the book launch, Zubin Mehta arrived dot on time. I had to get his autograph somehow. When he was leaving, the Penguin biography wasn’t yet in my hands. I approached him with a copy of his earlier autobiography, purchased in 2008. He graciously smiled and signed. I guess only he and I knew that book was published by a rival publisher. ‘Wink’ emoticon. An acquaintance clicked the moment, and mailed it to me. ‘Big smile’ emoji. Was I thrilled?

I kept observing the gentleman. At the book launch and in his conversation with Dr Sorabjee, I noticed Zubin Mehta is full of charm and wit. He’s a stickler for time. He’s very honest whether he talks of music, politics, conflict areas, cricket or food. He loves Test cricket. He loves Parsi and Italian food, but avoids north Indian cuisine which uses the same gravy for every dish.

Cut to the Sunday rehearsal. He was a hard taskmaster, but never shouted. His sheer presence made the difference. He would make the musicians play entire parts again, till they got it right. His energy was infectious. Later that evening, the programme included composers Dvorak, Beethoven and Ravel. On Monday, it had Die Fledermaus Overture by Johann Strauss II, Brahms Double Concerto featuring violinist Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 with outstanding pianist Denis Matsuev. It was a memorable evening, which ended with the entire crowd standing up to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’.

This evening, tenor Andrea Bocelli and soprano Maria Katzarava will join Mehta at the Brabourne Stadium. The repertoire includes opera arias and duets composed by Verdi and Puccini, besides traditional central European polkas. Now, I wish I could chase Zubin Mehta till his April 29 birthday, when he plays with the Vienna Philharmonic and pianist Daniel Barenboim. It shall be a Beethoven special, which will include the ‘Leonara Overture’ from the opera ‘Fidelio’, Piano Concerto No 3 and Symphony 7. My terrible luck I can’t be there. Sweet dreams are ‘not’ made of this. Happy Birthday, Zubin.

The writer is a freelance music journalist


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 5:06:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/in-hot-pursuit-of-the-maestro/article8497302.ece

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