Conductor Zubin Mehta, who recently returned to the podium of the New York Philharmonic where he served for 13 years as music director, joins host Gilbert Kaplan.
Mehta said he loved reconnecting with the musicians, but not the audience: “I never thought too much of the New York audience,” he said, whose applause is only enough for a conductor to return twice to take a bow.
Mehta’s favorite music includes Brahms – if he had to pick a work which best shows off his skill as a conductor, it would be a Brahms symphony; and at home he listens to chamber music, especially late Haydn trios and Brahms quartets. He admits he doesn’t particularly care for any British composers, except Elgar. The only major work he has never conducted is Wagner’s Parsifal, which he looks forward to tackling one day.
The two conductors who influenced Mehta most were Toscanini and Furtwängler – Toscanini for his fidelity to the score and Furtwängler, less faithful, but emotionally “staggering.”
He grew up in a home where legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz was a god – “Every violinist today would agree,” he says, but he believes India has its own Jascha Heifetz in sitarist Ravi Shankar. Arriving in Vienna as a teenager to study music was a cultural shock, especially when it came to the local food, which for Mehta was, “Like a diet. You know, when Americans came to Vienna they all gained weight because it was fatty food for them – for me, it was a diet compared to Indian food!”
On mounting the podium, he said if a conductor appears before an orchestra without knowing exactly what he wants, the orchestra “senses that immediately” and you lose your authority. And unlike some modern maestros who conduct in Nehru jackets, tuxedos and no tie, Mehta says he’ll never give up on traditional white tie and tails.
Richard Wagner Tristan und Isolde. “Liebestod” Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Wilhelm Furtwängler. Allegro 1014.
Ludwig van Beethoven Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61. [Excerpt] NBC Symphony Orchestra. Arturo Toscanini. Jascha Heifetz, violin. Classica D’oro 2002.
Sir Edward Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85. [Excerpt] Philadelphia Orchestra. Daniel Barenboim. Jacqueline du Pré, cello. Sony 78737.
“Raga Mishra Piloo” adapted by Ravi Shankar. [Excerpt] Ravi Shankar, sitar. Alla Rakha, tabla. Kamala Chakvravarty, tamboura. Angel 5172834.
Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. [Excerpt] Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Zubin Mehta. Sony SX4K 53279.
Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 5. [Excerpt] New York Philharmonic. Zubin Mehta. Ultima 28170.