Israel Bids Farewell to Its Maestro

Though not Jewish, or even Arab, Zubin Mehta was called the “crown jewel of Israel’s cultural life”

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: Music
Zubin Mehta
Zubin Mehta, Indian-born conductor of the Israeli Philharmonic orchestra. Photo: Yossi Zeliger / Flash90

Zubin Mehta has bid farewell to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) in an emotional tribute to the Maestro who has conducted the world renown orchestra for 50 years. 

Mehta was honored during an open-air celebratory concert at the Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv receiving tribute from numerous adoring Israeli dignitaries. Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai called him the “crown jewel of Israel’s cultural life.”

The 83-year-old Mehta was born to a musical family in then Bombay, India. His father founded and conducted the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and taught his son to play piano and violin. By age 16, Mehta was conducting the full orchestra.

During his music studies in Vienna, Mehta met then fellow student conductor Daniel Barenboim, an icon in the world of classical music who went on to win 7 Grammy Awards for his musical productions. The two became great friends, Mehta being one of the two witnesses at Barenboim’s marriage at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Since “I was not Jewish I had to temporarily be renamed Moshe Cohen, which made me a ‘kosher witness,’” Mehta recalls.

In 1960 Mehta was invited to make his first guest appearance with the IPO in Tel Aviv. During the 1967 Six-Day-War, the maestro returned to Israel from a concert tour abroad in order to conduct concerts of solidarity with the people of Israel.

Mehta was installed as permanent Music Director for life of the IPO in 1981 and became an honorary citizen of Israel. 

Over his 50 years with the IPO Mehta has conducted thousands of concerts. In 1982 during the Lebanon War he conducted a concert in Southern Lebanon to encourage soldiers involved in the Lebanese War. He was also embraced by Lebanese Arabs rushing onto the stage to kiss and embrace him. 

Mehta has conducted numerous outdoor concerts with the IPO in historic places including Masada, Jerusalem’s Solomon’s Pools, Yad v’Shem, and the Dead Sea Scroll Park.

During the Gulf War in 1991, Mehta insisted in performing in Tel Aviv which was being bombed by Saddam Hussein while the audience held their gas masks in their laps during the concert.

During a 2007 concert in Nazareth before an Arab audience, Mehta told the attendees that he has a deep kinship with the Jewish people. Later, Palestinian protestors caused the BBC to stop his London Proms summer concert at the Royal Albert Hall. 

Zubin Mehta continues to support the discovery and furtherance of musical talents all over the world. The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv develops young talent in Israel and is closely related to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, as is a new project of teaching young Arab Israelis with local teachers and members of the IPO.

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