On October 16, 2010, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra presented, in celebration of its upcoming 75th anniversary season, a spirited concert featuring excerpts from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’. A speech by Israel’s President Shimon Peres opened the event at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium; a gala benefit at the Hilton Hotel followed.
But this was about far more than 75 years of Israel’s premier orchestra: It was Zubin Mehta’s 50 years of association with the orchestra which orchestra members and the adoring audience were particularly excited about.
So when the charismatic Mehta led the orchestra in ‘Hatikvah’, Israel’s national anthem, the atmosphere in the concert hall was definitely one of strong emotion and gratitude for the support and friendship the legendary maestro had extended to the people of Israel throughout his long career.
Ever since leaving his native India at age 18, Mehta has become one of the foremost figures within the international music world.
Starting off as a young conductor and music director of both the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he later successfully filled positions with orchestras in Tel Aviv, Florence and Munich; his 13-year term as music director of the New York Philharmonic was the longest consecutive term in that orchestra’s history.
Particularly for a society which is part of a region facing political unrest and violence on an almost daily basis, music serves as a reminder of a slice of humanity beyond conflict. And so it came as no surprise to me, when Shimon Peres expressed his gratitude and respect for Mehta’s meaningful musical leadership.
“His baton supplies us powerfully with magic and hope … he introduces harmony to our country, which is not often the case in abundance…” And, in turning to Mehta: “We thank you for that unmatched service.”
Mehta replied by reconfirming his strong connection with the orchestra: “Thanks for your support for my orchestra that I love with all my heart. We are one big family.”
But this honorary citizen of Tel Aviv does not only lend his voice of musical reason to the people of Israel. He has also done so in other places in crisis, from protesting the Vietnam War to the injustices suffered by the people of Sarajevo.
One of his more recent humanitarian efforts include a concert titled “A cry to the world”, held on July 5, 2010, in support of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalith, who, as a prisoner of Hamas, is not permitted visits by the International Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations.