(Yossi Zelgier/Flash90)
Zubin Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic orchestra (Yossi Zelgier/Flash90)

As Maestro Zubin Mehta prepares to retire after serving almost over four decades as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director, United With Israel honors the man who honored Israel.

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler, United With Israel

As legendary conductor Zubin Mehta steps down from his post as music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) and prepares to be honored at Tel Aviv’s “Philharmonic in the Park” concert on July 13, which he will conduct as well, United With Israel shares some of the maestro’s highlights in the Holy Land.

Mehta, 83, made his first of many guest appearance with the IPO in 1961 and has served as its musical director since 1977. An outstanding, world-renowned, multiple-award-winning conductor, he will retire from the IPO in October 2019.

In 1981, Mehta was crowned “Music Director for Life.” A non-Jewish native of India, Mehta was named Honorary Citizen of Tel Aviv-Jaffa in 1986 in recognition of the special contributions he has made to the city.

At the Israel Prize ceremony in 1991, he was awarded in recognition of his unique devotion to Israel and to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

He is credited with conducting thousands of concerts and touring on five continents with the IPO.

Special Mehta Moments

1. During the 1967 Six-Day War, already a distinguished music director, Mehta came to Israel to conduct several special concerts in an act of solidarity with the Jewish state. The maestro saw the situation as a “musical emergency.”

He caught the last plane out of the U.S. to Israel. The plane was filled with ammunition to help the country threatened with annihilation.

Mehta stayed in the basement of a Jerusalem concert hall for the duration of the war. The performance became known as the “victory concert,” as the war ended in time for the performance.

“The audience at the victory concert were local Jerusalem residents who had been hiding in their cellars for days,” Mehta told UK-based The JC in 2011. “I’m not sure how good the concert was musically – we weren’t exactly prepared!”

2. In 1982, at the time of the First Lebanon War, Mehta conducted a concert with the IPO in a tobacco field in Southern Lebanon. Following the performance, Arabs rushed onto the stage and hugged the Israeli musicians.

“How I would love to see that sight again today, of Arabs and Jews hugging each other. I’m a positive thinker. I know this day will come,” Mehta told the Los Angeles Times in 2007 of that experience,

3. Mehta said during The JC 2011 interview, “We need music in this country [Israel]. We play no matter what is going on.”

In fact, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Mehta conducted the IPO every morning, as Israelis were under night curfew due to the bombings. With threats of Israel being attacked with poison gas from Saddam Hussein, many showed up to the concerts carrying gas masks.

At the time, Mehta told LA Times, “I have literally grown up with this country over the past 30 years. I had many obligations in New York that should have prevented me from coming, but I couldn’t imagine not being here.” Mehta was also director of the New York Philharmonic at the time.

4. Out of sensitivity to Holocaust survivors, some of whom played with the IPO and to those sitting in the audience, Mehta never conducted pieces by Richard Wagner in Israel. The Nazis often played Wagner as Jews were sent to their deaths during World War II.

“While there are still numbers on arms we can’t play Wagner here,” he told The JC.

5. It is well known that Mehta, who was born in Mumbai, India, fell in love with both Israel and Israelis. In the LA Times interview, he said, “Israelis, like Indians, are opinionated, and they have the habit of all speaking at the same time, which made me feel at home. People think this is a Jewish characteristic. It’s not. It’s Asiatic.”

6. The first concert in Germany featuring the IPO playing with the Munich-based Bavarian State Orchestra was arranged by Mehta.

The concernt was held beneath the hill that housed the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp.

Mehta, along with musicians from both orchestras, toured the concentration camp before the performance.

7. Following the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, in 2006, Mehta brought the IPO to the Israel-Gaza border in protest of his imprisonment.

France24 news reported Mehta saying at the time, “I hope he knows we are doing this concert and one day very soon he will know every note we play goes out to him.”

As the legendary Zubin Mehta prepares to retire from Israel’s limelight, we thank the maestro for his dedication to the Holy Land. Not only does he adore the people of Israel, but  the people of Israel adore him.