Mumbai: It’s really like I’d never left,” said Zubin Mehta at the launch of his biography at the Taj Mahal Palace on Friday. The Mumbai-born music maestro is back in Mumbai to play in three concerts on April 17, 18 and 20 that will mark the beginning of his 80th birthday celebrations. And the launch of the book, Zubin Mehta: A Musical Journey was almost a cosy affair.
Accompanying the maestro were his wife Nancy Kovack and a few of his childhood friends including Dr Yusuf Hamied, who plays an integral part in the book.
At the event biographer Bakhtiar Dadabhoy revealed how it took him eight long years to complete the book. Mehta too raised his eyebrows in wonder. “It took you eight years?” “It took me much less to write, but it took time to get you around,” replied Dadabhoy, who is a senior civil servant in the Indian Railways.
Mehta spoke of how he was in awe of the “incredible research” Dadabhoy had done.
“I don’t know where he got all that information from. But obviously he did and I couldn’t argue with it because he stated facts. He quoted newspaper articles, positive and negative. If it’s a truthful book, you have to portray everything. He went into the details of my time in Montreal, Los Angeles, New York, Israel. I take my hat off to him for the amount of research.”
It was not too long after Mehta had released his own memoir, Zubin Mehta: The Score Of My Life, when Dadabhoy first approached him for a biography. The maestro dismissed the idea, as he didn’t see the need for a biography having just penned a memoir.
But Dadabhoy wouldn’t give up and eventually Mehta had to yield. “I couldn’t have dreamed that this book could even exist until last year when Mr Dadabhoy reached me,” he said.
‘No concert halls’
The maestro also rues the lack of concert halls in India and points out how China is having a “cultural explosion”. “When we went in ’94, Shanghai had one concert hall of 600 people, now they have at least four or five concert halls and they are building their second opera house.
I frankly don’t understand why they need a second opera house. But they are building it, whether that’s ego, or a government that doesn’t know what to do with their money… every city in China has a concert hall. The whole world’s musicians are going to China each month and they are playing to full house.”
He’s not as appreciative of the Chinese audience though. “People are eating their sandwiches, sending SMS — that’s the Chinese way.” But he wonders why India hasn’t been building places for music. “Especially in Delhi.
It’s a scandal that the national capital cannot build a music hall. I have even written to the President, to Members of the Parliament. They all agree with me and yet there is no hall in Delhi.”
He sees an interest in Western classical music in the big cities here. “Last year when I played in Chennai, the concert hall was too small for the number of interested people who showed up.”
A massive fan of cricket & chillies
Zubin Mehta often credits his success to certain opportunities. “I made half my career by jumping in at the last moment. I think my success was due almost entirely to the misfortunes of my elderly colleagues,” he once said.
At 18, he quit trying to become a doctor. “I always had the intention of becoming a conductor, not because I wanted to wave a stick, but because orchestral music appeals to me,” he said once.
At 26, he became the youngest conductor of a major American orchestra when the Los Angeles Philharmonic made him director.
Mehta loves spicy food. Once, while conducting a piece was famously spotted with tears rolling down his face because he had accidentally rubbed his eyes with chilly-laced hands while on his way to the concert.
When asked why he loved cricket so much, he said, “Simple. I grew up in Mumbai playing the game in the big yards of our homes in Cuffe Parade.”...