Maestro Zubin Mehta is a known entity in these parts, jetting in and out for the last 50 years to work with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, where he is titled the Musical Director for Life.
He’s a character, this 76-year-old, Parsi conductor from India who is married to former American actress Nancy Kovack, and whose brother, Zarin Mehta, the president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic (where Zubin was the musical director from 1977 to 1991), is married to Zubin Mehta’s first wife, Carmen Lasky.
Clearly, life has not been boring for the Mehta family. A sit-down interview screened Tuesday night by Channel 2’s evening show, “Anashim” (“People”), offered the opportunity to hear some more from Mehta, who has what to say about Israel’s state of affairs, his own personal life and the future at the Israel Philharmonic.
The interview opened with a clip of auditions for the philharmonic, during which one young artist commented that Mehta doesn’t call the young musicians by name. “It takes years for him to accept you,” he said, “until he trusts you.”
Mehta feels comfortable in his musical milieu, as well as in Israeli society at large, where he’s been hanging out since his initial visit in 1961.
“I felt that it was like Bombay here,” said Mehta, referring to that first visit. “Everyone’s talking over each other, I felt at home.”
Of his work at the Philharmonic: “Israelis like to debate and so do I; it’s like being in a Middle Eastern market.”
How’s his Hebrew: “My Yiddish is better than my Hebrew; ‘gornisht mit gornisht.'”
On rock music: “Rock music is predictable, unless there’s great talent involved. I love rap because it talks about pain that comes authentically from the ghetto. It moves me. I loved [Queen's] Freddie Mercury because he was a Parsi like me, he had that little Parsi belly. He’s one of us.” (Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara, Mehta noted, on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar to Persian [Parsi] parents.)
Regarding his Israeli son, Uri, born from a romantic relationship Mehta had in Israel: “He’s out of the army [after serving in Hebron and Gaza]. I have a good relationship with him. We eat Indian food together in Tel Aviv. He doesn’t love music and I don’t force him to.”
On Israel and the Palestinians, and his hope that an Arab will one day play in the philharmonic: “I’m hopeful that Israelis can go to Ramallah whenever they want and see how the people are living. I’m waiting for a leader who can end this tension. There has to be flexibility. I love this nation, and this is still the place I know and love.”