Zubin Mehta: No eating before concert

Music director Zubin Mehta (above) has led the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for more than 45 years.
Music director Zubin Mehta (above) has led the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for more than 45 years. PHOTO: MARCO BRESCIA

Renowned conductor Zubin Mehta shares his thoughts on music, food and politics before his concert here next month

The renowned India-born conductor, Zubin Mehta, 79, will lead the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a one-night concert here. He has led the orchestra for more than 45 years.

The maestro, who has led other famous orchestras such as the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, is married to retired American actress Nancy Kovack, 80, and has two children from his first marriage.

He spoke to The Straits Times ahead of his orchestra's concert here on Jan 7, when it will play works such as Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique".

What made you fall in love with music?


  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Jan 7, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $150 (gallery seats), $350 or $450 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to; The $90 and $250 tickets are sold out.


Being at home. My father, Mehli Mehta, was a great musician in Bombay. He put music in our home. He was a big influence on me.

I started playing the piano and violin because of him and when I went to Vienna, I studied both.

Tell us more about your special relationship with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

It started in 1961 when I went there as a substitute. I've been its music director since 1969.

We've made many recordings and performed more than 3,000 concerts. It's a very well-rooted relationship.

Over the years, the personnel has changed a lot. The orchestra is like my family.

What is the strangest or most memorable thing that has happened to you while you were conducting?

I've been conducting for 50 years, so it's hard to say.

Taking the orchestra to India and China in the early 1990s was significant to me. There were no diplomatic relations then after the war.

I also recall the first time the orchestra went to Germany in 1971. It was a very fine occasion.

You've spoken of musical diplomacy, of the power of music to broker peace and transcend politics. Why is it something you believe in?

Israel is a controversial country. Many people don't agree with what goes on and the orchestra going on tour is very important, to show the other face of the country. Israel is foremost in the arts as well as in the sciences.

What is your advice to aspiring conductors?

Study hard and gain as much knowledge as possible. In conducting, you have to communicate to 100 people in front of you. You have to know the orchestra, the instruments, the style of music, its history and the piece that you are interpreting. It is a combination, the art of communication and conducting.

What are your pre-show rituals?

I need at least an hour of sleep to get some quiet and peace. In the morning, I'm working, but just before the concert, I need to clear my mind and sleep on it.

After a performance, what do you do to relax and unwind?

I have to eat as I don't eat before that. It is too heavy to go on stage with food. I like Indian food and Italian food. I'm in Naples now and the food here is very special.

When you were in Singapore with the New York Philharmonic in 1984, you played to a crowd at the Padang that included the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Can you tell us more about your encounter?

He was one of the great patrons in Asia. He was very kind. He came by the stage and I asked him: "Please, could you build a concert hall in Singapore?"

I don't know if he listened to me, but there is one now. I'm looking forward to playing in it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'No eating before concert OffStage'. Print Edition | Subscribe