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Dream return for Zubin

Mumbai, March 27: Zubin Mehta has come full circle.

“When I left Mumbai in ’54 for Vienna, I had never really heard a live symphony orchestra,” he says. The only one he had heard was the ragtag one put together by his father, Mehli, in which the strings were played by civilians and the wood-winds and the brass by navy men.

“In Vienna, the first orchestra I heard was the Vienna Philharmonic. It was as if my ears had been blocked and then suddenly opened. This sound I still carry today,” says the maestro.

“To come back here with this orchestra is coming full circle,” he says.

His wide, prominent forehead is wider, the salt-and-pepper hair receding, his brows are more deeply creased, but the warm smile is infectious, lighting up his philosopher’s eyes. And the 67-year-old doesn’t get angry when a cell phone rings loudly with a Hindi film tune while he is addressing a news conference, which he did this afternoon — only tells the person concerned that he should switch it off at the concert.

Tomorrow and day after, Mehta conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in the city at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre for the Mehli Mehta Foundation, named after his father. It is going to be the highlight of his career in India, says Austrian ambassador Jutta Stefan, also present at the conference.

But it is a troubled Mehta that comes back to the city of his birth. He is troubled because of Iraq. War has always disturbed him.

He had performed amid the ruins of Sarajevo’s National Library in June 1994 with the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. They had played Mozart’s Requiem. It was broadcast to 26 countries with the aim of raising money for the UN Refugee Fund. He wishes he could do something like that now.

“I hope the conflict comes to a very rapid conclusion. I don’t know anybody who is in favour of this war,” says Mehta. “I would gladly go tomorrow and perform for the refugees there, or on the border of Turkey.”

But as he doesn’t have the means now, he has to be content with the performance at hand in his hometown.

The music that he will perform here will be purely “Viennese”— Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major, Haydn’s Concerto for Trumpet in E-Flat Major, Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai, who founded the Vienna Philharmonic, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major.

This is the first time the Vienna Philharmonic is visiting the country after 1959. In 1961, the 25-year-old Mehta conducted the orchestra for the first time in his life.

The performances here are a tribute to the 42-year collaboration between Mehta and the orchestra, said Clemens Hellsberg of the Vienna Philharmonic, who is accompanying 90 musicians from the orchestra here.

Bringing the music he does back home has been a dream for Mehta, who has been the music director of Montreal Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Bavarian State Orchestra, his latest appointment.

In November 1994, he brought the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to India. Conducting in Mumbai and New Delhi, he helped bridge a political gap that had prevented them from performing there for three decades.

The maestro feels that now India, too, like other parts of the world, is waking up rapidly to the wonders of Western classical than ever before. “But what we need is a school of music,” he says.

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