The maestros’s voice

Iconic musical director Zubin Mehta talks candidly about the IPO’s upcoming season.

Zubin Mehta (photo credit: Reuters)
Zubin Mehta
(photo credit: Reuters)
The 2012-2013 season program of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra features an impressive mixture of the IPO’s old friends and new, all of them well-known names in the classical music world.
Among the conductors who will take their place on the podium are Christoph von Dohnanyi, Kurt Masur, Gianandrea Noseda, Gustavo Dudamel, Kirill Petrenko, David Robertson, Vladimir Jurowski, Christoph Eschenbach, Semyon Bychkov, as well as soloists/conductors Pinchas Zukerman, Murray Perahia and Andras Schiff.
The list of soloists is no less impressive and includes such names as pianists Yuja Wang, Denis Matsuev, Kun Woo Paik, violinists Joshua Bell, Nikolaj Znaider, Julian Rachlin, Janine Jansen, Ray Chen, Itamar Zorman and Michael Barenboim, cellist Boris Andrianov and sitar player Anoushka Shankar.
The musical director of the orchestra, maestro Zubin Mehta, returns to the IPO to lead many captivating concerts during its 77th season. Under his baton, the orchestra will open the season with a series of concerts with pianist Yuja Wang, who will perform concerti by Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn. Mehta will also lead the closing series, which will feature concert performances of popular operas by Verdi, such as Falstaff and Othello.
Next March, the IPO plans to return to its home, Heichal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv, which is due to open after a period of renovations.
“We are looking forward to going back to our refurbished hall, and I know there will be better acoustics,” says Mehta in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I was there already. It is still unfinished, but it is going in the right direction. The ceiling above the stage is higher. That’s my victory,” he adds with a smile. “The ceiling was too low, constricting the sound and, as a result, the sound was of low quality.”
While the IPO’s list of outstanding conductors and soloists would make any music capital in the world proud, its programs are quite conservative and do not really speak to that segment of the audience that is looking for an exciting experience of the here and now and not simply the pleasure of hearing yet another performance of well-known classics.
So why is the programming so conservative? Where are new pieces, written less than 100 years ago, that relate to the spirit of our time? “I agree with you,” says Mehta.
“The reason is that our audience hates it. And the organizers of the orchestra – my colleagues and friends – are afraid, because we live on tickets sales.
We do play modern pieces, but absolutely not enough.”
What could be done to educate the audience? “You can educate the public by playing more and more contemporary music, till they trust us.
This is what we do at the New York Philharmonic: We play a lot of modern music, and although not everybody likes it, people trust us because we do it for their and the composers’ future. We do not do that enough here.”
How does he see the future of the IPO and are there any things he would like to develop or change? “With the Israel Philharmonic, we must play Wagner, that’s for sure,” says Mehta. “We need to get better instruments. We need to give commissions to young composers.”
How does Mehta feel about spending so many years with the same orchestra? “Granted, I do not spend 12 months a year with the IPO, but being its music director for 43 years, that is already something. I hired all the members of the orchestra, everyone of them – a thing that never happened before!” So would it be safe to say that as a musician, he grew together with the orchestra? “Yes, definitely. We’ve learned a lot of repertoire together; for example, Mahler’s later symphonies among other pieces, and a lot of operas.”
How does Mehta choose new soloists and conductors to perform with the IPO? For example, this year violinist Michael Barenboim will play with the IPO, and it is clear that the reason is not that he is the son of the maestro’s lifelong friend Daniel Barenboim.
“I heard him playing Schoenberg’s concerto at La Scala and I said, ‘You have to come and perform it in Israel.’ I listen, I get word of mouth, and they also send me their recordings.”
Mehta adds that the Israeli government does not support the IPO enough financially. “It must support us more, instead of cutting our budget. I know they have problems, but culture does not cost that much money. The percentage of culture in Israel’s budget is nothing; and to increase it, which would help us a lot, is also nothing. So do it!” he urges.