Zubin Mehta is among the five stalwarts from the arts and entertainment field who will be honoured by the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts this year. Apart from Mehta, the others are musical theatre composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, country singer and songwriter Dolly Parton, singer, songwriter and producer Smokey Robinson, and film director and producer Steven Spielberg.
Now a resident of Los Angeles , Mehta was born in Mumbai in 1936. He received his early education in music from his father Mehli Mehta, a violinist and co-founder of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and later music director of the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles .
Mehta initially intended to study medicine but eventually became a music student in Vienna at the age of 18, under the eminent instructor Hans Swarowsky.
In 1958, he made his conducting debut in Vienna . That same year he won the International Conducting Competition in Liverpool and was appointed assistant conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
His rise as a conductor has been swift. After Liverpool , he became the music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and then of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1978, Mehta became music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, where his 13-year tenure would become the longest in the orchestra’s history. In 1981, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he had been associated with since 1969 in various capacities, made him their music director for life. He has conducted over 2,000 concerts with this orchestra.
Since 1985, he has been revitalising opera as chief conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. A recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, India ‘s second highest civilian honour, his life has been documented in Terry Sanders’ film Portrait of Zubin Mehta and in a book by Martin Bookspan and Ross Yockey entitled Zubin: The Zubin Mehta Story.
This year saw the publication in Germany of Zubin Mehta’s autobiography, Die Partitur meines Leben: Erinnerungen (The Score of my Life: Memories).
Mehta and the other recipients of 2006 Kennedy Center Honours will be saluted by stars from the world of the performing arts at a gala performance in the Kennedy Center ‘s Opera House in Washington on December 3.