Jarring Notes On A Stellar Evening: What Would Zubin Mehta Have Said?


August 21, 2023

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The LA based conductor is in Mumbai headlining two sold-out shows conducting the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI). The inaugural concert took place on August 19th.

Article by Sarosh Bana


Zubin Mehta conducting at the NCPA | Twitter

Unable to get tickets for Zubin Mehta’s programme at the Jamshed Bhabha theatre at the NCPA on Saturday, we went for the live screening at the adjacent Tata Theatre. Though Mehta is obviously enfeebled by his illustrious 87 years and conducted whilst seated, he was still every bit the supreme maestro he always has been, shepherding the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) in rendering a high-quality performance. The SOI has clearly become a great orchestra entirely on the merit of each of its dedicated musicians.

However, there were two aspects that detracted from a stellar evening:

1. We made it a point to reach the NCPA more than an hour early for the 6pm concert, to ensure a parking spot before the cars of the large audiences from both the venues filled up the areas. We were stunned when we were told at the gates that there was no parking available (except for the short strip next to the Jamshed Bhabha hall), as NCPA Chairman Khushroo Suntook had instructed that all parking be reserved exclusively for his personal guests!

Being handicapped, and a senior citizen who drives his own car, I asked if I could park in any space reserved for the handicapped, but was told that handicapped parking had been withdrawn long ago!

The question is: can a ‘national cultural centre’ be run as one’s personal fiefdom in this day and age, and can valid ticket-holders be discriminated against so brazenly? And if public parking at the venue is disallowed for whatever reason, isn’t it necessary to provide an alternative solution, or will patrons be told: “Do what you will, even go back home for all we care!” 

2. The filming of the programme was disastrous and Zubin Mehta might certainly take umbrage if he were to see it! It was easily the worst video recording of a major Western classical recital, and this was sad because the programme was one of its kind – quite possibly being Zubin Mehta’s last one in India and his only one where he conducted a local orchestra in the city of his birth. There must have been eight or nine video cameras at Jamshed Bhabha, but they all focussed only on small frames of the musicians, entirely leaving out vast sections of the strings, winds and percussion. Often focussing aimlessly on musicians who were not even playing! For instance, if one had not heard the second violins, violas, double basses and some percussionists, one would easily have felt that the orchestral works had dispensed with them!

The videographers also showed very little of Zubin Mehta, particularly before the intermission. At concerts overseas, the videographers themselves understand music enough and are even able to read scores to be able to zoom in on the right musicians at the right times. While one does not expect that level of proficiency everywhere, cameramen can at least guide themselves visually and audibly. Grave injustice indeed, to a great conductor and a great orchestra.

The author is the editor of Business India.