India-born Western classical music conductor Zubin Mehta was among five stalwarts from the arts and entertainment field honoured by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts this year for their lifetime contribution.
Apart from Mehta, others who were honoured for their contribution to American culture 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.
While the awardees were presented with a medal at a reception Saturday hosted by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, top Washington politicians and celebrities gathered Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center in Washington for a star-studded function in which the five legends were formally honoured.
"America thanks you. We thank you for showing your creative gifts and enriching the cultural life of our country," US President George Bush was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying at Saturday's reception.
"What makes America great is not the idea of power but the power of ideas," Rice said.
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.
He 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).
Earlier, when the five honorees were named, Mehta had stated, "Anyone who has worked and dedicated himself for over 30 years to the arts in the US as I have, knows the immense honour that the Kennedy Center awards signify. In this spirit I humbly accept this most prestigious award and am proud to be in the company of so many of the world's foremost artists that I have admired and grown up with."
In Sunday's function, the toast to Mehta was raised by former World Bank president Jim Wolfensohn.