“I have no intention of slowing down,” world-renowned music conductor Zubin Mehta said on Saturday.
Mehta was speaking in Mumbai at a discussion on his life and work that marked the beginning of his 80th birthday celebrations. After speaking and performing here — he is set to lead the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday — he will head to Austria, Israel and Germany.
“It is here finally that spiritually inside me everything comes together,” he said, referring to Mumbai, the city of his birth. “I could walk outside here blindfolded; I know all the places. [But] I feel sad when I see the state of the Sir Cowasji Jahangir Public Hall, where my father grew up giving concerts. I am sorry it’s not what it used to be.”
A day earlier, at the launch of a Zubin Mehta biography, he had rued the lack of concert infrastructure in India.
“There is no hall in Delhi, which is a shame. It is a scandal. The nation’s capital which is supposed to be doing so well cannot afford to build a hall for Western classical music in Delhi. I was talking to the President who agrees, and even the last government agreed. They all agree but nobody is doing anything about it,” he said.
In Mumbai, he will be performing at the NCPA, which has a relatively small seating capacity of 1,100, and then at the Brabourne stadium, which can seat 25,000 but has no acoustics.
“Also in Kolkata there is nothing,” Mehta said. “We usually play at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose indoor stadium, but that is an improvisation. Everything has to be amplified and classical music doesn’t play well with amplification.”
China, he pointed out by contrast, is exploding culturally.
“When we went in 1994, Shanghai had one concert hall with a capacity of 600. Now they have at least four or five and are building their second opera house.”
Returning to reminiscences of his childhood, he said, “My part of Colaba was idyllic then. We had every second afternoon British troops marching right in front of our house, going to the cantonment area. And quietly we used to say ‘Quit India’ as they passed. And when at the end of every movie they played ‘God save the king’, we would walk out in protest. That’s the Bombay I grew up in.”