Honour for Zubin Mehta
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Honour for Zubin Mehta

The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts honours Indian-born Western classical music conductor Zubin Mehta.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2006 17:51 IST

Indian-born Western classical music conductor 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 who have been named in the 2006 list 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.

"This year we honour five extraordinary international artists whose abundant contributions to their fields are remarkable," Kennedy Center chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman said in a statement on the centre's website.

"They have transformed the culture of our country and of the world," he said, announcing the 29th annual celebration of the arts in the US.

Schwarzman lauded Mehta's work, saying his "profound artistry and devotion to music make him a world treasure".

Since their inception in 1978, the Kennedy Center Honors have been compared to a knighthood in Britain, or the French Legion of Honour - the quintessential reward for a lifetime's endeavor.

At the same time, the annual addition of new names to the roster of honours recipients charts the international standard of excellence set by America's artists, according to the centre's website.

Mehta, who is currently on a tour in Japan with the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, has accepted the award.

"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," reports here quoted him as saying in a statement.

"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."

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).

Mehta and the other recipients of 2006 Kennedy Center Honors 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, which will be attended, among others, by US President George W Bush and his wife, Nancy Bush.

First Published: Sep 07, 2006 17:51 IST