Commentary: Zubin Mehta displays on his profession and Mahler
Zubin Mehta walks onstage extra slowly than he did in his youthful, dashing days and is helped by a cane. He conducts sitting down. Sunday afternoon at Walt Disney Concert Hall, his arm actions lacked ostentation and will barely be seen from behind. What hasn’t modified is the Mehta Sound, one thing so daring and particular person it requires a proper title. The Los Angeles Philharmonic had a majesty that solely Mehta can get. At 86, he wants no flamboyance. His mere presence is sufficient.
That presence was felt from the second the stage doorways opened. The crowd started cheering earlier than the conductor may even be seen. By the time he reached the rostrum, not solely the orchestra however most of us within the corridor have been on our collective toes. Mehta has endured well being issues lately, however this efficiency of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, at an nearly brisk 96 minutes, displayed the quintessential majestic grandeur of the Mehta Sound. The cheers on the finish have been like these for a rock live performance.
The Mehta Sound at all times encompasses massed brass and massive percussion. Here, too, double basses and cellos resonated like sonic pilings dug deeply into the symphonic earth, changing into the inspiration of the longest symphony in the usual repertory.
Everyone onstage appeared galvanized by Mehta. Andrew Bain’s potent horn name that opened the Third immediately known as the viewers to consideration. Marc Lachat’s oboe may have been the jolting voice of a wild animal within the jungle. All the various solos within the symphony — be they flute, clarinet, violin, trumpet — have been Mehta-ized. That additionally went for the strings, the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s girls’s refrain, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and the amber-toned Gerhild Romberger, who sang the brief alto solo about human struggling.
In six actions, the symphony is an unlimited meditation on life and nature, comprising our angst and our enthusiasms. The finale is a protracted sluggish motion that gives a swelling thanksgiving for the privilege of being alive.
Where does Mehta Sound come from? When I requested him about it in late January at his Brentwood house, he was nonchalant. He has stated that in his 16 seasons as music director of the L.A. Phil, from 1962 to 1978, he at all times had the raptly lovely sounds of the Vienna Philharmonic in his thoughts, as heard within the metropolis’s superb live performance corridor, the Musikverein.
In reality, Mehta created one thing fairly totally different. No one has ever mistaken the acoustically duller Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which Mehta opened with the L.A. Phil in 1964, for the Musikverein. The spectacular recordings Mehta made with the L.A. Phil in UCLA’s Royce Hall have been engineered to supply a sort of wide-screen, Technicolor orchestral impact that first revealed the extraordinary influence that Mehta now achieves in his annual visits to Disney because the orchestra’s conductor emeritus.
Mahler’s Third was Mehta’s final recording with the L.A. Phil. He taped it in March 1978, three months earlier than the top of his ultimate season with the orchestra. That fall he decamped to the New York Philharmonic. By the time the two-LP set was launched in May 1980, Mehta was already making slicker, much less important recordings in New York. Meanwhile, the L.A. Phil had been given a brand new id by Carlo Maria Giulini, the poetic Italian conductor. The Mahler set obtained little consideration.
It had been a very long time, 45 years to be precise, since Mehta had carried out Mahler’s Third with the L.A. Mehta informed me that he merely felt like doing it once more. His stamp is dissimilar to that of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s, who occurred to decide on Mahler’s Third to open his first season as music director of the L.A. Phil in 1992 and went on to make a luminous recording it just a few years later with the orchestra. Gustavo Dudamel luxuriated in his personal warmly sympathetic recording of it with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2014.
For his half, Mehta has made two extra recordings of the Third. One, in 1993, was with the Israel Philharmonic, throughout his half-century tenure because the orchestra’s music director. Here the symphony has a hair-raising, scrappy authority. The different was a robustly magisterial stay recording made within the Musikverein, as a part of a tour with the orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera (the place Mehta served as music director from 1998 to 2006). Mehta has additionally had been chief conductor of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy, and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Spain.
But L.A. and New York made Mehta the commanding Mahlerian he has change into. The arresting analog engineering of the Royce Hall classes are the place you witness the marvelous Mehta Sound — the place every sonority has a persona, even a sort of chutzpah. Mehta stated that when he then programmed the Third in New York, he studied it with Leonard Bernstein.
“Lenny came to my performance with the New York Philharmonic,” Mehta remembers. “Afterwards we went to his apartment, and we talked about it. He told me that the last movement had to be 26 minutes. ‘Yours was faster,’ he said. ‘It’s not fast. The last moment is very slow.’”
In his recordings and at Disney Hall on Sunday, Mehta’s final motion stubbornly remained between 23 and 24 minutes. Mehta doesn’t go for Bernsteinian transcendence, however reasonably outward glory. Mehta doesn’t put together his climaxes, he stuns you with them. He insists upon awe.
“Bernstein had many things to tell me, and I appreciated it a lot of it, especially about how to deal with the orchestra and about interpretation. He told me what he liked and what he didn’t like. He once came to my performance of Mahler’s Fifth and didn’t like it.”
Shortly after changing into music director of the L.A. Phil and never lengthy earlier than her demise in 1964, Mehta visited Alma Mahler, the composer’s widow and a composer in her personal proper. “I didn’t know her well, but I speak Viennese,” he stated referring to distinct Viennese German pronunciation, “so we got along very well, and she showed me everything, with all her different husbands, including architectural designs, models, autographs,” notably from her later spouses, together with the architect Walter Gropius and novelist Franz Werfel.
“She made me miss my plane to Paris,” Mehta continued. “I had a rehearsal in Paris I had to cancel. She just held my hand and wouldn’t let me go. I asked her so many questions about Vienna.”
However, Mehta says he did get to know Anna Mahler, a famous sculptor and the second daughter of Gustav and Alma, very nicely. “Anna used to construct huge statues,” Mehta says. “She had the death mask of her mother.”
“I took her once to a play at the Mark Taper Forum,” he remembers. “She fainted during the intermission of the play. Suddenly this man came to help me. I saw it was Charlton Heston. He didn’t know who she was, and I didn’t know him. He just saw a woman falling and so he wanted to help.
During our conversation back in January, I was tempted to ask him about the fictional Lydia Tár’s grotesque performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in “Tár.” But extra urgent for the time being: his views on whether or not Gustavo Dudamel would possibly change into the following music director of the New York Philharmonic, which everybody in New York appeared to consider. Although Mehta’s tenure with America’s oldest orchestra was rocky at occasions, significantly from some journalists who discovered him flashy and superficial, he wound up lasting 13 years as its music director, longer than another.
Did he suppose Gustavo Dudamel would go to New York? No. Paris and L.A. made extra sense to Mehta, who has seldom been again to New York. No conductor after Bernstein (that features Pierre Boulez, Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert) maintained a lot of a relationship with the orchestra. Mehta, alternatively, has appeared often with the L.A. Phil for greater than six a long time.
In a follow-up cellphone name after the information that Dudamel had, certainly, accepted the appointment to change into the New York Philharmonic’s music director starting in 2026, I requested if Mehta had any recommendation for Dudamel. He didn’t, explaining that a lot has modified through the years and that he presently had little contact with the orchestra. But he had confidence that Dudamel would win the gamers over.
Other than New York, Mehta has stored his ties with all his former orchestras and opera firms, together with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, which he conducts often. “I promised when I left the Los Angeles Philharmonic that I would keep coming back, and I have,” he says. He has stored his principal residence in L.A. and has change into seemingly extra beloved with each passing 12 months and look.
Next week he returns to Florence for a manufacturing of “Carmen.” He is now getting ready to conduct his first “Lulu” subsequent season in Florence, with William Friedkin directing Berg’s opera. At least that’s the plan. The Maggio Musicale, which is so dedicated to Mehta that it named one in every of its theaters after him, is in disaster. Its superintendent, Alexander Pereira, lately resigned within the wake of a fraud investigation over his use of the corporate’s bank card. A civil servant has been appointed to switch him. Mehta says he’s sorry to see Pereira go and can meet the brand new head, Onofrio Cutaia, for the primary time when he’s again in Florence.
Mehta’s longstanding reference to the Israel Philharmonic additionally continues, though he’s involved in regards to the political havoc introduced on by the brand new far-right authorities. While no fan of Benjamin Netanyahu, Mehta says that he primarily obtained together with the assorted ministers of tradition till the final one. But he seems to be with dismay on the chaos that now roils Tel Aviv, the place orchestra gamers are as prone to be discovered within the streets demonstrating as they’re rehearsing.
Mehta additionally reductions a rumor that well being issues have precipitated him to cancel some appearances in Munich in June. “Last year, I worked from January to November nonstop,” he explains. “And I couldn’t look at music anymore.”
Mahler’s Fifth as soon as once more reared its head. “I started looking at the Mahler Fifth Symphony, which I’ve done more than 50 times. I couldn’t. So, I canceled. I was supposed to also have a huge tour of Asia, which they canceled because of expenses. So, I took advantage of that and said, ‘let me take two months off.’”
Mehta says he’ll fortunately spend the day without work in L.A., the place he’s most snug. While his profession nonetheless facilities in Europe and Israel, because it has since leaving the New York Philharmonic in 1991, he at all times returns house, the place he’ll now have the time and peace to review “the very difficult ‘Lulu.’” And whereas he not often conducts wherever in U.S. aside from L.A. nowadays, he stays ever devoted to his outdated orchestra. This weekend, he leads an imaginative psychedelic program of “Ancient Voices of Children,” written in 1970 by George Crumb, a composer Mehta championed in L.A. and New York, and Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.”
In December Mehta has two extra weeks with the L.A. Phil, specializing in Beethoven and extra Mahler (Symphony No. 1). What he has at all times missed in L.A., although, is the chance to conduct opera. It’s at all times been central to his work, and it’s one thing he has at all times excelled at.
Los Angeles Opera has but to stage “Lulu,” I word. Mehta doesn’t say something and simply offers me a quizzical smile.
Zubin Mehta Conducts Crumb and Berlioz
What: Zubin Mehta conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic Crumb’s “Ancient Voices of Children” and Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique”
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S Grand Avenue, Los Angeles.
Tickets: $40 – $238
Info: (323) 850-2000, laphil.com