Conductor Zubin Mehta
Two Conversations with Bruce
|Zubin Mehta is one of the world`s
leading conductors. He is a vivid symbol of today`s cross-cultural world
and a living proof of the power of music to bridge different cultures and
to break social and political barriers.
His tremendous sense of social responsibility has taken his music from India
to Buchenwald - from Sarajevo to the Palestinian territories. He has sought
to develop the universal appeal of music and through it to bring peace and
comfort to all areas of the world.
His contribution to today`s music world is so valuable, that it can be said
that he is one of its main "designers". Not only was he music director of
some of the world`s leading orchestras/opera houses, encompassing three continents
(New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Munich, Florence, Israel) and 50 years
of constant, highly intensive activity; but most probably he is the music
director, who has given more opportunities for young artists (soloists, conductors,
composers) in debut performances, than any other figure of his stature.
Mehta was born in Bombay, India, into a Parsee family in April 1936, the
son of Mehli Mehta who founded the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and who was
a violinist and his wife Tehmina Mehta.
At the age of 18 Zubin Mehta moved to Vienna to study conducting with the
eminent teacher Hans Swarovsky. At the age of 22, four years after his arrival
in Vienna he made his conducting debut and the same year he won the International
Conducting Competition in Liverpool and shortly thereafter the Koussevitsky
competition in Tanglewood. Zubin's early success led him to be appointed
assistant conductor and then Music Director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
Still only in his twenties, he had already conducted the Vienna Philharmonic
and the Berlin Philharmonic - two of the greatest orchestras in the world.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra appointed Mr. Mehta Music Advisor in 1969,
Music Director in 1977, and Music Director for Life in 1981. Since 1986,
he has also acted as Music Advisor and Chief Conductor of the Maggio Musicale
Fiorentino, the summer festival in Florence, Italy
For more information about Zubin Mehta, visit his official website.
In the early 1990s, Mehta was in Chicago each year to conduct a new production
of The Ring with Lyric Opera of
Chicago. There was one opera per year for three seasons, then in the
fourth season was the fourth opera plus complete cycles. In 1993 and
1996, the conductor took time from his very busy schedule to speak with me.
The conversations ranged far and wide in the musical realm, and we begin
with that first interview . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: You
conduct both concerts and opera. Aside from the obvious, what are the
differences between conducting a symphony and conducting an opera?
Zubin Mehta: Shall
I say the obvious is first? No singers in the symphony! [Both
BD: Is that good
ZM: The way I meant
it now, it’s good!
BD: Of course,
there must be then a third option because you have oratorios and Beethoven
Ninths and other concert things with
ZM: Yes, but those are not the singers I meant.
It shouldn’t sound that derogatory because we have singers of such fine quality
today. I’m talking about from the musical standpoint, because there
have been always great voices. There’s never been a generation without
BD: Are the great
voices today comparable to the great voices of yesterday?
yes, and in some cases they are even better musicians. So, from the
conductor’s point of view, especially in Italy, it’s becoming a blessing.
The new Italian singers are so well trained musically that it’s a pleasure,
especially in the Mozart category.
BD: Is this because
the American singers have always been known as having the great training?
ZM: Yes, very good
preparation; German singers, too. But even amongst American and Germans
you have the odd maverick. [Both laugh]
BD: The odd maverick
good, and the odd maverick bad?
ZM: Yes and yes.
No, the basic standard is quite high. As usual, we have a dearth of
Heldentenors, of Tristans. We find one a generation almost. So
that’s always lacking and always has lacked, because it’s obviously a throat
sickness [laughs] to be able to sing Siegfried and Tristan.
BD: And to be able
to sing it more than once!
ZM: Yes, sure!
BD: I would assume
that most tenors could get through it once, and then that would be the end
of their career.
ZM: It depends
on also which conductors they sing it with. Conductors have to nurture
these voices and help them from the pit, and not suffocate them.
BD: I assume then
you’re conscious of this every moment that you’re standing in the pit?
ZM: All the time.
We have to be.
BD: Are you, as
the conductor, really in the best place to balance, being right in front
of the orchestra and away from the singers?
ZM: That depends
on the opera house — sometimes
yes; sometimes not. [Both laugh] In the Vienna Opera for instance,
the pit is so high that we get such a blast from the orchestra, which is
of course the Vienna Philharmonic, it’s very tempting not to tell them to
play out that much because it sounds so beautiful. But we have to!
Otherwise, we don’t hear the stage and the audience surely doesn’t hear them.
At the Lyric Opera here, the balance situation is ideal because the orchestra
at times is even too weak from the acoustic point of view.
BD: So you let
them play out?
ZM: Oh, yes!
The strings, mostly. I like the strings to play out here.
BD: Some people
are talking about perhaps using throat microphones to sweeten the sound of
the voice just a little. Do you ever want to get involved in this idea?
ZM: Then there
is no limit. One doesn’t like being a purist for the sake of being
a conservative, but when you start with that, then there’ll always be a singer
who’ll bring it up a notch and bring it down, and then you’ll have to say,
“During the second act finale of Aïda,
I want more,” but then it’s like doing a record production and I think that’s
BD: Since you have
brought it up, let me ask about recordings. Do you conduct the same
in the recording studio as you do in the concert hall or the opera house?
Yes. Whether I’m doing opera or symphony, I like to balance myself.
I grew up with a two-track recording system with Decca/London Records, even
though multi-track was very fashionable in the sixties already. Karajan
used to take the tapes home and play around with them, with the result you
could never really perform the way some of his recordings sound because it’s
unnatural from that point of view, not from playing or interpretation.
The tempo was always, let’s say, his tempo. That you can’t argue with,
but some of the balances were completely irrational, and you couldn’t play
with that much clarity, or that soft or that loud, etcetera.
BD: Does it become
a fraud then, or just a different art form?
ZM: It is some
sort of fraud because that can’t be reproduced on the stage.
BD: But you don’t
think the recording medium is a different art form?
ZM: No. I
don’t want it to be! I want the recording to sound the way my concert
sounds. A lot of the recording engineers are very grateful to me for
that, because then they say, “We are reproducing faithfully what you are
giving us.” In other words, it’s my balance. If I can’t hear
the second violins on the playback, I go and fix it in the studio.
I don’t tell them, “Give me more second violins.” But some of my colleagues
do that. They sit in listening booths and say, “Give me more second
flute. Give me more this, give me more that.” In other words
they play mezzo forte and
the engineer does the rest. I don’t like that!
Sometimes we have the luxury, when we hear a complete first
edit but we don’t have the orchestra anymore to say, “I didn’t balance the
clarinet’s little voice. Please help me there.” Those little
fine tunings we do.
BD: Just a touch-up?
ZM: Yes, yes, yes.
* * *
BD: Let’s come
back to the purely musical side of all of this rather than the engineering
side. When you’re working with a group, either the opera or the symphony,
is all of your work done in the rehearsal, or do you leave something, some
spark for that night of performance?
ZM: All the technical work is done, of course, at
rehearsal. All the construction is done; it’s my obligation.
With soloists it’s different, but with a string section, if they don’t feel
the phrase where it starts, where it has its high point, we have to point
that out. All that has to be done in the rehearsal. The question
of tension arises at the concert, which I purposely don’t do at rehearsals.
You can’t give all the punch lines out. In the rehearsal I sit down
and quietly go through high points. I let it build up, and a lot of
the intimate high points have to be really rehearsed, of course. You
can’t just do that only at the concert. But with an orchestra like
the Israel Philharmonic, that I am so at home with, we hardly work at development
sections of classical symphonies. We let that blossom at the concert.
Of course, it is taken for granted that they knew the notes and it’s perfectly
in tune and rhythmically accurate, all that. So with me a lot happens
at the concert.
BD: I assume that
an orchestra on the level of the Israel Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic,
or New York or Los Angeles, these top flight orchestras, you really don’t
have to worry about technical problems such as pitch and duration, or even
phrasing. You can begin working on the musical ideas.
[Laughs] It depends. You know, for Don Juan of Strauss there’s no orchestra
in the world that you don’t have to rehearse; The Marriage of Figaro Overture you have
to rehearse! Things like that.
BD: Just for the
tricky string passages?
ZM: Oh yes, because
they have played these works with different conductors. One takes it
at breakneck speed, the other one takes it slow because he wants to hear
every note. Musicians are at a great disadvantage with some of my colleagues,
and with myself included in that! They don’t know what’s going to happen.
Therefore, one has to sit down and work at it.
BD: Is there ever
a chance that either a symphony or an opera can get over-rehearsed?
ZM: Not in the
West. [Both laugh] Over-rehearsing happened in the Communist
world, where without any unions until the break-up, conductors just used to
do with the musicians’ time whatever they wanted.
BD: And they could
demand as much time as they wanted?
ZM: Oh yes, they
were the boss; they were the tsars! Musicians had practically no say.
I know it from the fact that some of them emigrated to Israel and were given
jobs. One conductor did twenty-four rehearsals on the Beethoven Fourth Symphony. I heard the result
and of course they played together and in tune, but it was a dry piece of
bone! He had taken out every sentiment, every instinct.
BD: Was this his
idea or just his result?
ZM: That’s the
way he grew up, he said. It’s the way they rehearse in Russia!
BD: How can you
ZM: Oh well, we
never have enough time. Never. Therefore we have to be much more
organized at rehearsals. That’s what I keep on telling my friends the
stage directors, who have all the time in the world. I’m not talking
of anybody in particular; I’m talking of all of them.
BD: A blanket statement.
ZM: Blanket statement!
If they come as prepared with their conception as we come, they would not
need all that time. Let’s say they have a month of rehearsing.
From the first rehearsal to the last rehearsal it is completely an about
face! The first week we had one version of his staging. The second
week it’s another version, and it keeps on changing. I, as a conductor,
interfere too, so he changes. Some of the singers have comments, so
BD: If he keeps
changing, does it keep improving?
ZM: Let’s say there’s an evolution. [Both
laugh] When do we really realize this? During the last week,
when everything’s functioning! Even if I agree with everything that’s
going on, I feel, “Why didn’t he do that four weeks ago?” Four weeks
ago he had a completely different idea! He could have come the last
week with this idea and put it together because the singers know their roles
and they don’t really need all that time to rehearse on stage.
BD: But the stage
director must be more than just a traffic cop!
ZM: I know!
But even the traffic changes! That’s what my point is.
BD: If he has four
weeks, you say he should have come the last week. If he’d had six weeks,
would it be yet another two weeks’ difference?
and there have been great directors who sometimes use the time well, like
in East Berlin in the Communist times, there was a great stage director named
Walter Felsenstein. He used to rehearse and rehearse. I was never
at his rehearsals, but the results were magical! I don’t know
in his case how he started, but to see the Janacek opera The Cunning Vixen? was just magical on
stage! I saw a great Otello.
The only thing is that because he demanded so much time, no good singer would
give that time, so the singing level in his productions was always lower.
BD: That’s too
bad because it would be interesting to match the high level of singing with
the high level of production.
But you can’t get, say, Placido Domingo for seven weeks before a premiere
BD: You can hardly
get him for seven days before!
BD: You are talking
about the stage directors changing their ideas. Is there ever a case
where you come with an idea to a symphony concert and then change it in the
middle of rehearsals because you find out or discover something new either
with that orchestra or within yourself?
ZM: Never a ground
concept; never a basic concept. The basic concept, of course, has been
worked out within me with my knowledge of style, tempo, composer’s handwriting,
everything. However, a four-bar phrase played by a certain woodwind
soloist can completely convince me that’s another way of doing it!
I’m flexible, completely open.
BD: Then do you
take that phrase to another orchestra, or do you leave that as the special
property of that player?
ZM: Sometimes I
live with these axioms. That’s why I miss the New York Philharmonic
so much! Some of the things I heard for thirteen years, especially
when played by the soloists of that orchestra, from that point of view have
been the high point of my life. I don’t hear them played as well anywhere!
BD: I would think
that some of these things would transfer from one orchestra to another, at
least ensembles on the same level.
ZM: No, no, I’m
talking of individual achievements. There are certain things, a certain
level that has been established in my remembrance of the way certain first
trumpet passages should be played, which I’ve never heard before or after
as well, as with the first trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, just to
give you an example.
BD: So what happens
when you come to the Chicago Symphony and Adolph Herseth plays that phrase
ZM: I am very grateful!
I’ve learned something!
* * *
BD: Are there times
when you’re studying that you throw out the old scores and just start re-digging
into a piece of music with a clean score?
ZM: That happens
many times because I couldn’t even find my old score. [Both laugh]
Just the other day I went to Pierre’s interpretation of the Bluebeard, which I adored. I haven’t
done that piece for over twenty years and I don’t know where that score is.
I’m going to do it in Florence this May, so I have to start from scratch.
BD: Will you have
some of Boulez’s ideas in your ear, or will you just work directly from the
ZM: He was so faithful
to the score! I went with a borrowed score to the concert, and everything
was crystal clear. I learned a lot. In fact, I asked him if I
can just come and sit when he records it. I need that refresher course
BD: [With a sly
nudge] You’re cramming for your own performances???
ZM: Mm-hm. I love going to colleagues’
rehearsals and listening. I used to go a lot to Lenny’s rehearsals
in Vienna because in the sixties and even seventies the Vienna Philharmonic
didn’t know all the Mahler symphonies. I remember the Mahler Seventh. They were sight reading
like school children, and sitting at those rehearsals, I learned a lot!
BD: You would rather
sit in and listen from the back, rather than pick up your bass and play in
ZM: From that point
of view, it’s better to listen.
BD: Do you encourage
colleagues both young and old to sit in on your rehearsals?
ZM: I don’t mind
at all. Very rarely do I ask students to stay out. I just don’t
like it when people come and then gossip. There are a certain amount
of exchanges between conductor and orchestra, that if it’s misquoted on the
outside, it can be damaging all around.
BD: What advice
do you have for the next generation of conductors coming along?
ZM: The same advice
I got in Vienna when I went to Eduard van Beinum, the great Dutch conductor.
I said to him, “I have a paper from the Vienna Academy that says I’m a conductor.
What do I do now?” He took me by my shoulders, he shook me and he said,
“Now you swim.” [Both laugh] Really, everybody wants so much help!
In my case, my only help was the first time somebody gave me a chance, and
it was my achievement during that first concert that I was invited again.
Nobody gives you that second chance.
BD: You have to
make the most of the opportunity.
ZM: You have to
convince a hundred people that they want to see you again.
BD: Are you convincing
a hundred people in front of you, or two thousand people behind you?
ZM: No, first the
hundred people in front. It has never happened with me that an orchestra
just doesn’t like to play under me, but I’ve had this great success and was
invited back. It never happens. I’ve been music director of several
orchestras now in the last thirty years. If the orchestra does not
like to play with the conductor, I don’t call him back. And if they
like the person and he has not had a tremendous success, I do invite him
BD: Once they have
the paper from some academy, at what point can they call themselves “conductor”?
ZM: It’s a question
of experience, and it’s a vicious circle. So you have to give young
people a chance. Word of mouth is very important for me. If a
colleague tells me, “I’ve seen this young kid and I think he should be given
a chance,” I feel much better about it because everybody sends you their
BD: Is it true
that almost any conductor could play in front of a great orchestra because
the great orchestra is already great, but it would be better to put a young
conductor in front of a lesser orchestra to see what he can build?
You’re absolutely right; both have to go hand in hand. Sometimes of
course, a young conductor gets only the semi-professional chance, which he
should build up by himself until he gets the opportunity. I was fortunate
to have both these simultaneously. I started my career in Yugoslavia
and Norway. Colleagues of mine in my class in Vienna, who were already
conductors in those countries, would invite me. I was about ten years
younger than them, and they saw me and liked what I did, and then they would
call me again. So those were extremities of the musical world in the
late fifties and early sixties.
BD: That’s where
you go to make your mistakes?
ZM: Yes, well,
sure! I will still make mistakes! I’m talking of musical mistakes.
I was very confident because I had a very solid musical training in Vienna,
and I didn’t venture out of that repertoire in the beginning. I kept
to the repertoire I was trained in. That was the Viennese School.
BD: Schubert, Beethoven,
ZM: Yes, absolutely.
From Haydn to Strauss; Mahler, not too much. It’s a misconception that
Mahler is considered a Viennese specialist. Mahler was an adopted Viennese,
but basically until Lenny came to Vienna and started insisting on doing the
big Mahler symphonies, Mahler was not popular at all in Vienna. People
put Mahler and Bruckner in one cup, but it’s just not right. Bruckner
is the Austrian staple, not Mahler. Today, Mahler is a popular composer
in Vienna like everywhere else, but it never used to be. I did the
Mahler Tenth Adagio with the Vienna
Philharmonic and it was the first time they had ever played it. They
didn’t like it. They kept on making remarks, even some of them quite
BD: Let me ask,
perhaps, a facetious question. Was Bruckner the first minimalist composer?
No. Bruckner has one twentieth century parallel, and that’s Messiaen.
He was not a minimalist. Messiaen was in love with Christianity, Catholicism,
nature, length, and was an organist. I told that to Messiaen and he
didn’t disagree. He didn’t know Bruckner at all!
* * *
BD: You have three
or even four-hundred years of music to choose from. How do you decide
which pieces you will learn and conduct, and which pieces you will turn aside
and not bother with?
ZM: This is such
a perpetual motion. At this very moment I can’t wait to do once in
my life Parsifal. So you see,
I already know what I want to do in the next ten years. There was a
time it was The Ring. There
was a time years ago, it was the G Minor
Symphony. I always knew a certain amount of repertoire, but
there were things I was dying to do that I was reticent! I could have
always done the G Minor Symphony
of Mozart and the Eroica, but I kept
those on the back burner and kept on studying them. They were
mountains that I was afraid to climb, frankly, and I kept not wanting to
record for a long time.
BD: Now when you climb some of these mountains,
you look over and you see the other peaks. Do you discover peaks that
you didn’t know were there and other mountains that you want to climb later?
The minute you accomplish one, then you want to go to the other. It
is like peaks, yes.
BD: But is it like
peaks that you have to then come down the side and go up the other side,
or can you go right from peak to peak?
ZM: No, you can’t!
[Laughs] You have to start each one from scratch; there’s no doubt.
Not from sea level, but for instance, I can’t say I know all the Haydn symphonies.
I don’t. I know maybe twenty-five Haydn symphonies.
BD: So if you’re
presented with one hundred and four, how do you decide which twenty-five
you will do?
ZM: During my student
years we learned a certain amount. Then I played a certain amount in
the orchestra. I also played masses. Then when you make programs,
you say, “What fits in there?” Maybe an early Haydn symphony will work
more than a late, so then you look for the early Haydn symphony. That’s
how it happens, really.
Now let’s go forward. You do some new music. How do you decide
which scores you will present, presumably not having heard them?
ZM: This is a problem.
The problem is also when you commission because nobody has ever commissioned
a masterpiece. I once commissioned a piece for the opening of the Los
Angeles Music Center, and when I got the score and we read it through, nobody
liked it. But I still performed it. Heifetz came up to me after
the concert and said, “You paid the composer. You don’t have to perform
it. If you didn’t pay him you’re at fault, but you paid him.”
I said, “No. I’m obliged.” He also happened to be a friend, and
I performed it. Sometimes you discover, through commissions, some great
BD: Is there any
real way, even through rehearsal, of telling if a piece is going to be great?
Doesn’t it have to actually get heard a few times?
ZM: Today, with
modern music, one almost has to do some research before you event attempt.
Everyone figures out his own system, his own kind of notation. I love
for the composer to be at the rehearsals. I love it. If the composer
then helps me, I even love it more. I’ll be very frank —
many composers do not help you at the rehearsals. They don’t
know their score as well as you think they do, or they should do.
BD: By not helping,
are you saying they do nothing, or do they hinder?
ZM: No, they don’t
hinder. They just don’t listen. They don’t even listen.
They’re supposed to know their piece inside out, right?
ZM: Better than
I do, at least. I’ve looked through it. I’ve studied it as much
as I can, but they’re the ones who created it. But I find sometimes
I know the piece in a little bit more in detail than they do!
BD: But you’ve
come at it from a different angle.
ZM: Yes, but I
get impatient with these composers. When I show a composer page fifty-seven
and I say, “Please sing me this theme,” I don’t want note perfection, because
those themes, let’s say, are quite esoteric. At least I want him to
sing me the tempo, but when I see him turning three pages back to look at
his own metronome, then of course I lose respect. This also happens
with famous composers. When I turn around in front of the orchestra
to the man who’s sitting and I say, “Please, tell me about this or that,”
and he has nothing to say, then the orchestra loses respect. Again,
I must speak about Messiaen. He knew every note of every score he wrote.
He could go on the piano and play it for you, and then he was very critical.
We were very close friends; he was like a father figure. He must have
sat through at least four different creations of the Turnangalila Symphony that I did.
He was critical to the last movement, the last note! [Laughs]
BD: Helpful critical?
Very! I really liked it. Sometimes his wife, who would play piano
in the orchestra, would disagree with him. She would like my tempo
because it was a practical, musician’s tempo, and his is idealistic.
BD: Shouldn’t you
try to approach his tempo?
ZM: Oh yes!
I did, always.
BD: So are you
trying then to strike a balance between the practicality and the ideal?
ZM: Most of the
time it works out quite well. In the case of Messiaen, some of his
metronomes are so slow that the bows are not long enough to play those notes,
and nobody’s lungs are made to hold a phrase that long!
BD: Coming back
to what we were talking about earlier, if that was the tempo that he really
wanted, could you go into a recording control room and splice in a few extra
No, we can’t do that. We could try it, though, but in the end, he never
complained. Some of his movements, on the other hand, are so fast such
as some of his birds in Et expecto.
He has written bird movements that are even impossible to beat because it
changes the rhythms every bar. And he wants it so fast because he knows
the speed the bird sang!
BD: So he’s trying
to reproduce it?
ZM: Oh, absolutely.
He used to go into the forest and the jungles and write down these bird calls
in obscure islands off the coast of New Guinea. He’d talk about little
islands off the coast of New Caledonia! First of all, we had to find
where New Caledonia is!
It’s just a fly speck itself!
ZM: And he knows
the island off the coast of New Caledonia! [Laughs]
BD: Does this translate
into something that the ordinary musician in the orchestra can understand?
ZM: Every bird
is notated in every orchestra part. I’ve not done too much of the music
of Pierre Boulez, but whenever he’s present he has helped a lot. He
hears perfectly his music.
BD: He has probably
the best ear around.
ZM: Yes, but he
knows what he has written, and he knows, as a conductor, how to get it out.
So he helps both ways.
BD: You’ve worked
with Messiaen and with a number of other composers. Does this influence
how you will work with a composer you have never met, such as Beethoven or
Schubert, or even Mahler?
I would have loved to have Mahler at a rehearsal, because he is so personal
and so folkloristic. On the other hand, from the Wagnerian point of
view, in some of his adagios he goes so deep into your soul. So Mahler
has in one symphony a spectrum of everything.
BD: Do you as a
conductor notice his scores being different because he was also a first-class
ZM: Yes, because he kept on changing. There
are so many versions of the Second Symphony.
His changes came about from his rehearsing the symphonies with different
orchestras. We have scores in the New York Philharmonic library notated
by him, and if you go to Prague you find his red ink notations even in orchestra
BD: So which of
these versions is correct?
ZM: They are all
valid. And then you have him playing excerpts on piano rolls!
There you see what freedom he took with his music, because some of us, myself
included, see the note as being holy, and the composer was so extemporizing!
There’s a piano roll of him playing the First Symphony. My God! This
is like a piece of Chopin, it’s so free!
BD: Would you ever
in the world try to play it that way?
ZM: We try now
that we’ve heard it, but it’s difficult with an orchestra to have it that
full of rubato.
BD: Let me ask
the big philosophical question. What’s the purpose of music?
ZM: With me, it’s
a language. I speak quite a few languages, and there is no language
that speaks to me as clearly as the language of music. Therefore, if
I take for granted that my giving this language forth through the orchestra
to the public indicates some sort of message, that is the purpose.
You can look at the most beautiful painting and the most incredible statue
or an architectural wonder, and yet you hear the Eroica or you hear the B Minor Mass. There is another
dimension which I cannot describe! It’s what you can’t see and what
you cannot touch, and yet it completely stirs you emotionally.
BD: Is conducting
ZM: Most of the
time. When I see that colleagues are involved, I don’t even mind sometimes
if the level is lower than another orchestra’s level. If they are involved,
if they are giving their all, I find it more fun than a great orchestra who
sits back and says, “We are So-and-So. Admire us for what we are,”
and nothing happens musically.
BD: Then it becomes
ZM: Routine of
a very high standard, but it doesn’t touch the soul! Just to illustrate
the point, a couple of years ago I took the Florence orchestra on a tour
of South America. The Florence Orchestra is a good European orchestra.
For the last eight or nine years I’ve been bringing in many foreign musicians
to fill in the holes in the orchestra, and it’s become quite an even-handed
ensemble now. So we went to South America. I’ve been to South
America with my orchestras from New York and Israel, and had wonderful times
with both orchestras. The success that this Florence orchestra had
was not to be compared to the other two! They were coming out of the
footlights; they were sitting at the end of their chairs. That was
the first big tour of their lives. They wanted to come back, maybe.
They wanted to prove something, and the public went crazy! The quality
was not of the other two orchestras, and yet the public who doesn’t really
understand the difference of those fine points of the quality didn’t care!
They didn’t care that the brass or the strings or the woodwinds of the Florence
Orchestra was not like the New York Philharmonic, and let me tell you, as
a professional you can’t even compare it! But the combined impression
given from the stage was one of such involvement, and some love for what
they were doing, that the public just burst every night!
BD: That’s a great thing.
And this is what is fun!
BD: Thank you so
very much for speaking with me today. I appreciate it.
ZM: It’s a pleasure.
-- -- -- -- --
We met again on Leap Day of 1996. As we were getting started,
he mentioned that in two years he was going to become the Music Director
of the Munich Opera . . . . . . .
BD: Is that where
Everding was? [See my Interview with August Everding.]
ZM: He has a theater
called The Prinzregententheater,
but he used to be Intendant of the Munich opera (1977-82), and then Sawallisch
took over to be Intendant (1982-93; he had been Music Director since 1971).
[See my Interview
with Wolfgang Sawallisch.]
So you’re getting back into the opera again after so many years of symphony?
ZM: I’ve never
been music director of an opera house.
BD: But you’ve
been always involved in it.
ZM: Yeah, I’ve
always done opera.
BD: Is it good
that major conducting figures play hopscotch all over the world, being music
director here for a while then music director there for a while?
ZM: What do you
mean, ‘for a while’? In my case I was sixteen years in LA, thirteen
in New York, and it’s twenty-five years in Israel. So that’s not just
BD: No, you have
spent good chunks of time in these places.
ZM: For me, yeah.
There are colleagues, though, who do five-year stints in different places.
I don’t know their reason or whether they have anything to do with it.
BD: Is the era
of the forty-year music director gone?
ZM: Well, as I
say, I’m still going strong in Israel, and leaving both orchestras, Los Angeles
and New York, was my decision. I think today one has to consider traveling
facilities. Half of the career of the forty-year music directors was
before the jet was invented. Don’t forget that. If you offered
Koussevitzky a jet airplane, and also in many cases private airplanes, would
he have stayed in Boston that long? It’s a hypothetical situation we
create, but still, one has to consider that.
BD: Looking at
it from both directions, you’ve been music director of orchestras and now
an opera house, and you’ve been guest conductor all over the world.
What are the basic differences, when doing the music, between those two positions?
ZM: As I said,
I’ve never been a music director of an opera house. I’m going to start
that venture in 1998 in Munich at the Bavarian State Opera. At the
age of sixty-two, I’m going to be for the first time in my life a civil servant!
In fact, my immediate boss, when I’m Music Director, is the Minister of Culture
of Bavaria. I don’t know what the situation is like; I don’t know how
I am going to adjust.
BD: Then let’s talk about the symphony. You’ve
been music director in Los Angeles and New York and Israel, but you guest
conduct all over the place.
ZM: That’s not
entirely true. I guest conduct only in Vienna and Berlin.
BD: You guest conduct
here in Chicago!
ZM: That’s an operatic
project. Next year I’m coming for two weeks to the Chicago Symphony,
but really I’m not one of those people who guest conduct too much.
BD: You don’t want
to be that peripatetic?
ZM: No, no, no.
I never have been, never. I travel a lot with my orchestra, whether
it was New York or now in Israel. In Israel, we do sometimes three
tours a year. This I love! I love going to various places with
my orchestra with my rehearsed interpretations. I never have had the
attraction to go from one great symphony orchestra to another great symphony
orchestra and do the same program. I never repeat programs because
then I start comparing. If I went to the Vienna Philharmonic and did
the Bruckner Eighth, and next week
went to Berlin and did the same piece, I think I would suffer. The
music would suffer, too.
BD: Tell me the
joys and sorrows of touring with an orchestra.
ZM: I have only
joys, I must say. Some orchestra members don’t like to do a tour too
much, because their wives don’t like it, first of all. We have now
a sort of an unwritten law in Israel that we don’t do tours longer than five
weeks at a time. Some orchestras have even less. We always promise
ourselves that we’ll go only for a month, but by the time the tour comes
about, so many other invitations come in that are too tempting, so it becomes
five weeks. We recently went to Japan, China and India and it became
six weeks. I think my longest tour was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
back in 1967, which was a nine-week world tour. But I must tell you,
it was so early also in the orchestra’s history of touring that at that point
nobody complained. Besides, we not only played the capitals of Europe,
but we played in exotic places like Cypress and Istanbul, and we played for
the coronation of the Shah of Iran. Then we finally ended up in my
country. It was my official debut in India, so the orchestra was very
anxious for that also.
BD: Did the nine-week
tour cure them of wanting to go?
ZM: No, but we
had a lot of absenteeism after the tour! [Both laugh] They suddenly
felt sick and tired.
BD: On any tour
you have several programs. How do you keep each of those programs fresh?
ZM: Only by not
repeating too much along the way. It would be very tempting, or very
easy in some sense, to go only with two programs, but that really becomes
boring. I cannot keep my interest nor the orchestra’s interest if we
played, let’s say, a Dvořák symphony and a Brahms symphony on the
whole tour. I really envy the staying power of some of these musical
BD: They do eight performances of the same show
ZM: I once asked
Lauren Bacall, “How do you do it month after month?”
BD: I assume that’s
when they get the little pranks up each night.
ZM: I guess, but
you can’t compare the classic aspect of a musical comedy to the classic aspect
of an Eroica, you know. We
can’t reproduce it every night with the same fervor, week after week.
I couldn’t do it.
BD: When you do
a subscription symphony concert, it’s going to be three or four or five or
maybe even six performances. Can you keep all six up to the highest
That’s good, but that’s also good for the orchestra. That builds repertoire.
What happens in England is that we rehearse and rehearse and then play one
concert. This concert, of course, has a lot of tension because it is
only one time, but I don’t know how much stays then.
BD: It’d be better
to do it two or three times?
ZM: Oh, yes, of
course. In Israel we repeat six to eight times, but when we take up
the piece after three or four seasons, it is there.
BD: Then you don’t
need as much rehearsal?
ZM: Not as much,
no. There are always new people, and there’s always new ideas from
the conductor, too. And we have a rotation within the orchestra, so
maybe the last time there was a different first horn playing it, so we have
to always rehearse. But this is musical matter and interpretation and
listening. Fine orchestral players are fine listeners of one another,
too. I encourage that a lot, and in Israel we have really a conglomeration
of chamber music players. So they are very listening-conscious.
They are also very opinionated, because in chamber music they decide themselves
what the tempo is so they question you a lot. [Laughs]
BD: Do you ever
have any fights with the orchestra about that?
ZM: No. No.
There are discussions, and my door is always open. I am very pleased
when a musician comes up and says, “Why?”
BD: But at some
point you have to make the decision, and that is what it is.
ZM: During a rehearsal,
I’m the one who makes the decision about the tempo, but even within the rehearsal
anyone can say to me, “Give me a little more time on this phrase.”
So I do that gladly, but I can’t diametrically change my conception, no.
BD: When you come
back to a piece after ten or twenty or perhaps even thirty years, has your
concept of the piece changed at all, or radically?
ZM: I don’t find
it changing. I find details emerging that I didn’t know or notice,
or there will be something I suddenly thought of. Even with a Beethoven
symphony that happens, but the basic structure doesn’t change because the
basic structure is in the score! It’s not my conception that this is
the structure. Beethoven or Haydn made the structure of the symphony,
and since my interpretation is very structurally oriented, that cannot change.
BD: The structure
of the Beethoven symphony is the same whether you’re conducting or it is
someone else, and yet they’ll be radically, wildly different.
ZM: Oh yes, but
that’s what you call interpretation! [Both laugh] Every symphony
has a bridge between the development and the recapitulation. Whether
it’s Haydn or Mozart, it’s what time you take; it’s what kind of a modulation
is involved there; it’s how Mozart brings the G Minor Symphony first movement back;
it’s how the theme of the Eroica comes back. It’s completely
different in each case. The bridge in the Eroica is much longer. There’s
a lot of tension, and that’s where one conductor or one interpreter has different
ideas. We have to also consider if every conductor really realizes
with an orchestra what he really wants. Is it happening, or does he
just let the orchestra take over? I go to concerts of colleagues and
I see and hear a lot! I see an intention being started, and I don’t
see it being fulfilled. I see what the man is trying to do, and of
course many times with fine conductors it happens. Many times though,
it doesn’t. So therefore there’s a sort of an anarchy even with a good
orchestra. Somehow it comes together in the end, but I see that this
is not what the conductor originally set out in the beginning of this certain
passage. We musicians have this paranoia when we go to concerts of
analyzing all the time. We can’t help it. I really wish I could
just sit back and enjoy sometimes. And I do when I like somebody, when
I agree. Then I really sit back and I enjoy. I look forward to
it, even. But this happens even in a movie when I’m listening to the
music. It’s a bad habit, I suppose.
BD: It’s one of
the frustrations of the profession, I guess.
BD: How much of
your intent actually gets realized in most concerts or operas?
ZM: I tell you,
with the orchestras that I’m a music director it gets realized more because
they know beforehand what I like and I know their characteristics.
It’s a two-way thing. They have to know me as much as I know them,
and that changes. I’m flexible from solo player to solo player and
also from section to section in the orchestra. I know what my viola
section in the Israel Philharmonic can do and deliver during a concert after
having rehearsed certain things. I know what I can suddenly demand
of them and whether I will get it or not. With some sections, I don’t
get it, so I don’t take the risk.
BD: Is making music
always taking risks?
ZM: Ah, I love
to take risks! After having established a ground basic principle of
a certain movement of symphony, yes! You and the soloist take musical
* * *
one of the things we didn’t talk about a couple of years ago was Wagner.
You’re completing your Ring here.
Is this your first full Ring?
ZM: No. I
did it in Florence, but this is the first time I’m conducting it in one cycle.
In Florence we just did each opera over four years but no full cycle at the
BD: Does your concept
of the whole thing grow and deepen as a cycle?
ZM: Even rehearsing it, I feel myself conducting
one opera lasting over seventeen hours.
BD: So it really
is one piece?
ZM: Yeah, and especially
because we are not rehearsing it in a chronological fashion. In fact,
last week I was going between the second floor and the fifth floor, and every
room was practicing another scene of one of the operas. I was sometimes
conducting in the pit, and it’s an exaggeration but in one little detail,
all of a sudden I don’t know which opera I’m in because it’s the same motif.
“Valhalla” always is in D-flat
major in the Rheingold and in Götterdämmerung, and in Siegfried, too.
BD: But, the motif
of “Siegfried” or the motif of
“Hope” will change somewhat.
ZM: They change
radically, and they are sometimes hidden in the score. Not “Siegfried”
as much, but the curse motif and the motif of love and the minor motifs come
in all different kinds of rhythms. You have to really sit and think,
“Oh, my God. This is not a new melody. It is the same.”
But this is where Wagner is a genius. And this idea is taken over by
Richard Strauss in his Tone Poems. George Szell and I once had lunch,
and we only spoke about the Domestic Symphony
of Strauss, because not only do we love to conduct it, but on paper we look
at that score and discover things! It’s a kaleidoscope where you suddenly
see a little nose or a feature that you haven’t seen before. A hundred
faces are hidden in the score.
BD: Did Strauss
put those in the score for you, or did he put them in the score for the audience?
ZM: That’s just
a whole other point. What does the audience really hear in the end?
I don’t know. I’m not being snobby, not at all! I can’t really
tell, because I’m not listening with their ears.
BD: What do you
want them to hear?
ZM: I want them
to hear analytically when I’m conducting analytically on stage. I don’t
know if it’s reaching them. I don’t even know what they’re thinking
about. This is not a negative comment, but I don’t know!
BD: Is it possible
to have one interpretation go out there for the musicologist who studied
the score, and another for the guy off the street who’s bought a ticket for
the first time?
We get letters sometimes from people who say, “We were at your concert for
the first time, and we feel that we have discovered such and such.”
It’s not that they discovered me, they have discovered the Beethoven Seventh Symphony and the inherently rhythmic
potential that it has. It speaks to people. I once went with
an Indian general to a concert of Karl Böhm conducting the Beethoven
Seventh in Berlin. I’m convinced
this man was highly cultured, a very educated person, a retired general who
has never heard western classical music. I know that without speaking
to him. He came to this concert with me, and in Indian music, like
in jazz, the public takes part by beating or clapping or saying, “Great.”
After a jazz lick is finished, they applaud, right?
BD: Sure, sure.
ZM: In Indian music
it’s the same thing. After a certain improvisational cycle is finished,
people voice their appreciation.
BD: While some
of the other music is still going on?
ZM: When a sitar
and tabla play and a certain cycle is over, the sitarist has to breathe before
the tabla goes on. The rhythm section goes on, but in this little breath
the public demonstrates their appreciation. Well, this man started
talking like that during the Beethoven Seventh
and he started beating with his hands! The people in Berlin turned
around in shock, but he was really appreciating! He got the rhythm
of the second movement. It spoke to him! I really appreciated
that this man, all by himself, discovered the rhythmic potential of a Beethoven
symphony. Now maybe the rest of the audience was just dreaming or asleep
or appreciating. There’s a whole mixture.
BD: The rest of
the audience may have heard it a hundred times. Did they get excited
that here is this man hearing it for the first time?
ZM: No. They
were just shocked.
* * *
BD: When you conduct
a piece of music, how much is the score and how much is Zubin Mehta?
ZM: I hope very little is me, basically. I
love the scores I conduct so much that I am continuously kneeling before
them. I have come to the point in my life that I only conduct what
I want. My period of my life that I was obligated to do certain things
is over... Well, it’s not completely over, but it’s mostly over, so
that every piece of music I put in the program is because I want to and I
love it, or it is for a soloist I perform with. At this point, I only
perform with those soloists that I feel I breathe with.
BD: Do you ever
want to challenge yourself and do something either completely outrageous
ZM: Oh, yeah, but
because I want to do it, of course! Yeah sure, but many compositions
I’ve done in the years at the New York Philharmonic and LA Philharmonic I
knew when I was conducting them that I will never do them again.
In other words, thank God it’s over?
I’m a great promoter of contemporary music, so I don’t want to create any
impression that I don’t appreciate that at all. No, no. But sometimes
you commission a piece, but you can never commission a masterpiece.
What comes out you’re obligated to do. Jascha Heifetz once came to
a world premiere of a composition, which he hated and which I didn’t much
care for and he said, “Why did you play it?” I said, “I commissioned
it!” He said, “You can pay the composer, but you don’t have to play
it.” I said, “No. I don’t agree.” You have to give the composition
BD: Is it the obligation
of the musical community to give virtually all the compositions a chance?
ZM: What do you
BD: All of the
new pieces so that we can sort through them and find the masterpieces out
This has been my philosophy always. You have to put a certain amount
of new music through the sieve of eternity to see what’s left over, and it’s
really not until the performance that you can judge. Look at all the
hundreds of compositions that were written and performed in the 19th Century
that we don’t know today. They have disappeared. I once read
a list of operas that Gustav Mahler conducted in Hamburg as Kappelmeister. I’ve never even
heard of those composers, leave aside the operas. They don’t exist anymore,
but Mahler conducted them because he probably had no choice. He was
not Music Director there, so he just had to.
BD: But he gave
them their shot.
ZM: Yes, sure.
He conducted something like a hundred and fifty-seven performances a year.
Unbelievable! Today you have contracts with opera houses where you conduct
twenty or twenty-five evenings a year. He did a hundred and fifty-seven!
He also took the summers off and did nothing but compose.
BD: Now you’re
about to hit sixty...
ZM: No, sixty is
hitting me. [Both laugh] I don’t feel it at all, I must say.
BD: Are you fending
it off or are you welcoming it with open arms?
ZM: No, but it’s
the last birthday I’m announcing. [Laughs] That’s it.
BD: What are some
of the surprises that you’ve seen in music over this time?
pleasant surprises; all the young people I’ve helped to develop, and I can
give you a long list. I’m not going to drop names now, but this has
given me enormous, enormous pleasure over the years. Also the young,
talented composers, introducing them to the orchestra and within the orchestra.
In my sixteen years in Los Angeles I engaged eighty-two new players, and
I would say in seventy per cent of the cases I made the right decision.
I always had a committee, of course, helping me. And I feel in the
case of the New York Philharmonic, where I brought in about forty-five or
forty-seven musicians, ninety per cent of the people I’m proud to have chosen.
BD: What advice
do you have for someone who wants to be an orchestral player?
ZM: Let’s talk
about strings because it is in the string profession where people are not
sure whether they will go into an orchestra. In the wind profession,
ninety-five per cent are studying to go into some of the greatest orchestras
in the world. In the string profession, as a talented teen-ager you
are not sure.
BD: You might want
to form a quartet?
ZM: If you are really very talented as a teen-ager,
you want to be a soloist... and your mother wants you to be a soloist!
Most times also the teacher wants you to be a soloist, and that’s where the
mistake happens. The teacher, for his own ego or for his own advertisement,
does not see the potential of a good orchestral player. I have arguments
with teachers all over the world. I say, “You have talent. If
this talent is going to be a soloist, you can’t stop this.” That person
will become a soloist whether you put him down or whether you encourage him.
But if you have a real talent, that talent has to be geared to what’s the
best that you can possibly imagine for him. If then he wants to be
in an orchestra or to go into a quartet or become a soloist, he can always
try. I’ll give you an example. I nurtured a six year-old boy
in Los Angeles. His father was the leader of my second violin section.
He was an extremely talented kid, and as a child I made him play little solos
with the orchestra for children’s concerts, etc. Then he grew up.
Of course he wanted to be a soloist. He had real soloist material.
He went to New York and studied with the great Ivan Galamian, and I encouraged
him. Then he started playing solo recitals and I heard him. Considering
the talent of the people playing already in the late 1960’s, I knew he would
not make a world career. I was not going to discourage him, but I talked
to his father. I said, “I’m willing to take him in as Assistant Concertmaster
and he’s only in his late teens now. I will see to it that he plays
as much solo as possible as well as being with the LA Philharmonic.
I’ll give him time off to play his dates so he has the satisfaction of playing
solo, but I will prophesy that seating him next to an experienced player
— a concertmaster — will give him the experience,
and by the time he’s twenty-five he will be ready to be concertmaster of
the best orchestra.” His father must have talked to him, and in a few
years he came to me. I think he was about twenty or twenty-one and
he said, “I want to take you up on your offer.” So with the agreement
of the orchestra I put him on the second stand. He was assistant concertmaster
and he sat next to a former concertmaster — a real
old fox, a man who knew everything about that profession — and
he kept on coaching him. I would see at rehearsals that he was getting
advice from a master.
BD: You really
Today his is the Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.
BD: This is Glenn
Obviously, you know him! I brought him to the New York Philharmonic
also. In his contract, apart from the two months that the Philharmonic
gets off in any case, he has another two months off to do solos. He
can play solo for four months, if he wants! He makes a rather good
career as a soloist with every metropolitan orchestra around, and he plays
with the New York Philharmonic. He played with me on tour a lot.
He played the Tchaikovsky Concerto,
the Symphonie Espagnol, Brahms Double, etcetera. But because I
also encourage him as a soloist, then when he has to play Brahms First Symphony, it’s a piece of cake!
BD: Do you then
feel especially warm when he does the solos in Scheherazade or other incidental things
ZM: Yeah, everything.
This is no problem because he’s used to playing solo for about three to four
months a year. But this is the typical example of somebody who, had
he remained as a soloist, would have played solo and would have earned a
good living, but it’s just not on that level that a Vengerov comes and conquers
the world! You could never tell a Vengerov to play in the orchestra;
there’s no way. He’s a soloist! [See my Interview with Maxim Vengerov.]
Same thing with Itzhak and Pinchas and little Midori. These are born
BD: So you’re optimistic
about the whole future of music?
ZM: With the talent?
There is a tremendous amount of talent, but the very fine violinists should
be trained to play in the best orchestras. Then if they want to form
a quartet, that’s fine too. Or they can play in the orchestra and form
a quartet. That’s what we have in Israel.
BD: I would think
that the best orchestras would have a whole bunch of chamber ensembles within
ZM: Felix Weingartner
once engaged an entire string quartet and put it in the Vienna Philharmonic.
Isn’t that wonderful? I have never done that. With today’s union
situation it would be impossible! I knew that quartet in their old age.
When I first went to Vienna they were still around. They were great
players, and they’d never give up the quartet! They had their annual
subscription series in the concert house in Vienna.
* * *
BD: Does it help
you in your concert career to be a television superstar also?
ZM: I think nobody
in the classical field is a television superstar.
BD: Even though
you’re the conductor of the Three Tenors?
ZM: That was two
concerts only. It’s not my doing that they repeat it ad nauseam! [Both laugh]
BD: But it puts
you in that league.
ZM: No. No, it doesn’t. I would love
to conduct my kind of programs on television. In fact, with the New
York Philharmonic, three times a year we did Live from Lincoln Center. I loved
to work those programs out with the producer and then do them, but those
were live performances, and I think live performances have a great, positive
value to them.
BD: Does that make
you at all schizophrenic — knowing that you’re playing
for twenty-six hundred people behind you in Fischer Hall, and two million
people on the television?
ZM: No, no.
Not at all. Last year we were in China with the Israel Philharmonic
and we did a concert in the Great Hall of the People, which is, you know,
where Mao used to speak. Ten thousand people were in the auditorium!
That’s quite foreboding, but the television took it on their first channel
all over China. I don’t know how many people heard that, but you can
be conscious of that, surely. The next day we played in Shanghai, and
we didn’t know that there was going to be television there, too. In
those countries you don’t argue. [Both laugh] I saw the television
director so I said, “What is this? Another national broadcast?”
He said, “No, this is only local broadcast.” So I said, “How many people,
about?” He said, “Three hundred million.” [Both laugh]
A local broadcast!
BD: Is it special
that the Israel Philharmonic is also hitting sixty?
ZM: We have always
had the same birthday year. In fact, we were celebrating the Israel
Philharmonic’s sixtieth birthday during the Christmas week this year because
in 1936 that was the only week Toscanini was free to go and open there.
He gave them his Christmas week, so every year at Christmastime they celebrate
BD: It’s a special
relationship that you have in Israel.
ZM: I’ve been Music
Director for twenty-five years, but I’ve been there for even more.
I started in ‘61. In fact, we are coming to Chicago this year in April
to start our American tour, and it will end on my birthday in Los Angeles
with my three colleagues playing with me — Barenboim,
Perlman and Zukerman. [See my Interviews with Daniel
Barenboim.] So, I really look forward to this; it’s kind of a family
BD: Are you looking
forward also to taking over in Munich?
ZM: Very much.
As I said, I’ve never been a music director with an opera house, and I have
accumulated, I feel, quite a big repertoire through the years. It’s
for the repertoire that I’m going there because opera houses like Munich,
Vienna, Berlin exist a lot on repertoire. This means no-rehearsal performances.
I can’t do that. I’m not that much of a virtuoso opera conductor, so
I will have a little rehearsal, but I’m looking forward to conducting Traviata with one rehearsal or Turandot with one rehearsal
— or just one rehearsal per act where you put everything
together. The personnel of these opera houses function so well because
that’s the way they have existed for over a hundred years.
BD: All the rehearsals
are for the new production, but then the revivals have no rehearsal.
I will do new productions, also, but I have a contract to conduct forty evenings
a season. There will be three new productions with eight performances
each; that’s twenty-four. The rest of the performances I will do at
least three or four operas a couple of times each from the repertoire.
BD: Are you going
to jealously guard the works you want to do?
ZM: But I don’t
run the day-to-day operation as Music Director. They have an Intendant,
a general manager. He’s in charge of the whole season. He stays
in his office every day, and he is now planning ’96-’97 or ’97-‘98.
I’ve already planned with him my new productions of the ’98-‘99 season; later
we will put in the repertoire pieces. I conduct forty evenings a year,
and Peter Schneider, who’s a wonderful conductor with a great repertoire,
will do thirty evenings. So between us, seventy evenings are taken
care of. Then we have Italian conductors coming and doing repertoire.
There’s a wonderful conductor called Luisi. He does a lot of repertoire
in Vienna, Munich and Berlin. He sort of pendulates between these three
cities. Then there’s a wonderful Australian lady, Simone Young.
Wonderful! She does Rigoletto
in Vienna one night, and Elektra
in Munich the next night! She is very able, so we use her a lot.
BD: You conduct
all over the world...
ZM: I conduct where
I want. Sometimes that happens to be in a lot of places. I’m
going to be conducting in Amman, in Jordan, for the first time on the fifth
BD: With what orchestra?
ZM: With the Amman
Symphony or Philharmonic; I don’t even know their name. It’s sort of
a chamber-type orchestra. But I feel, as a great friend of Israel,
I have to make the first gesture, so I’m volunteering for the Queen of Jordan’s
charity to conduct a concert for her, and thereby I will be able to talk about
when I can bring the Israel Philharmonic to Jordan.
BD: I would think
it would be even more important to see when you could bring the Amman Symphony
to Tel Aviv.
ZM: Well, this
is also possible. Things between Jordan and Israel are picking up, especially
in the business community by leaps and bounds. This friendship is developing
much quicker than between Israel and Egypt because Israel always had a soft
corner for the King of Jordan. In Israel he was criticized much less
for hugging Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War than in America. The
Israelis are Middle Easterners, so they know the situation. They know
that Jordan has no oil, so he needs Saddam. If he doesn’t hug him,
they’ll cut his throat, probably! So he was not criticized as much.
On the whole, King Hussein of Jordan has also dealt with Israel very fairly
all through the years. He had to be in the Arab camp; they understood
that. So the Israeli tourists flood Petra, for instance. It’s
tremendous. Anyway, I look forward to that.
BD: Thank you once
again for speaking with me about all of this.
ZM: Thank you.
© 1993 & 1996 Bruce Duffie
These interviews were recorded in the office suite of
the Civic Opera House in Chicago on December 8, 1993 and February 29, 1996.
Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB in 1993, and twice in
1996. This transcription was made and posted on this website in 2012.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
and posted on this website, click here.
winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB,
Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final
moment as a classical station in February of 2001.
His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series
You are invited
to visit his website for
more information about his work, including selected
transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of
his guests. He would also like to call your attention
to the photos and information about his grandfather,
who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.
You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.