Zubin Mehta was born in Bombay in 1936 and received his first musical education from his father, Mehli Mehta, a noted violinist who had founded the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. After studying medicine for two terms, he decided to focus exclusively on music and studied conducting under Hans Swarowsky at the Vienna Academy of Music, winning the Liverpool International Conducting Competition in 1958 and also receiving one of the prizes at that year’s Summer Academy in Tanglewood. By 1961 he had already conducted the Vienna, Berlin and Israel Philharmonic Orchestras and has recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his debuts with all three of these orchestras.
Zubin Mehta was the music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra from 1961 to 1967 and of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978. In 1978 he became music director of the New York Philharmonic, remaining there for 13 years – the longest tenure in the orchestra’s history. From 1985 to 2017 he was principal conductor of the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He stepped down as music director of the Israel Philharmonic in October 2019, having held the post for 50 years, and is now its conductor emeritus.
Zubin Mehta made his operatic debut with Tosca in Montreal in 1963. Since then he has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, and the opera houses in Chicago and Florence. He has also been heard on frequent occasions at the Salzburg Festival, where he made his debut in 1962. Between 1998 and 2006 he was the general music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. In October 2006 he opened the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia and until 2014 remained closely associated with the house as president of the Festival del Mediterrani. It was in Valencia that he conducted a celebrated production of the Ring directed by La Fura dels Baus, a coproduction with the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He has conducted two other productions of the Ring in Chicago and Munich.
Zubin Mehta’s list of awards and honours is extensive and includes the Nikisch Ring bequeathed to him by Karl Böhm; he is an honorary citizen to both Florence and Tel Aviv, and he has been an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera since 1997, of the Bavarian State Opera since 2006 and of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna since 2007. He has held the title of honorary conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic since 2001; of the Munich Philharmonic since 2004; of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2006; of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino since 2006; of the Bavarian State Orchestra since 2006; of the Berlin Staatskapelle since 2014 and of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples since 2016. Since 2019 he has been conductor emeritus of both the Israel Philharmonic and of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In 2008 the Japanese imperial family bestowed on him the Praemium Imperiale. In 2011 a star was dedicated to him on Hollywood Boulevard, and the following year he was awarded the German Order of Merit. The Indian government honoured him in 2013 with the Tagore Award for Cultural Harmony – its first recipient in 2012 had been Ravi Shankar.
Zubin Mehta remains keen to promote the careers of talented young musicians all over the world. Together with his brother Zarin he co-founded the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation in Bombay with the aim of educating Indian children in Western classical music. The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv teaches young Israeli musicians and works closely with the Israel Philharmonic: numerous graduates from the school have in the meantime joined the orchestra. The same is true of a new project that involves local teachers and members of the Israel Philharmonic teaching young Arab Israelis in the cities of Shefa-’Amr and Nazareth.