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Zubin Mehta will perform at the Enescu Festival, along with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestras, Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler. In June 1912, the composition was performed for the first time at the Vienna Music Festival by Bruno Walter.

by Mădălina Mărgăritescu

Gustav Mahler and Zubin Mehta, two of the most representative artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, stood out with two essential activities, conducting the orchestra and the opera. The extraordinary talent for conducting made the unmistakeable artists shoot for the stand of the most prestigious orchestras.

Whereas Mahler gave the first piano recital at the age of 10, Zubin Mehta began approaching music at the age of 6-7, when he learned from his father, the conductor Mehli Mehta, how to appreciate music, what to notice, how to read sheet music. He learned all of this by listening to a recording together his father, sheet music open in front of him, in order to notice the various instruments in an orchestra.

When Zubin Mehta went on stage, he beguiled the orchestra

Mehli Mehta offered his son the chance to lead, at the age of 16, a rehearsal of the Symphony Orchestra in Mumbai. The cellist George Lester reminisced about that moment during an interview for Time Magazine, saying that when Zubin went on stage, he took charge immediately, giving the orchestra the right cues, beguiling the musicians.

The same magical power was exercised by Mahler, with both interpreters and listeners feeling, as we learn from Paul Stefan-Gruenfeldt’s notes in “Gustav Mahler: A Study of His Personality and Work” (1913), the ease and certainty of conducting. The spell he cast on the orchestra and the audience had to be experienced in order to be understood, because words could not describe it.

Zubin Mehta made contact with Gustav Mahler’s music in his teenage years, when he listened to Symphony No. 4 in Mumbai.

Mahler’s music, as sumptuous as the paintings of Gustav Klimt

The “magician and alchemist of sounds”, as Paul Stefan-Gruenfeldt defined Mahler, was admired by his contemporaries for his conducting qualities, although many of those trained in the classical tradition judged his works, considering them “vulgar and plain as regards substance and incoherent as regards form”. Mahler began to approach conducting after the failure of his first opera, the cantata “Das Klagende Lied”, created in 1880. The negative attitude of musicians played an important part in taking this decision. Performances of works by Mozart, Wagner and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 consolidated his reputation. The symphonies he would compose have their starting point in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9.

Mahler’s music is as sumptuous as the paintings of Gustav Klimt, one of the artists close to his wife, Alma Schindler. In fact, some of the painter’s works were also criticised in the same period.

gustav klimt - moartea si viata

Gustav Klimt – life and death

The orchestral signature of the compositions can be associated with the palette of Klimt’s paintings. The musical and artistic works are minutely created, are rather large in dimension, rich in symbols, including well-documented themes taking their references from literature and philosophy. Besides his music studies at the Vienna Conservatory, Mahler was also interested in philosophy and literature. The main references were Nietzsche, Kant, Schopenhauer, Goethe and Dostoevsky.

love for what you do

While Mahler wished to make a musical portrait of life taken as a whole, Klimt conceived an artistic one, as we can see in the painting “Death and Life” (1910), which the artist described as “the most important figurative painting”. Mahler had developed a series of emotions both for the works he performed and for his own creations.

Gustav Mahler – archive photo


With an exact, clear technique, Zubin Mehta guides, like Ariadna’s thread, the orchestra and the audience through the labyrinth of Mahler’s compositions. The gravity, as well as the complexity of this music is valorised by the renowned Indian conductor.

Gustav Mahler created a consistent music, to which you need to dedicate time; it requires patience to be understood. The analysis model developed by Panofsky on three levels of interpretation (perception, theme and content) to “read” a work of art may apply to music language, as well. The works created by Mahler are the result of interferences from the fields of literature and philosophy, and in order to follow and understand the content of the work you need an interdisciplinary approach. Gustav Mahler’s music not only stirs emotion, it also conveys knowledge and communicates.

Enthusiasm and the “love for what you do” have been that charmed impetus that gave birth to the phenomena Gustav Mahler and Zubin Mehta.


Translation provided by Biroul de Traduceri Champollion

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