A nine-year report card on Mehta as he takes a sabbatical year
Zubin Mehta's departure for a one-year sabbatical from his duties as music director of the New York Philharmonic seems a good time to take a look at what he has accomplished in nine seasons with the orchestra. The tenure of the Bombay-born maestro, who succeeded Pierre Boulez, has encompassed an odd mixture of high points and low - of a general appreciation (if not always rapturous acclaim) from his audiences, and an often testy and sometimes unkind reaction from many critics.Skip to next paragraph
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Antipathy among critics is nothing new to Mehta, but surely he had hoped to put such nettlesome, wearing attacks behind him by now. Yet, truth to tell, there are elements of Mehta's podium demeanor that provide fodder for his critics. He can appear aloof and detached from the performance. On occasion, when stepping onto or off the podium he affects an expression that can easily be misconstrued as arrogant.
Of course, Mehta first fired the imagination of the public and captured the attention of the media after taking the helm (at age 26) of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and turning that orchestra into one of America's best five or six ensembles.
Also of interest to press and public was his jet-set schedule and lifestyle - never still a moment, gadding across the continent and the Atlantic with dizzying frequency to honor commitments in an increasingly visible and hectic, yet brilliant international career.
Even today, with his substantial commitment to the New York Philharmonic, his lifetime music directorship of the Israel Philharmonic, and his responsibilities as artistic director of the Maggio Musicale in Florence, he still spends a considerable part of his life in transit.
Mehta knew when he took on the Philharmonic that he was running the risk of overexposure. Generally he conducts close to two-thirds of a season's concerts, even though few music directors devote more than half a season to their ensembles and some considerably less. He also conducts at least one ``Live From Lincoln Center'' program on public television each year.
By now he has to fight being taken for granted by concertgoers here, though, unlike certain of his contemporaries, Mehta is firmly, expertly trained and seasoned in the standard repertoire, so that one can always expect good Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann from him.
Too often, however, there is the sense that things are not fully prepared at Philharmonic concerts, though this is as much the fault of management, for putting an impossible workload on the orchestra, as it is Mehta's for allowing it.
Last season, concertgoers began seeing more carry-overs of major pieces from one subscription series to the next, so that the pressures were a little less severe on the players.
But until everyone can agree that the Philharmonic schedule - with its three to four programs per subscription week, plus special concerts, day trips, overnight trips, recordings, children's concerts, etc., - is impossible, and that cost effectiveness for this highest paid of orchestras will always conflict with musical and artistic excellence, the situtation will not improve.