Whisper it not: ‘Zubin must go’

Whisper it not: ‘Zubin must go’


norman lebrecht

March 08, 2015

In Israel, two weeks before an election, almost everyone we meet says they want to get rid of Bibi Netanyahu – and almost everyone then goes on to say, wearily, that there’s not much chance of anyone else forming the next government. The hard right has dug in too long and too deep for there to be any sudden political landslide, say veteran observers.

Much the same holds true for the music scene in Israel. We meet the most brilliant range of creators and performers – young composers, singers, conductors – full of initiative, ideals and ideas, yet unable to breach the walls of an establishment that is ruled by the Israel Opera and Israel Philharmonic, themselves ruled for decades by the same old faces.

Hanna Munitz, 68, general director of the Opera for 20 years, has seen off one chief conductor after another, holding a Bibi-like stance of no change. Many of the finest Israeli singers now live in Europe, unable to break into Israel Opera.

The situation is, if anything, worse at the Philharmonic where Zubin Mehta is music director for life and his sidekick Avi Shoshani has been secretary-general since time immemorial. Each covers the other’s back. Their viewfinder points firmly backwards, to see who might be coming from behind. Neither has any known intention of stepping aside.

But amid the current election fever, there is talk of shifting the old musical guard. Wishful talk, perhaps, but still talk. A tentative article in Haaretz  by Noam Ben-Ze’ev kicked off a small wave of speculation. More has followed on social media. There is an appetite for regime change. If Zubin were persuaded, after 46 years with the Israel Phil, to accept a presidential trole and make way for a young music director – one who might effect real change – he could trigger a landslide of possibilities.

Zubin Mehta in Srinagar



  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    Thanks for this insight – I had no idea.

  • DLowe says:

    I can see this becoming another real life rendition of Mozart in the Jungle. Mehta as Thomas.

  • Eyal Braun says:

    As an Israeli,I can’t see how the Israel PO can attract a top conductor like Mehta. He is earns here about 15-20% a top conductor earns in a leading orchestra- but goes on because he loves the orchestra so much. He brings top guest conductors and the greatest soloists to play regularly with the IPO (Perahia, Dohnanyi, Honeck,A. Schiff, Wang,Goerne and many more appeared with the Orchestra during the recent months) . This is not an easy task in the constant climate of security tensions in which Israel lives.I can’t see this going on after he (and Shoshani) retires.The real problem of IPO and the Israeli opera is the very conservative taste of Israeli audience and neat total lack of public funds which results in unimaginative programs, a fact that Mehta himself laments. Anyway , Mehta is 79 and change will surely come during the next few years: Noseda (principle guest conductor), Jurowski or K. Petrenko at tipped to lead the orchestra after Mehta leaves.

    • IPO Musician says:

      It’s not a secret that Mehta was never considered as an orchestra bilder
      Being IPO member already 25 years I have to say that I fee that orchestra need a change
      Especially now when IPO changes its ranks and orchestra becoming very young and it is very important to work on style and other many important things.
      It was sad in a previous comments that Mehta is very attached to Israel and whenever was a war situation he canceled all the concerts abroad and came to Israel
      On December 2012 we had a rockets all over Israel an Mehta didn’t show any support to our public and orchestra members
      Another mith;:
      Mehta works in Israel almost for free
      Mehta spends in Israel about 5 to 6 weeks a year and about two months of traveling with IPO where he gets per concert and concerts are almost every day.
      So it’s not just love to IPO
      I personally think that because Mehta in the past was really a truly IPO friend ,he shoul become a honorary president of the IPO and we deserve to have a new music director BUT!!!!!
      NOT FOR A LIFE!!!!!!

    • IPO Musician says:

      Manfred Honeck would be also a great choice

  • william osborne says:

    He has been ensconced in Florence almost as long.

  • Eitan Bezalel says:

    Maestro Zubin Mehta is the most important treasure the I.P.O. has & the very best conductor!

    Avi Shoshani works 22 hours a day for the I.P.O-. he is the best manager for classic orchestra one can dream!

    Don’t forget that during any war, Mehta was always in Israel, canceling any performance around the world in order to be with his Israeli orchestra!

    The people that want Mehta out- don’t know music & they are the most ignorant!

    • Anonnne says:

      or, as N.L. could say, making my point…

    • Rob van der Hilst says:

      Well…. if Mr. Soshani really works 22 hours a day (= 24 hours) – and this must be true in this benedicted pages full of truth and grace – is it not time for a new, younger generation to do Mr. Soshani’s job in a more…eh….human way, within let’s say about 8 hours a day?
      Of course.

      Thank you.

  • Freddy says:

    Actually, they both are perfect for each other – a mediocre conductor for a mediocre orchestra……

    • Hilary says:

      and yet, there were some brilliant recordings from the 60s and 70s. Among the most persuasive accounts of the Schoenberg Variations for example. The BACH motif punched out in the finale with a force which is unforgettable.

  • IPO musician says:

    I’ve Been an IPO musician for 20 years and question about Mehta was actual since than
    Now ,in my opinion he doesn’t bring any music ideas to the orchestra which became quite a young
    About his salary:
    It’s true that in Israel he isn’t getting much
    Orchestra paying for all his extras,he is not paying for anything he wants.
    He spends about 3 weeks a year in Israel and about 2 months on tours where he is been paid for every concert
    So now you can see that his salary in IPO can be compered to the chiefs of the great orchestras
    However the most important that our orchestra urgently needs a music director who’ll bri new ideas,who’ll bring back to the orchestra its style

    • SDReader says:

      That all makes sense to me.

    • Erich says:

      Mehta has been on Autopilot for years and is simply incapable of turning in anything other than a routine performance any more (just two examples: the New Year’s concert and the Aida at la Scala.) Basta finito.

  • Mr. Khushroo Suntook says:

    Perhaps with his vast knowledge, he should bring in fresh management, and work towards audience development. He seems to have the same problem as other centres in the world, conservative audiences which need education and innovative means to rejuvenate a musical scene.

  • John Porter says:

    I was here in NY when his time with the Philharmonic dragged on. He left quite an uninspired orchestra, not playing all that well. The strength of his conducting is in a very narrow band of music. His love of the Israel Philharmonic is not enough to keep him there while they become sleepier and sleepier musical organization.

  • Hilary says:

    I have fond recollections of the Zubin Mehta conducting masterclasses, broadcast by the BBC in the 80s. I remember he was quite boisterous with the participants, but in a nice way. Interesting to see how they have aged. Repertoire included Prague Symphony and Rite of Spring.

  • C R says:

    Those who think the grass is greener are both shortsighted and unappreciative of the treasure they have in Mehta. Young and new aren’t necessarily better and isn’t it the job of the IPO members to “bring back to the orchestra its style”? Soon enough they will see how wrong they are.

  • brian viner says:

    the best conductor i have ever heard with the israel philharmonic
    was sergio celebedache. in the early 60s.