How Zubin Mehta became music director in MunichOpera
A final extract from Opera for All, Julia Glesner’s vivid new biography of Peter Jonas:
[Peter] asked for a special budget to travel to Chicago for a week in March 1996, where Mehta conducted the Ring at the Lyric Opera. His
mission was to convince Zubin to become general music director of the BSO from 1998. ‘I can get in and out of Zubin’s hotel. I know the people who run it,’ Jonas told his minister. ‘I can be discreet as one can be.’ Zehetmair agreed.
The conditions for the renewed negotiations were favourable. Mehta had been obliged to ‘take two days off’ during the Festival when he conducted Tannhäuser, something he thought worth explaining in his memoirs, although both times were for charity events. One day he conducted Mozart’s Requiem in a concert in the burnt-out library of Sarajevo. ‘The hulk of the library, one of the most surreal ruins in this city of twisted steel, pocked walls and shattered glass, must be one of the eeriest venues ever chosen for a performance of the Requiem,’ wrote the New York Times.
The second time, Mehta conducted – ‘horribile dictu’, he commented – the Three Tenors concert on the eve of the football World Cup final. ‘I’m sure Jonas didn’t take me entirely seriously as a result. But I made a “deal” with him – if he would let me off from this summer performance, then I would come as a substitute in the autumn and conduct Tannhäuser once more without pay. That was also accepted,’ Mehta wrote.
Jonas said only that he had done Mehta a personal favour that made them closer friends. For Jonas, it was a good starting position to be able, a little later, in March 1996, to dare offer Mehta the post of General Music Director of the BSO.
I scratch your back, you scratch mine …