Mehta, Israel Philharmonic bring venerable musical partnership to the Arsht Center

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
South Florida Classical Review

The long artistic relationship between conductor Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra may set a world record. When Mehta steps down as the orchestra’s music director in 2019, he will have held the chief conductorship of the ensemble for fifty years.

As part of an ongoing series of farewell tours, Mehta and the Israelis displayed their mastery of symphonies by Mozart and Schubert at the Arsht Center Sunday night.

Since Mehta first appeared as a guest conductor with the orchestra in the mid 1960′s, he has seen the ensemble change, both in its membership and musical character. When he first came, the orchestra was still predominantly comprised of Holocaust survivors and refugees from Western Europe. Later he saw members of the early classes of Jerusalem’s Rubin Academy (now the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music) join the orchestra’s ranks. In the 1980′s and 90′s a large influx of Russian musicians enhanced the string section. Today the orchestra’s membership is an amalgamation of native Israelis and musicians who have come to the country from around the world, and the orchestra plays at an international level.

Sadly, Mehta, 81, is now rather frail. He walked slowly on and off stage and twice had to be helped off the podium by his players. His once very dynamic and flashy podium manner has become minimalist. But the rapport between the conductor and ensemble is so strong, often that was all that was needed, as the musicians responded to Mehta’s slightest gesture.

The program opened with a suite from the 2011 Academy Award nominated film Footnote by the Israeli composer Amit Poznansky. This is decidedly lightweight fare, reminiscent of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suites in its mixture of waltz and dance rhythms with a twist of irony. It showcased the ensemble’s whipcrack brass and percussion section, making a lively curtain raiser.

Then it was down to the evening’s serious musical offerings. Few of Mozart’s symphonies suffer from heavy-handed performances as much as the Symphony No. 36 in C Major (“Linz”). Utilizing reduced orchestral forces, Mehta’s reading was light on its feet and richly detailed. 
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