Nearly six decades after he gave up the scalpel in favour of the baton, maestro Zubin Mehta returned to his homeland to be felicitated by Germany, the land of musical legends and a continuing tradition in classical Western music. On Sunday, 22 July, Mehta was awarded with the German Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit in a special ceremony at the residence of the German Ambassador to India, Michael Steiner.
While bestowing the Order on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Joachim Gauck, Ambassador Steiner said, "You are an ambassador at large for classical music. You are the ambassador of Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Bruckner and many others - many of them German composers. And you are the admired former music director of the Bavarian State Opera.
"Maestro Zubin Mehta, these were some of the reasons why the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Joachim Gauck, in recognition of your special contribution to Germany and her international relations, as well as your life work in the service of music and cross-cultural understanding, has decided to bestow you the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany."
Mehta, who has travelled the world and led some of the most celebrated orchestras, still remains an Indian at heart and would give anything to "walk for five minutes along the Colaba causeway" in Mumbai. Remarking on this special moment, he said, "I have been making music in Germany since 1961, so you can imagine how honoured, how happy I am. I thank the State of Germany, which has been very good to me."
Zubin Mehta's stature as a master in the world of music and the arts contributed a unique note to the felicitation event. Celebrated Bharatanatyam dancer Alarmel Valli, who is a personal friend and whose work has been especially admired by the maestro, performed a composition as a tribute to his genius.
Her rendition 'Scent of the earth' was a homage to the dynamic and creative interdependence between the inner and outer worlds, weaving together strands from ancient, medieval and early 20th Century poetry in Sanskrit and Tamil.
After her performance, Valli said, "When Zubin Mehta conducts, I don't just hear great music; he also makes me deeply aware of the poetry of music and the dance of melody. To offer a dance tribute to such a unique artist, whom I profoundly admire and respect, is the best way in which I can express my gratitude for the sublime joy and inspiration his art brings."
Amongst the many eminent personalities who attended the evening's ceremony were Dr. Karan Singh, India's foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai, cultural icons Shovana Narayan and Anjolie Ela Menon, industry leaders including President of FICCI R. V. Kanoria, Arun Bharat Ram, Rakesh Bakshi and Kamal Meattle.
Since his early years as a musical conductor, Zubin Mehta has had close connections with Germany and its musical tradition. He calls Germany his home and his autobiography, Die Partitur meines Leben: Erinnerungen (The Score of my Life: Memories), was originally published in German in 2006. At the bestowal ceremony in New Delhi, Mehta underlined his ties to Germany, saying, "I have spent all my musical life in Germany. The first day I entered Germany was the first morning I rehearsed with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1961. And last year, I was celebrated in Berlin having accomplished 50 years non-stop - never having missed a season with them."
While Mehta's flamboyant style and the passion he exudes on the podium makes him stand out amongst his contemporaries, his contribution to humanity goes beyond music. Passionately promoting peace and humanism in conflict zones around the world and supporting the underprivileged, Mehta's contribution has been recognised by Germany with this Order of Merit. Ambassador Steiner says, "He is an exceptionally gifted all-rounder. He is a political person and humanist who deeply appreciates freedom."
For Mehta, music is intrinsic to life itself. "It is impossible to grasp a world without beats, rhythm, sound, vocal contributions," he said. After receiving the award, he summarised his musical journey, which he resumes with upcoming concerts at the Salzburg Music Festival, "this year is the first year of the next 50 years. Again, silence will become music."
© German Embassy New Delhi