After 50 Years, Zubin Mehta Bids Farewell to Israel Philharmonic With Final Concert

Iconic conductor chooses Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 to celebrate his final performance as music director

Zubin Mehta at his farewell concert, October 21, 2019.
Shay Skiff

Conductor Zubin Mehta ended his 50-year career as musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday, celebrating his final bow at a concert with the orchestra in Tel Aviv.

After apologizing to the audience in the Charles Bronfman Auditorium that even after 50 years he still cannot speak Hebrew, he thanked the Philharmonic for giving and teaching him so much, throughout all the generations of the orchestra.

The Zubin Mehta farewell concert, October 21, 2019.
Shay Skiff

Mehta said he “cannot begin to even describe what I have learned with these musicians,” and maybe they learned something from him, but it does not compare to what the first generation of the orchestra’s musicians taught him. 

Lahav Shani, 30, who is taking over the reins from Mehta, also took part in the concert, joining pianist Yefim Bronfman in a piece for four hands.

Mehta said he was very happy to know he was handing over the baton to Shani, who was not only his choice for the position, but was also the orchestra’s choice – and he has proved himself on many occasions in the past when he substituted for Mehta – along with his own concerts – and wished him all the best. 

The program of the celebratory concert included Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Bronfman, and Mahler’s Symphony No 2, the “Resurrection,” which received a lengthy ovation from the audience. Mahler’s popularity grew enormously during the Mehta’s half-century with the Philharmonic and his works have become a central part of the orchestra’s repertoire.

At the end of the concert, Mehta and his wife were garlanded with flowers while the orchestra members threw red roses at them – a gesture to India, his native country.  He was named emeritus musical director during the ceremony for his unique connection with the orchestra and for his being an exceptional goodwill ambassador for Israel.

Mehta, 83, has led the Philharmonic since 1969, first as a musical advisor and from 1977 as its musical director. He toured the world with the orchestra, accompanied by some of the world’s greatest soloists. Mehta was also involved in the process of choosing new musicians for the Philharmonic, which has brought in many world-class artists in recent years – and is leaving behind an orchestra with excellent musical and technical abilities.