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Conductors: Gypsy Boy

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Seated amidst the gilt and crystal of a venerable concert hall, watching an elegantly tail-coated conductor lead a Brahms symphony, the modern concertgoer may sometimes feel that he is inhabiting a scene preserved in amber. In such a tradition-rounded realm, the conductor and everything under his sway appear to have been unaltered in half a century. His basic repertory is the same. The makeup of his orchestra and its instruments are unchanged. The auditoriums he performs in are virtually the size and shape they always were. Through an epoch of transformations that have touched nearly every human activity, the conductor would seem to be one person who has clung to an accustomed role and function.

Not so. The conductor’s profession today bears as little resemblance to what it was 50 years ago as does the life of an astronaut to a World War I pilot’s. Even within the present generation, the changes in the music world would dumfound a Toscanini. Orchestras have grown up, spawned offshoots and multiplied; there are 1,400 in the U.S. today, from small-town groups of amateur noodlers to massive metropolitan institutions. Festivals have flowered in tropical profusion. Recordings and TV have created vast new outlets. The jet airplane has catapulted careers into global orbit. Musicians who used to scrape along on 25-week seasons are now working 52 weeks, making far more money, and even demanding more authority in hiring and firing their coworkers.

No Relief. And the conductors? There are not enough good ones to go around. Now that most of them jet off to play musical podiums with the world’s far-flung orchestras, they scarcely have time to guide the artistic policy of their own ensembles, plan the programs, select the soloists, learn new works, rehearse and perform—let alone address fund-raising luncheons of the ladies’ clubs. The best of today’s established conductors are thus tired, aging, or both. The Boston Symphony’s Erich Leinsdorf, 55, who has announced that he plans to resign at the end of the 1969 season because of his killing schedule, likens himself to “a 27-inning pitcher” with no relief in the bullpen. Like Boston, New York and Chicago are also in the market for new music directors, and the conductors in Philadelphia and Cleveland—Eugene Ormandy and George Szell—are both over 65.

In short, conducting is increasingly becoming a field for younger, more vibrant men—all the more so because of the overriding example of Leonard Bernstein. His projection and box-office appeal have made him as much the model for conductors in his era as Toscanini was in his, although, as Bernstein nears 50, even he is slackening his frenetic pace somewhat. In this image-conscious culture, every orchestra wants its conductor to have some of Bernstein’s incalculable personality force—what Conductor Charles Munch calls the “magic emanation” that can lift a conductor’s performances above the mere exercise of knowledge and professional skill.

Two at Once. Among young conductors today, one who has this emanation —plus musicianship—to an extraordinary degree is Bombay-born Zubin Mehta, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Though he is only 31, Mehta managed the formidable feat of adapting to Western culture, then precociously stormed the most daunting redoubts of European music. He became one of the youngest men ever to conduct both the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. He electrified the august Salzburg Festival with stirring performances of Stravinsky and Brahms. At 24, he was named conductor of the Montreal Symphony, and a year later won the same post with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, thus becoming not only the youngest conductor of a leading U.S. orchestra but also the only man ever to direct two major orchestras in North America at once. In fact, he conducted the two groups simultaneously: at Expo 67, he led them in a massed performance of Berlioz’ Symphonic Fantastique.

Within less than a decade of finishing his conservatory training, Mehta has pushed so far toward the top of his profession that Philadelphia’s Ormandy can say: “In spite of his youth, he has very much arrived. I consider him the finest of the young conductors.” That Mehta has done this at so young an age illustrates the striking departure that has occurred from the pattern of a generation ago. Conductors traditionally rose through an arduous apprenticeship with provincial opera houses and orchestras, rarely surfacing internationally until they were in their 40s and 50s. “Mehta,” says his friend Israeli Violinist Ivry Gitlis, “is one of the torches, a symbol of a new kind of musician.” New York Concert Manager Jay Hoffman, 34, says, “Mehta speaks to my generation. He has broken out of the mold.”

Metropolitan Opera General Manager Rudolf Bing saw Mehta conduct Tosca in Montreal in 1964 and recalls that “it was very funny. I engaged him.” Funny? “There were many mistakes,” explains Bing. “He was totally inexperienced. But it was all overshadowed by his personality and talent. Experience anyone can get.” Mehta made his Met debut in December 1965 with Aïda, quickly became one of the top cocks in the Met pit. This season he has conducted three major productions, including a new Carmen. Says Bing: “I am still impressed by his talent and personality—and now it is less funny.”

The strain of triangulating his career through New York, Montreal and Los Angeles became too much for even Mehta, and last year he said goodbye to Montreal. But he is still a jet-age conductor who hops continents to keep engagements. Besides normal coast-to-coast shuttling, he detours to make recordings and television films, frequently darts off to orchestra podiums and festival halls from London to Tel Aviv. Last spring he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a U.S. tour; after each six days of traveling, while his musicians rested for a day, Mehta crisscrossed the nation to conduct a traveling Met production of Turandot in Dallas, Detroit, Cleveland and Atlanta.

Big Gesture. Even when he is not making music, Mehta exerts the near-hypnotic spell of a gregarious, cultivated gypsy. He is small (5 ft. 7 in., 155 Ibs.), but his tousled sable locks, his honey-colored aquiline features and voracious energy give him the appeal of a matinee idol and make him a kind of culture hero. Even the English translation of his first name—”powerful sword”—seems to personify his character. In Los Angeles, strangers hail him as “Zubi baby.” Everywhere, the wealthy and famous seek him out, and females from teeny-boppers to blue-haired patronesses shiver under his hot-eyed glance. To his chagrin, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has even outfitted its ushers in Indian-style caps and silk coats like sherwanis. He is also somewhat embarrassed by the oversized portrait of himself, painted by Marion Pike, that hangs in the lobby of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion near the bar; but, typically, Mehta says, “Well, I’ll say one thing: the bar makes a lot of money since that portrait was put up.”

Many people disapprove of what Los Angeles Times Music Critic Martin Bernheimer calls the “climate of adulation” in which Mehta moves. But misguided as all the glamorization may be, it is still a tribute to the galvanizing impact of Mehta’s performances.

On the podium, he possesses an innately theatrical flair, miming the emotions of the music, sculpturing the shape of a composition in the air with gracefully masculine gestures. “I can feel the audience through my back as if I were facing them,” he says, and he is the first to admit that some of his gyrations are for the audience’s benefit. “For a cymbal crash, the player will come in anyway, but if I give a big gesture, it just adds to the high point. Or in the development section of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, I’m not sure the audience is hearing everything—the different modulations, the canonic effects. I point to the orchestra as if to say ‘Look who is playing. Now the theme is in the first violins; now it is in the basses.’ ”

Primary Spark. Yet Mehta’s motions are by no means shallow showmanship. They help make his performance “live all the time,” in the words of Met Tenor Nicolai Gedda, who sings under Mehta in Carmen. Says Gedda: “He does not drag and he does not rush; he has the kind of pulse that is absolutely right.” This is Mehta’s essence as a musician: an instinct for the living pulse of a piece of music, along with a molten core of romantic feeling and a point-of-no-return commitment.

He has a young man’s affinity for bold, large-scale works—especially from the late 19th and early 20th centuries —that glow with color and abound with dramatic contrasts. His concern is not detail but sweep and sound. He hears music with his nerve ends more than with his intellect. For this reason, he is less assured when he traces the transparent architecture of Mozart and Bach, or unfolds the subtle poetry of Schubert. Yet these are not fatal flaws in a conductor of his age. What is important is that he has the right foundation to build on. The visceral spark is primary; the intellect and poetry can come later. Without the root intuition, the other qualities would never fully bloom.

Mehta’s qualities at this point are more than enough to put him in the forefront of today’s young conductors, but he is not alone. “Look at our generation!” he says, affecting, as he often does, the royal first-person-plural pronoun. “We’ve got competition.”

Indeed “they” have, all the way from such solidly schooled, well-established figures as the Minneapolis Symphony’s Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, 44, and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw’s Bernard Haitink, 38, down to such newer personalities as the Houston Symphony’s André Previn, 38, and the Met’s Thomas Schippers, 37. At the top is a crack cadre of gifted conductors who, like Mehta, are not merely bidding for prominence, but by virtue of their flair and musicality have already achieved it.

> Berlin Radio Symphony’s Lorin Maazel, 37, an American, survived a widely publicized career as a child prodigy. Taut and serious, gifted with a computer memory for scores, he can stamp his identity on musicians and audiences alike, though the identity is sometimes too cool and cerebral. At best, his precise, literal readings, etched sharply with the point of his metronomic baton, have clarity, balance and compelling strength.

> Toronto Symphony’s Seiji Ozawa, 32, a Japanese and the only Oriental besides Mehta to flourish on Western podiums, is no less a dynamic charmer than Mehta. A favorite of young people, he sports a Beatle hairdo and a free-swinging style in the manner of Leonard Bernstein. Sometimes he indulges his expressive stick technique to paint panels of sheer sound, but he can also propel vibrant, vivacious performances as notable for their substance as for their sheen.

> BBC Symphony’s Colin Davis, 40, ranks as Britain’s best conductor since Sir Thomas Beecham. He has a relatively wide repertory, ranging from Mozart through Berlioz to Stravinsky, and an uncanny talent for instilling the faded and familiar with fresh life. His straightforward technique combines grace with precision and gravity with rhythmic bite, and his touch in the opera pit is firm and stylish.

> La Scala’s Claudio Abbado, 34, is a stern, urgent pursuer of the long musical line, a Toscanini-like stickler for both fine-mesh detail and overall coherence. Imperious and intensely concentrated, he spurs an orchestra on with a clean, incisive beat, often achieving a surging pulse and crackling inner tension. He excels with the original texts of operas, giving them what one critic calls an “electric-shock treatment.”

> Cologne Opera’s Istvan Kertesz, 38, an unspectacular Hungarian, restricts himself to beating a steady rhythm with his right hand while flicking unobtrusive signals with his left—yet he radiates authority. His solid reputation as a traditionalist does not diminish the currents of conviction and warmth that he stirs into a composition. Armed with a wide repertory, he is equally effective in music as dissimilar as Mozart and Bartok.

> French Composer Pierre Boulez, 42, has the punctilious Gallic virtues: rhythmic deftness, a feeling for nuance, pointillistic detail. In compositions from Debussy through Anton Webern to Boulez, few conductors can equal his idiomatic mastery of bristling complexity and tangy dissonance. He probably never will build a repertory of the standard war horses; as a freelance conductor, he remains a self-confessed dilettante who works “entirely for pleasure.”

Peaks & Plains. These musical individualists hardly add up to a new stylistic school of conducting, for their approach is much too eclectic. Nevertheless, they will be among the most influential figures of the next few decades and undoubtedly will write a new chapter in the history of the art. Before the great age of conductors, Composer Robert Schumann spoke of the orchestra as a republic, not subject to higher authority. But the giants of the last generation, following such 19th century models as Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Artur Nikisch and Gustav Mahler, acted on the podium like absolute monarchs—benevolent, like Bruno Walter, or despotic, like Toscanini. Even with older present-day personalities, such as Szell and Ormandy, the point holds true: psychologically as well as musically, the conductor is in the peaks while the players sit below on the plain.

The new young conductors have come down from the mountain. One of Ozawa’s Toronto musicians says he “is the kind of guy you want to have a drink with—which is my idea of a compliment.” The Cologne Opera orchestra refers to Kertesz as “a gentle persuader” who will seek out a player at intermission and shake his hand for a passage well done. Mehta calls all his Los Angeles musicians by first name, mixes and jokes with them easily, sometimes refuses social invitations unless the entire orchestra is included. He believes that, in addition to injecting a bracing esprit into the orchestra, his relaxed methods produce better music. “With the old tyrants, the rehearsal was the high point, the performance a letdown,” he says. “I’m always telling my orchestra it will be different in performance, before the public, where I make music on the spot. In rehearsals, I’m the doctor with the stethoscope. In performances, I’m the gypsy.”

Thinking Dark. As the doctor, Mehta has shown a practical talent for ministering to an ailing ensemble. When he arrived in Los Angeles in 1962, the demoralized orchestra had been without a permanent conductor for four years. “It could play anything, but it had no style, no sound, and was undisciplined musically,” Mehta says. “I was engaged to fix it.” He began by holding sectional rehearsals for the strings, the weakest part of the orchestra; then he fostered competition throughout the ranks by starting a system of shifting assignments, giving promotions and changing seating arrangements as he saw fit. To enrich the ensemble’s tone, he persuaded a local foundation to put up $300,000 for new instruments, especially strings, then shopped around the world himself to find them (his prizes: a $75,000 Stradivari violin for the concertmaster, a $50,000 Strad for the principal cellist).

Above all, Mehta worked to burnish the overall sound of his orchestra after the model of the Vienna Philharmonic. Where many U.S. ensembles have a brilliant, knife-edge sound and a trip-hammer attack, the Viennese exude a darker, more rounded quality, and their attack on big chords starts slightly behind the beat, then mushrooms. “Think dark,” Mehta counseled his musicians. “Vrrraaaah!” he sang in imitation of the attack he wanted. The result is a warm, rich-sounding American unit, well on the way to Mehta’s goal of “the togetherness of playing, the unity of thought that they have in Philadelphia and Cleveland.”

Mehta has proved that he can touch and inspire the musicians who work with him. Great soloists praise his accompaniments: 21-year-old Cellist Jacqueline Du Pre says, “He provides a magic carpet for you to float on”; 80-year-old Pianist Artur Rubinstein adds, “Incredible facility, this fellow—he is a universal musician.” As for orchestra musicians, Los Angeles Philharmonic Cellist Kurt Reher recalls that at Mehta’s first rehearsal with the orchestra, “within two beats we were entranced. It seemed this young man had the ability, the musical knowledge of a man of 50 or 55.”

Half in the Eyes. Mehta’s beat is, by his own description, “at times as clear as possible, and at times as unclear as possible—sometimes I conduct so my orchestra will listen to each other.” Clear or unclear, it somehow communicates. Philadelphia Orchestra Bassoonist Bernard Garfield credits Mehta with “the ability to put himself into the music in a very, very intense way and to tell the musicians a great deal about how he wants it played.” Says the Israel Philharmonic’s chief concertmaster, Zvi Haftel: “He is more than just a gifted conductor. To change from Bruckner, which he conducts like a saint or an Indian priest, to Webern and then to Stravinsky with a burning fire and conviction—and transmit it to the orchestra—that is genius.”

Like many of his contemporaries on the podium, Mehta nearly always conducts without a score (“Half of our trade is in the eyes”), relying on a fantastic capacity to ingest compositions in a few readings and hold them in his well-stocked memory. During his years with the Montreal orchestra he had to memorize practically an entire new program every week, often while en route between engagements. One of the solutions he worked out was to conduct staging rehearsals of an operatic score while studying an orchestral score that was placed on the floor next to him. This learn-as-you-go method inevitably involves some lapses—singers, particularly, complain that Mehta occasionally drops cues—and it tends to make for slightly ragged first performances, which are smoothed out with repetition.

Untamed Animal. But in music as in life, Mehta does not let occasional ragged spots bother him as long as his general progress remains as continuous and soaring as a Richard Strauss melody. The analogy is his own: he responds with special keenness to Strauss’s music.

Recently he sat at his dressing room piano after a rehearsal at the Met and sketched a bravado musical self-portrait with his favorite Strauss works. He struck a theme from Don Juan: an image for the dark, liquid eyes, flaring nostrils and smoldering visage that prompted one of his many female admirers to compare him to “an untamed animal—sensual and earthy.” Then Don Quixote: a reflection of his penchant for tilting in public at sacred cultural institutions. Then Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks: the insouciant wink-and-nudge of a joker who likes to imitate other people over the telephone, and who once threw an entire hotel into chaos during a concert tour by sneaking around the corridors early in the morning and changing all the breakfast orders.

Finally, Mehta crashed into the broad, exuberant themes of Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). Looking up with a smile that radiated at once pride, self-mockery and unabashed immodesty, he proclaimed: “I’m quite a lot of a hero too.”

Brahms & Dogfish. Indeed, he seems to have been destined for ein Heldenleben. He was born into the Parsi sect, whose members he calls “the Jews of India”; they are descended from a group that fled Persia 1,300 years ago so that they could continue to practice their Zoroastrian faith. The Parsis, 150,000 strong, are business, commercial and social leaders of Bombay, noted for their receptivity to Western culture.

Zubin’s father, Mehli Mehta, was Bombay’s leading musician, a violinist who played dinner music at the Taj Mahal Hotel, in his spare time served as conductor of the Bombay Symphony. Little wonder, then, that Zubin says he was “brainwashed with classical music from the cradle.” He had his own record player when he was two years old, later crouched wide-eyed in the corner during his father’s lessons and chamber-music rehearsals. With his retentive memory and faultless ear, he was soon whistling Paganini caprices in the original key while riding his bike or playing cricket.

Zubin studied violin and piano, but played indifferently and never joined his school orchestra. By the age of eleven, he knew that he was more interested in becoming a conductor like his father, and like the great figures (Artur Rodzinski, Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski) that he saw in the 1947 film Carnegie Hall; a fanatic moviegoer to this day, he sat through it six times. His father, discouraged at the prospects for Western music in India, started him in pre-med courses. “Every time I sat down to cut up a dogfish,” Zubin recalls, “there I was with a Brahms symphony running through my head.”

Ice Cream & Orange Juice. Finally Mehli Mehta relented, began teaching him the rudiments of the baton. One day, when Zubin was 16, his father let him conduct a Bombay Symphony rehearsal. “The moment he got onto the podium,” says Bombay Cellist George Lester, “he instantly took command, gave us our correct cues and put us under his spell.”

At 18, Zubin was packed off to the Vienna Academy, where $75 a month had to suffice for his teetotaling version of la vie de bohème; a nonsmoker as well as a nondrinker, he lapped up ice cream and orange juice in the cafes while other students had cigarettes and coffee or brandy. He tirelessly went to concerts, played bass in the academy orchestra (“I learned a lot about orchestra psychology”), and gravitated to the conducting classes of Hans Swarowsky. The revered teacher recognized in Mehta a “demoniac conductor” who “had it all.” Nevertheless, he put Mehta through the usual drills: left hand in his pocket, right sleeve tied to a desk, conducting only with wrist movements of the right hand while Swarowsky sometimes paced behind him, muttering criticisms in three languages to test his concentration.

Shooting Star. “Go to the young conductors who are not making it,” Mehta says, “and you will hear how we shouldn’t push ourselves or sell ourselves, how they don’t have the right connections and the right opportunities. Well, you can be sure they’ve had the opportunities. But to make your way in a conducting career, you not only have to have opportunities; you have to make them a success.” Mehta began pushing and making successes—while still a student. After the Hungarian revolution in 1956, he organized a student orchestra in seven days and conducted it in a concert at a refugee camp outside Vienna. In 1958, he boldly programmed an all-Schoenberg concert, did so well that he parlayed it into further bookings.

Then, in quick succession, he married a pretty Canadian voice student named Carmen Lasky whom he had met in Vienna, won a prize in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic competition for young conductors, graduated from the academy, and moved to Liverpool as assistant conductor (part of his prize). On the Liverpool podium, Mehta quickly discovered that “I was just unprepared to lead a professional orchestra. I learned at their expense but I learned.” Two seasons of guest appearances and substituting for ailing elders gained him attention in America, and in 1961 he arrived in Montreal, says Concertmaster Calvin Sieb, “like a shooting star, burning all the time.”

Meantime, his marriage was burning out. “I would come home from a world of travel and music,” Mehta says, “and smell the diapers boiling. We grew apart.” In 1964 the Mehtas got a divorce. “It just happened,” Carmen says now. “I never did anything nasty to him, and he never did anything nasty to me.” Mehta asked his younger brother Zarin, an accountant who had immigrated to Montreal via England, to look in occasionally on Carmen and the children (a daughter Zarina, now 9, and a son Merwan, 7). Zarin looked in occasionally, then more often. In 1966 Zubin, who was rehearsing the Israel Philharmonic in Haifa, suddenly announced that he wanted to dedicate the concert to his brother, who was “getting married to a very nice girl.” To whom? “To my former wife,” Mehta replied. Nowadays, whenever he is in Montreal, he stays with Zarin, Carmen and the children—including now Zarin’s daughter, four-month-old Rohanna —and everything seems friendly.

Living-Room Opera. With his domestic ties severed in Montreal, Mehta has focused his interests in Los Angeles. Besides the Philharmonic and his parents, who moved there in 1964 when his father became a teacher-conductor at U.C.L.A., those interests prominently include, in the words of one of his friends, “girls, girls, girls.” A long, tempestuous affair with the “baby Callas” of the opera world, fiery Greek-Canadian Soprano Teresa Stratas, is now stalemated, as much because of conflicts between their careers as between their temperaments. But Mehta has shown no inclination to mope around about it—at least not alone; he is rarely seen without a girl on his arm.

Mehta is a gypsy in his private life too. He has no home, lives year-round in hotels, refuses to hire a manager, pressagent or secretary. He entertains in restaurants. “Come, come, come,” he urges after a performance, sweeping everybody in his dressing room along, and conducting the seating arrangements like a symphony. At an Indian establishment such as Manhattan’s Kashmir, he orders a scorching native dish like shrimp vindalo; elsewhere he will eat ordinary American food as long as it is liberally doused with Tabasco sauce. His table talk ranges knowledgeably over such topics as Kafka, Canadian hockey, the Greek military junta, Malibu real estate, pingpong and yoga.

“He lives,” says a friend, “in constant motion”—careening around freeways in his green 3.8 Jaguar sedan, hobnobbing with such Hollywood types as Edward G. Robinson and Director Vincente Minnelli, fencing with Film Composer Bronislau Kaper (“Not much control,” says Kaper, “but great imagination and aggressiveness”), digging jazz at Drummer Shelly Manne’s club, singing all the parts in impromptu living-room opera performances with such musical friends as Ivry Gitlis and Pianist Daniel Barenboim—and all the while taking a few hours out here and there to master a new score.

The Tempest. To keep in touch with distant friends, Mehta runs up telephone bills of $1,500 a month, thinks nothing of playing recordings by the great German Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler over a transcontinental wire to Barenboim. Sleepless in New York City at 5 a.m. one day just before New Year’s, he suddenly realized that in Vienna, where it was 11 a.m., the Vienna Philharmonic would be playing one of its traditional New Year’s Johann Strauss concerts. He put in a call to the concert hall, had the manager hold the phone up to a backstage loudspeaker for a while, then dozed off contentedly.

Mehta’s attachment to Israel and all things Jewish is even closer than his bond with Vienna. “I would convert to Judaism,” he often quips, “if the operation didn’t hurt so much”—but he claims that he follows his own faith devoutly. When Barenboim married Jacqueline Du Pre in Israel last summer, Mehta flew over, donned a skullcap and prayer shawl, and joined the Orthodox Jewish ceremony as “Moishe Cohen.” The officiating rabbi became suspicious because Mehta did not speak Hebrew. “I’m a Persian Jew,” Mehta explained to him, “and we don’t speak Hebrew.” After the other guests had chanted Hasidic songs for the couple, Mehta sang themes from Dvorak’s Cello Concerto and Beethoven’s Hamrnerklavier sonata with Hebrew inflections. Later he told the rabbi they were old Persian Jewish hymns.

Such chutzpah sometimes gets Mehta into trouble, or the glare of publicity, or both. In Israel, he created a tempest in a tea glass when he tried—unsuccessfully—to get the Israel Philharmonic to do a piece by Richard Wagner, whose music was so enthusiastically embraced by the Nazis that it still disturbs many Jews. In Italy, he flustered musical circles by picketing La Scala with musicians who were protesting a cut in state subsidies for opera. A few weeks ago, he outraged the New York musical establishment by vehemently rejecting any possibility that he might become Leonard Bernstein’s successor as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. “Artistically it would not be a step up for me,” he said. “My orchestra is better than the New York Philharmonic.” To compound the offense, he added that New York’s musicians “step over conductors”—thus expressing publicly what many young conductors feel privately: that the New Yorkers, while gifted, are also notorious for their supreme self-confidence and antagonism toward almost anybody who takes over their podium.

So it was understandable that officials of the musicians’ union should “request” his presence for an explanation. Mehta disarmingly assured both the union and a committee of Philharmonic musicians that he never meant to insult or degrade the musicians—who, after all, are his colleagues—and he promised to say as much in a letter for the Philharmonic bulletin board.

Headlong & Footloose. Even allowing for his impulsiveness and his pride in his own musicians, Mehta’s outburst about Bernstein’s job acutely highlighted a common attitude among the new young conductors. They are quite rightly dubious about some of the prestigious podiums that may soon be offered to them. Chary of constricting commitments and loath to give up the heady rewards of widespread guest-conducting, they may want to wait out the blur of transition that now troubles the orchestra world. Until the position of music director is redefined, they will be careful not to tie themselves to a set of responsibilities that could become obsolete. They may well end up with orchestras such as New York’s, Chicago’s and Boston’s—but they probably also will continue to go their headlong, footloose way, gypsying around the musical world.

Mehta’s bookings for 1968, for example, call for 22 weeks of concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, three operas at the Met—among them Tosca, which he conducted last week—one opera on Italian television, five recording sessions, and guest appearances at five festivals and with five other orchestras.

Some older observers are disquieted by such a torrent of activities. Impresario Sol Hurok, 79, shakes his head and says: “I think any artist should concentrate on one thing at a time. There is an old Russian saying: ‘With one bottom, you can’t be at two weddings.’ ” And Herbert von Karajan, 59, one of the last conductors bred in the old gradual apprenticeship, commented on the new conductors to a friend recently: “I’m afraid they jumped from elementary school to the university without going through the intervening stage of high school”—implying that at some point in the future the gap in their background will show through.

The next few decades will tell. In that time, the best of the new generation will vastly broaden their repertories and deepen their musical insights. As for Mehta, Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky believes that “his ability as conductor is unlimited. His capacity to learn is absolutely astonishing.”

Even now, Mehta—like several of his generation—has an impressive body of achievements to justify his defiant reply to the doubting voices of tradition: “Some people treat us as if we were still kids in the playpen. All of us have already done enough to be more highly regarded than that. I think we will be as great as the generation of Furtwängler and Toscanini.”

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