Zubin Mehta’s wields his magic baton.
Zubin Mehta’s wields his magic baton.

Magic in the music

music September 17, 2018 01:00

By Kupluthai Pungkanon
The Nation

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Veteran conductor Zubin Mehta takes the Thailand Cultural Centre by storm

AS HE walked slowly towards the podium from where he was to conduct San Carlo Orchestra on Wednesday night, maestro Zubin Mehta was showing his age. The minute he picked up his baton, though, the decades disappeared, his demeanour that of a man many years younger and his fluid movements reflecting the passion and love he has always had for his work. 

Zubin Mehta’s wields his magic baton.

Now in his 80s, Mehta delivered a powerful and performance at Bangkok’s 20th International Festival of Dance and Music Festival leaving the audience filled with joy and grateful to have enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Mehta’s schedule for the festival would have tired even a younger man: two performances of Teatro di San Carlo Naples’ opera “Carmen” and two wielding his baton for the orchestra’s recitals of “An Evening with Beethoven” and “Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies”. On each occasion, the Thailand Cultural Centre reverberated to the sound of applause and calls of “bravo” as the audience rose to its feet in appreciation.

The San Carlo Orchestra performed a programme of Beethoven’s symphonies.

On Thursday night, the San Carlo Orchestra, under Mehta’s direction, took on Ludwig van Beethoven’s grand symphonic work reflecting the drama of the opera, “Leonore Overture No 3” and his “Symphony No 9” featuring tenor Saimir Pirgu, soprano Federica Lombardi, bass Liang Li and mezzosoprano Veronica Simeoni along with a chorus from Teatro di San Carlo. 

The last concert featured Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No 4” and “Symphony No 6” and was performed in the gracious presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

The Teatro di San Carlo opera company staged “Carmen”. 


Pirgu and Simeoni were also on stage for Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” in four acts with the former portraying Don Jose and the latter as Carmen. They were joined by baritones Vito Priante (Escamillo) and Enrico Maria Marabelli (Morales), soprano Lombardi (Micaela), and baritone Fabio Previati as Doncairo. 

A long-time peace activist, Mehta saluted Beethoven in an earlier interview with The Nation, saying that he regards the “Ninth” as a symphony that belongs to the world. 

“The lyrics that Beethoven adopted came from Friedrich Schiller, the great German poet: ‘All people are brothers.’ Everybody should read these words. He believed these words and we need this today, more than ever. People should take it very seriously, the words of this symphony,” he said.

The Teatro di San Carlo opera company staged “Carmen”. 


Beethoven was almost totally deaf when he composed the symphony, the last movement of which incorporates the poem, known in English as “Ode to Joy”. 

The maestro brought that message to the audience as every member of the orchestra followed his powerful gestures. The performance was truly remarkable and the audience rose as one to its feet as the last notes faded away. 

There was similar enthusiasm at the two performances of “Carmen”, one of the most popular operas in Teatro di San Carlo’s repertoire. The opera house, which appointed Mehta as its honorary music director in 2016, can trace its history back to 1737, and has been associated with some of the best-known maestri in the world, among them Gui, Serafin, Santini, Gavazzeni, Bhm, Fricsay, Scherchen, Cluytens, Knappertsbusch and Igor Stravinsky.

A local children’s chorus from Immanuel Music School was given the opportunity to performing with the leading maestro Zubin Mehta.

The opera itself was entertaining, the voices of the singers exceptionally beautiful and the sets glamorous with thousands of tiny bulbs glittering. 

The production also incorporated contemporary techniques, highlighted by the tube-shaped neon lights carried by silent bearers or mimes. An unusual take for a classic opera, it had the unfortunate effect of disrupting the choreography. 

The organisers of the festival, International Cultural Promotions, have long believed in inspiring young performers and giving them an opportunity of a lifetime and made good on this by bringing 60 Thai students to take part in “Carmen”. They included a chorus from Immanuel Music School, the non-profit school for underprivileged children living in Khlong Toei district, drama students from Chulalongkorn University, and young dancers from the Varaporn and Kanchana Ballet Schools.