Unforgettable Moments

Maestro Zubin Mehta, NCPA Chairman Khushroo N. Suntook, SOI Music Director Marat Bisengaliev and members of the audience share their thoughts on the concerts which brought the Maestro and the SOI together for the first time.

Zubin Mehta

My friend of 80 years, Khushroo Suntook (we were classmates at Mumbai’s Campion School starting 1943) has been asking me to do this for a long time and I am finally here to do it. I did not expect the quality that I have experienced. From the first rehearsal, I was pleasantly surprised. Marat prepared the orchestra well and you also had a young conductor from Thailand who prepared them. So I’m very grateful.

The SOI played beautifully. So controlled and disciplined. It is a very fine orchestra that can be compared with a lot of good ensembles all over the world. And I hope I can come back very soon to play again. Someday, I’d also like to play The Rite of Spring here.

I am always happy to come to Bombay. The other day, we went to see my old house at Cuffe Parade. My father had designed the front door, which has been kept intact. Even though the house is now dilapidated, I was so happy to be there.

Khushroo N. Suntook (NCPA Chairman and Founder, SOI)

First of all, I must congratulate Marat and Onay for having organised and prepared the orchestra. They were indeed ready for Zubin, who seemed to be agreeably surprised and pleased. From the very first rehearsal up to the last note of the second concert, a burnished energy and tone was emanating from our orchestra, as if appreciating the presence of our maestro. Several orchestra members expressed delight and hope that he would soon return. He was delighted with the treatment and the affection with which he and Mrs. Mehta were received. Our thanks to the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation for their cooperation, the magnificent Taj Mahal Palace for having hosted them so well, and above all, to our musicians and the staff of the NCPA, who made the visit so memorable.

Mr Khushroo N. Suntook in conversation with Maestro Zubin Mehta on music, his early and lifelong influences, their friendship and Mumbai

Marat Bisengaliev (Founding Music Director of the SOI)

This has been a long time coming. The concerts were a roaring success. I would say it was the SOI’s best performance thus far. We were really thorough with the preparation. It wasn’t easy because we prepared the orchestra for November last year, but the concert could not take place. This time around, all of us, including the maestro, were determined to make it happen. He took enough time to rest and recoup to come back.

The highlight of the concerts was undoubtedly Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. I think Mahler really suits the SOI. The orchestra is young and full of energy and the lush sound goes well with that. However, I was taken aback by the kind of finesse and panache with which the maestro made the orchestra play the Schubert piece. I really enjoyed it.

In an orchestra, it is only the conductor’s baton that doesn’t make any sound. Over the years, there has been a change in how the maestro conducts. His movements are very economical now. But he retained the most important thing, the aura and the power of a conductor. He manages to get every player to play for him, with complete attention and willingness to give their best. That is what produces great results. It reminded me of the incredible Russian conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky.

Throughout his visit, he took time out for everyone. He would sit and talk to the musicians during the breaks too. He enjoyed it and had wonderful things to say about the orchestra. He listened to the young musicians of the SOI Academy Orchestra as well. He was impressed and gave time to each of them to talk and take pictures.

Each rehearsal with him was a masterclass in how to lead the orchestra. His mystique and the magic he creates is unparalleled. He also spoke to me about the strengths and weaknesses of the orchestra, which is very important to me as Music Director. It is very useful advice coming from him. He is eager to come back, and we are already planning for his return next year.

After a performance by students of the SOI Music Academy

Adelina Hasani (Concertmaster)*

I think it is a historic moment that Maestro Zubin Mehta came back to the country, and this time, conducted an Indian orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of India. To be honest with you, I have never had the orchestra play with this kind of finesse. It has been so impactful working with him since the first day. The SOI has played the Mahler Symphony No. 1 before but playing it with the maestro is like playing it for the first time. It is amazing, the work he has done with us and his interpretation of the piece.

The Maestro conducts everything by heart. His accuracy is incredible. He doesn’t talk much but he says a lot with his hands. During the rehearsals, we work so intensively that we are completely exhausted by the end because we have to give our all for every minute that we have been sitting there making music together.

I felt so sad after the concerts that I had tears in my eyes. He is a living legend. There aren’t many people of this calibre in the world. It is such a privilege for the orchestra to have worked with Maestro Mehta and to have witnessed this level of music-making.

I went backstage after the concert to thank him. I found him there—still in concert mode—sitting very peacefully. “You have no idea what this means to me and all of us,” I said. His musicianship, and the person that he is, will stay with me forever.

Kalyanee Mujumdar (Violinist for the SOI)*

This has been more than a dream come true. It was difficult for me to digest that I was playing in an orchestra conducted by Maestro Mehta. You can see his aura and the experiences he carries. It took a while for me to understand that this was actually happening.

There are so many emotions one is feeling, all at once, on the stage, especially while playing the National Anthem with the maestro. It was magical. It is a feeling I have felt for the first time.

*(Excerpts from an interview that first appeared on 94.3 Radio One in the weekly show This Week at the NCPA hosted by Hrishikesh Kannan.)

An evening in honour of the maestro included a fundraising dinner and auction for the arts


Sunit Tandon (Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi)

I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Chairman and his wonderful team at the NCPA for facilitating a truly memorable experience. The SOI under Zubin Mehta was a revelation. Their reading of Schubert’s Unfinished was one of the most compelling I have heard, and it was thrilling to hear Mahler live in India, in what I conjecture was probably an India premiere. I have attended several other concerts by Mr. Mehta with different orchestras in Delhi over the years, but this one was very special. And it was a delightful bonus to be present at the post-concert auction and dinner and to meet the maestro briefly.

Amy Fernandes (Co-director, Tata Literature Live)

There was a time when Zubin Mehta strode the stage like a Titan, and that he still is. This time, with every step he took, he reminded us of the living legend and the inspiring person he is, to be able to do what he does with passion at 87.

Khushroo N. Suntook is equally inspiring in all that he does to keep culture alive and thriving in our city. I can barely begin to imagine all the hard work and challenges that must accompany this programme, but he made it look effortless.

Naseeruddin Shah

It was deeply moving and a very engrossing experience.

The second concert on Dr. Jamshed Bhabha’s birth anniversary was dedicated to his memory

Ratna Pathak Shah

Absolutely wonderful evening. I had never been to one of these kinds of concerts before. Very moving and contemplative.

Jim Sarbh

I had never seen Zubin Mehta conduct before so it was wonderful to be able to see him.

Hrishikesh Kannan

Blessed are the few of us in that theatre who were able to see Maestro Zubin Mehta conducting the Symphony Orchestra of India for the very first time.

Suhel Seth

This has been a marvellous evening—laced with elegance, wrapped in music and surrounded by the genius as only Zubin Mehta can be.

This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the October 2023 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.