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Zubin Mehta at the Philharmoniccelebration on June 18, 2011
This was not the first time in Philharmonic history that a conductor has conducted the orchestra over such a long period of time. Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan also attained and passed this milestone. However, it was the first time that such an anniversary was marked by an official Philharmonic celebration, which says a great deal about our relationship with Zubin Mehta. When he himself describes the past 50 years of collaboration by reminiscing that at the beginning he conducted his professors at the music academy, later on his colleagues from their student days and, later still, he conducted their students, one perceives how singular this relationship has become. Zubin Mehta was instructed by Philharmonic members and grew up musically with a generation of Philharmonic players. When he made his debut, concertmaster Fritz Sedlak, born in 1895, was our oldest active member. Like our former chairman, Otto Strasser, Sedlak was hired in 1922, at a time in which Richard Strauss and Franz Schalk directed the Vienna State Opera and Arnold Rosé, the brother-in-law of Gustav Mahler and concertmaster under Hans Richter, was the leader of the orchestra. This intertwining alone reveals the significance of the unfolding of half a century of historical interaction and artistic tradition.
How seriously Zubin Mehta takes this responsibility and how faithfully he is in supporting our orchestra can be ascertained by a single number. Of the 255 concerts that we have performed to date under the baton of Zubin Mehta, 82 - that is, one third of them - have been subscription concerts. This is indicative of his strong empathy toward to our orchestra and its traditions, and to our audiences. This commitment over the past half a century demonstrates not only that our orchestra is not only a part of his musical activity, but also a major part of his life.
The Philharmonic commemoration of June 18, 2011, which featured speeches by Clemens Hellsberg, Dominique Meyer and Daniel Barenboim, was also characterized by an opulent musical program. Anton Mittermayr conducted the fanfare which Richard Strauss composed for the first Philharmonic Ball in 1924; the performance by the contrabass quartet "Circus Bassissimus" recognized the beginnings of Mehta's musical career as a contrabass player; and Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta's closest friend, performed with Rainer Küchl - the longest serving concertmaster in the history of the Vienna Philharmonic - and his string quartet colleagues, Heinz Koll and Gerhard Iberer, the variation movement from Schubert's "Trout Quintet", with the contrabass part played by Herbert Mayer. Mayer, as well as our concertmaster Rainer Honeck (who along with Daniel Barenboim premiered the "Rosenkavalier Fantasy" by Vaša Přihoda), were both born in 1961, the exact year in which Zubin Mehta made his Philharmonic debut.
Mehta's debut took place in a Vienna Festival concert of which, unfortunately, no recording exists. At that time, Mehta conducted the "Symphony in Three Movements" of Igor Stravinsky, Ludwig van Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 3" in C major, op. 37, and Richard Strauss' "Don Quixote", which was this same program which was presented at the 10th subscription concert of the past season on June 18/19, 2011. The private recording archives of our long-time principal flutist, Dr. Werner Tripp, does contain a recording of the radio broadcast of Mehta's first Philharmonic subscription concert on February 29 / March 1, 1964, in which he conducted Robert Schumann's "Symphony No. 4", Arnold Schönberg's "Five Orchestral Pieces" (performed for the first time by the Vienna Philharmonic), and the Symphonic Fragments from "Daphnis et Chloé" by Maurice Ravel. With Dr. Tripp's widow, Karin, having graciously made available to us this recording, we were able, at the anniversary commemoration, to present Zubin Mehta with a compact disc recording of the first subscription concert he conducted.- Dr. Clemens Hellsberg