January 19, 2020

L.A. Music Man Is Homeward Bound

Zubin Mehta, one of Southern California’s favorite musicmakers, will return to his old stomping grounds Dec. 10 to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s (IPO) first Los Angeles concert in three years.

The performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall will open an eight-date tour that continues Dec. 11 at Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, then moves on to the East Coast.

The sold-out Dec. 10 program will feature Stravinsky’s "Petrushka" and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist, followed by a black-tie gala event benefiting American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and honoring philanthropists Edye and Eli Broad.

Mehta, 67, was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978; he and his wife, Nancy, maintain a home in Brentwood. He became music director of the IPO in 1977 and received a life appointment to that post in 1981.

Avi Shoshani, the IPO’s executive director, said the orchestra is eager to visit Disney Concert Hall.

"We have heard so much about the new hall," Shoshani told The Journal. "The acoustics are supposed to be wonderful, so we are really looking forward to playing there."

Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said the Mehtas were occasional visitors to Disney Concert Hall during its construction.

"We gave Nancy and Zubin tours of the hall every time they were here," Borda told The Journal, adding that Mehta was one of the first people to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic rehearse in the hall during the summer. "We ran around and sat in about 50 different seats" to check the acoustics."

Founded in 1936 as the Palestine Orchestra, the IPO has performed in concert halls and at music festivals for decades as Israel’s most prominent cultural ambassador. The orchestra’s upcoming American tour is part of the State of Israel’s 55th anniversary celebration.

Suzanne Ponsot, executive director of American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO), told The Journal that the economic pressures on the Israeli government brought about by the three-year-old intifada have hurt cultural institutions across Israel, which have historically enjoyed government support. The IPO’s musicians have taken cuts in wages and benefits in response to cuts in government allotments.

That’s made the mission of AFIPO, one of several organizations worldwide devoted to supporting the orchestra, its tours and its educational programs, all the more important.

"We’ve all been working hard to make sure that any reduction in support could be taken care of," Ponsot said.

She added that the "situation" has made the IPO an even beloved Israeli institution. "The orchestra’s role in Israel has become increasingly important to the Israelis, who have come to lean on great music for solace," Ponsot said.

The IPO was scheduled to play Hollywood Bowl last summer as part of a tour with singer Michael Feinstein, but the tour was canceled amid stories of problems the producers of that tour incurred involving insurance and security costs.

Whatever concerns there were have been ironed out for the December tour, Borda said.

"Apparently they were able to get the right kind of bonds to make the appearance possible," she said.

Shoshani, who said the IPO travels with a security team, said the orchestra will have "not more than the usual, not less than the usual" amount of security.

Only 26 when he took the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Bombay-born Mehta cut a glamorous figure in local social circles during the 1960s and ’70s, both before and after his 1969 marriage to the former Nancy Kovack, an actress with numerous TV and film credits.

That glamour will be recaptured during the Dec. 10 gala, which will host "the who’s who of the local Jewish community," said Sue Bender, AFIPO’s West Coast director.

Los Angeles fans of symphonic music can’t wait for Mehta’s return, Borda said, noting that he will be back in January

to conduct Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

"Zubin was music director for so many years," Borda said. "He remains a family member."