T WAS a double whammy for music lovers at Carnegie Hall as an exuberant Zubin Mehta, marking his 70th birthday, led the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on its 70th anniversary.
Mehta, who first conducted the orchestra when he was 25, was especially proud that not once, in its seven decades, has the IPO missed a concert due to security concerns in the country.
As Mehta lifted his baton to kick off this milestone with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, guest pianist Lang Lang, a 23-year-old Chinese virtuoso, plunged in along with 112 musicians in a wildly enthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday to the startled maestro.
"Everybody succeeded in making me three months older," he remarked later at a dinner of the American Friends of IPO at Cipriani 42. His birthday is April 29.
Nevertheless he gamely cut the cake as 500 of the social elite again rose to belt out Happy Birthday – off key. I know I was off.
James Wolfensohn, who with Lily Safra and Lord Jacob Rothschild co-chaired the dinner, thanked the orchestra for coming all the way from Israel for this one notable night. Wolfensohn, as emissary to the Palestinian Authority, had come from a meeting in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin. Mehta came from Munich where he was in his final year as music director of the Bavarian State Opera. Ron Huldai came from Tel Aviv where he is the mayor.
Mehta was grateful for the $3 million the American Friends raised. "We exist on ticket sales," he said. "We get no subsidy from the government. The mayor of Tel Aviv is here. We get nothing from him too. The free tickets he gets, he gets from our heart."
Hopefully the maestro reached the heart of Mercedes Bass, who was sitting with George Soros. Mercedes and Sid Bass last month made headlines with their $25 million to the Metropolitan Opera, the largest single gift from an individual in the company’s 123-year history.
That’s music to my off-key ears. With such beneficence, Mehta could well afford the freebies to the mayor of Tel Aviv.