PERFORMERS : Obviated Obsession

September 21, 1986|Zubin Mehta | Zubin Mehta, music director of the New York Philharmonic and Israel Philharmonic, talked to Times staff writer Barbara Isenberg in his studio at Lincoln Center.

In Orange County, I almost challenged them to build this Performing Arts Center. At my last concert in Santa Ana as music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I was given a plaque saying how much they appreciated me. But I wasn't particularly genteel about receiving it. I said that it was really a tragedy for this great orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to have come here with me for 16 years and before me for 16 years and have been subjected to the acoustics of high school auditoriums.

How could the Philharmonic have been expected to play inspired performances under such wretched conditions? Would you exhibit the Mona Lisa or a Michelangelo in adverse lighting? Would you print them with false colors in a book? We were sorry because people were not really participating in the full benefits of the L.A. Philharmonic.

It was almost an obsession with me. At after-dinner groups or Philharmonic functions, I always said the same thing. I talked about it interminably. I said I'm talking to a community that is one of the richest in the United States, and you should be ashamed of yourselves that you don't have a concert hall. I kept asking: "How can it be that you don't have a great concert hall?"

Now they do, and the farsighted people who started this project several years ago will soon reap its benefits. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (the main work on the inaugural program) is the most positive piece of music that I know, and that is apart from the message of brotherhood and friendship that it sends out to the world. I can't think of anything else more appropriate to open an important center.

Let me tell you a little bit about my own experience with new concert halls. In Los Angeles and Montreal I lived through those births.

My first new hall opening was in Montreal in 1963, a year before Los Angeles' Music Center. That opening changed everything in Montreal. We went from a third-rate high school auditorium to La Place des Arts, which included one of the finest concert halls in the world. While we hadn't been able to fill 1,200 seats in the high school, we had to turn people away now. And the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier had nearly 3,000 seats.

At the new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the orchestra itself flowered. The musicians suddenly heard themselves better. They could hear their voices projecting out into the auditorium.

More foreign artists wanted to come to these cities to play in the new halls. The great example in Los Angeles was Jascha Heifetz, who opened the Music Center. He had refused to play at the downtown auditorium that used to be our home.

There was a ballet season. We started doing opera. In Montreal, the new hall gave me personally my first opportunity to conduct opera. I conducted "Tosca" there. Similarly, we did a performance of "Salome" in Los Angeles, which we would not have done had there not been this kind of hall.

The whole social life of the city changed. Suddenly, the Philharmonic volunteers increased. Dressmakers and hairdressers were more in demand. Everything was on the upsurge. Everybody wanted to climb onto the bandwagon.

One cultural institution also enhances another. One complements another. One opens and another follows; remember that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened its new home just about the same time as the Los Angeles Music Center. In both Montreal and Los Angeles, we had the great satisfaction of seeing a desert suddenly become an oasis.

I wish the people of Orange County not only great music, but great theater, great ballet, and--one day soon--their own resident orchestra. I know this institution will enrich their lives beyond anybody's expectations today.

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