In the annals of the Berliner Philharmoniker – which are not exactly lacking in musical highlights – the 2 October 2011 was without doubt a day to remember: that evening, Zubin Mehta celebrated his 50th anniversary conducting the orchestra. The special attraction: the programme of works by Gottfried von Einem, Robert Schumann and Gustav Mahler was exactly the same Mehta conducted when he made his debut with the Philharmoniker in 1961 at the invitation of his patron Herbert von Karajan – back then in the concert hall of what is now the Berlin University of the Arts.
One of the approximately 200 performances that Mehta and the Berliner Philharmoniker have performed to date together, both in Berlin and on tour, was an unscheduled concert on 25 January 2014: it was an evening dedicated to the memory of Claudio Abbado who had died just five days before – an event close to the hearts of all participants, including Mehta who had been friends with the long-term chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1956. Mehta, who was born in Bombay in 1936 and trained at the Wiener Musikakademie under Hans Swarowsky, was made an honorary member of the Philharmoniker in February 2019 as an expression of the unique artistic connection between the orchestra and conductor. As Knut Weber, cellist with the Philharmoniker and board member of the Berliner Philharmoniker, pointed out in his laudatory speech, “No conductor has conducted our orchestra over a longer period of time, and hardly any other guest conductor has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker more often. But guest conductor doesn’t go far enough. You are many things to our orchestra, but not for a long while have you been a ʻguestʼ. Much rather a friend, role model, artistic adviser, audience favourite and musical authority”.
In the 2019/20 season, Mehta presents two programmes with the Philharmoniker: after conducting works by Richard Strauss and Ludwig van Beethoven over three evenings in late October and early November, in these Berliner Philharmoniker concerts, he directs performances of Anton Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. The work, which is dedicated to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, occupied its composer for a period of no less than six years – an effort which proved to be worthwhile, as the world premiere of the monumental, around 80-minute-long composition by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Hans Richter on 18 December 1892 provided Bruckner with one of the greatest successes of his lifetime.