Indian-born conductor Zubin Mehta lived a dream Saturday, conducting a concert in Indian-administered Kashmir. Maestro Mehta directed the Bavarian State Orchestra in a German Embassy-sponsored concert attended by almost 2,000 guests. This is the first cultural event of such magnitude in the area. Mehta and the 98-member orchestra were rewarded with a standing ovation.
Mehta said before taking the podium, “I am very happy today. I have waited for this moment all my life.”
Kashmiri separatists protested the event, labeling the concert an attempt to legitimize Indian-rule of the disputed region. Hundreds of police and paramilitary officers covered the city to provide protection for the high-profile event after sections of the Kashmir Valley were threatened by a day-long strike initiated by veteran separatist chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Checkpoints were erected around the city.
The Kashmir region is claimed by neighbors India and Pakistan and separatists have, often violently, opposed Indian-administration of the area dating from 1989.
Mehta and German sponsors, including the Ambassador, stayed positive in their statements and both denied the concert carried political motivations.
Contrary to accusations by organizers of a parallel protest concert, Ambassador Michael Steiner said the intent was not to force the Kashmir conflict under rose-colored glasses, the concert aspired to, “reach the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement.” Steiner said the concert bridged the distance between cultures… German and Kashmiri cultures, that is. “The distance between Munich and Srinagar is 7,076km. Tonight, music reduced this distance to zero.”
Mehta apologized for not being able to get more attendees into the space, the concert was held in Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar. From Delhi, the Friday before the concert, Mehta said that he was using music, “the only language I know and hope to spread the message of peace with this performance.”
The concert was broadcast around the world on multiple television stations. The 90-minute program opened and closed with a specially-composed Kashmiri folk tune by Abhay Rustam Sopori and played by Kashmiri musicians. Afterward, the audience was entertained by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Leonore Overture #3 in C major and Symphony #5 in C minor; Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major featuring Soloist Andreas Öttl; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for violin and orchestra in D-major with Soloist Julian Rachlin.
Mehta’s connection to Germany dates back to 1961 when the internationally-known conductor was the youngest ever to direct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.[Image from Germany Embassy New Delhi Facebook.]