He was born in 1936 in Bombay, where he received his early musical education from his father Mehli Mehta, the founder of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. He enrolled as a medical student in his native city, but abandoned his studies in 1954 to move to Vienna in order to study as an orchestra conductor under Hans Swarowsky at the Akademie für Musik. In 1958 he won the International Conducting Competition in Liverpool and the Koussevitsky Competition in Tanglewood, and 1961 saw the beginning of his fruitful collaboration with the Wiener Philarmoniker, the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with all of which he still maintains a close relationship.
From 1961 to 1967 he was the Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and during broadly the same period, from 1962 to 1968, of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1969, he became Music Advisor to the Israel Philharmonic, rising to the rank of Music Director in 1977; in 1981, he was made Music Director for Life, and with this extraordinary orchestra Mehta has given over 2000 concerts and headed tours in five continents. In 1978 he became the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, remaining in his post for a record-breaking thirteen years, the longest tenure in the orchestra's history.
Since 1985 he has been Principal Director of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and in 2006, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, he was appointed Honorary Director for Life. He made his opera début in 1964 in Montreal with Tosca. This was followed by important productions at the Metropolitan, the Staatsoper in Vienna, Covent Garden, La Scala, the Chicago Opera and the Salzburg Festival, not to mention Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, with which he soon established a fruitful relationship. He was Artistic Director of the 1986 edition of the Festival, and has been involved in numerous symphonic and opera productions, among the most memorable of which have been the Wagner Tetralogy, the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy, Schönberg's Moses und Aron (awarded the Premio "Franco Abbiati" Italian music critics' award) and Turandot in the Forbidden City of Peking. As Principal Conductor, Mehta has also taken the Orchestra and the Chorus of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino on frequent international tours and made a series of prestigious musical recordings and DVDs. From 1998 to 2006 he was Musical Director of the Bayerische Staatsoper, where he was in charge of 400 performances and tours in Europe and Japan; at the end of his tenure in Bavaria he became Honorary Conductor of the Orchestra as well as an honorary member of the Staatsoper.
He has received numerous honours throughout his career, including the Nikisch-Ring, presented to him by Karl Böhm. He is an honorary citizen of Florence and Tel Aviv, and in 1997 was given honorary membership of the Staatsoper in Vienna. In 1999 he received the "Lifetime Achievement Peace and Tolerance Award" from the United Nations. He was appointed Honorary Director of the Wiener Philharmoniker in 2001, the Münchner Philharmoniker in 2004 and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2006. Following the inauguration of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, he is currently engaged in a three-year project covering Wagner's Ring Cycle, directed by La Fura dels Baus in Valencia and Florence, and is also set to conduct the opening performance of the new Oslo Opera House in 2008. The publication of his autobiography The Score of My Life has received superb reviews. He recently headed the Orchestra of Maggio Musicale on a European tour, during which the orchestra made its highly-successful début performance at the prestigious Musikverein in Vienna, when Zubin Mehta received an award from the Friends of Music of the Austrian capital.
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