Zubin Mehta, one of the world's greatest conductors, is a Parsee, whose Zoroastrian ancestors took refuge in India after the Muslim conquest of Persia more than a millennium ago.
He has been the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic since 1991. Before that, he led the New York Philharmonic (1978-91), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1962-78) and the Montreal Symphony (1961-67).
On April 29, Kirk Douglas organized Mehta's 60th birthday celebration in Los Angeles, featuring the city's philharmonic.
The following is from the biography Zubin, The Zubin Mehta Story (Harper & Row, 1978), pages 218-20:
In 1978, as this volume goes to press, Zubin Mehta is only forty-two years old, about half the average lifespan of conductors, who are an unusually long-lived breed. According to many reports, he is already at the summit of his profession.
As for what lies ahead, perhaps the prophecy of Zubin's old teacher, the late Hand Swarowsky, is worth consideration. It was in 1963 that Swarowsky predicted his former pupil would be announced "a great figure in the history of music."
History does seem to have shown more than a passing interest in Zubin Mehta already. Born on that curiously coincidental day in 1936 (on the first anniversary of the formation of the Bombay Symphony by his father, Mehli Mehta), he entered a world about to be torn apart by the most calamitous events in human history. His father already had a place in Indian history as the man who organized Bombay's first orchestra.
As a child Zubin witnessed first hand the granting of Indian independence, then saw his country thrown into turmoil by the creation of Pakistan and the murder of Gandhi. His first public concert was given for the victims of another political turmoil, the Communist suppression in Hungary and the Revolution of 1956.
In Israel, Zubin has gone out of his way to involve himself and his orchestra with that nation's struggle for survival. During the anti-Vietnam war movement in America, he organized volunteer orchestras to play concerts for peace on California campuses.
His musical career has been a long series of "firsts." He was the youngest man to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic, the youngest to become music director of a major American orchestra, the first and, so far, the only music director of the Israel Philharmonic. His debut in London, on the night of Sir Thomas Beecham's death, was the first time any person from the former dominion of India had appeared with a major British orchestra.