I have to admit I wrongly assumed Zubin Mehta was Jewish.
It’s also easy to admit that somewhere within all of us is the confidence that we could stand onstage and wave a wand with emotion and conduct an orchestra while the musicians do what they are trained to do.
But “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds: The Conductor Zubin Mehta” is implicit with the magic of how one of the greatest living conductors, a Parsi from Bombay (now Mumbai), finds his way to becoming the Israel Philharmonic conductor for life.
An octogenarian, Mehta is peripatetic maintaining U.S. citizenship, keeping homes in Florence and Tel Aviv, and conducting in Berlin, Montreal, Florence, etc.
His first wife, a Canadian, is now married to his brother. Mehta is married to an American actress, Nancy Kovak, who acknowledges in the documentary that his fellow Indians were always disappointed that he married “outsiders.”
Not mentioned in the biographical film is that Mehta acknowledges having an illegitimate Israeli son, born in 1991.
Mehta claims to have the heart and emotions of an Israeli. He refused to play the German national anthem in a concert in Germany and courageously played “Hatikvah” as the encore instead.
“That’s just part of my chutzpah,” he says.
When he first played German music by Wagner in Israel, members of the crowd booed and approached the stage in protest. Mehta played on.
That being said, there is some oddness in German being the tongue he uses in this subtitled movie.
He gave a benefit concert for prisoner Gilad Shalit on the border of Gaza to show solidarity. A man of peace, he longs for the days when Arabs and Jews can hug each other.
Mehta begged Prime Minister Menachem Begin to allow him to go to Egypt as a calling card for peace.
He takes one political jab in the film by bemoaning that “settlement upon settlement continues to be built.”
A highlight of the movie is his Italian performance with the Three Tenors, who had no jealousy and were great friends; thus, Mehta conducts them the night before a soccer championship for which they all cheered.
Above all, the film touts Mehta’s graciousness, absence of ego, and love and trust in his musicians.
Remember that IPO is not just a stock offering, but also the initials of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, the home of one great conductor for life.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screening: Jan. 28, 5:35 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Feb. 3, 3:35 p.m., Atlantic Station; Feb. 10, 3:10 p.m., Springs; Feb. 13, 3:50 p.m., Tara)