8 years ago

Volume 19 Issue 2 - October 2013

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  • October
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koerner hall is

koerner hall is celebrating its fifth anniversary this season. During theseyears, the beautiful recital hall has become an integral part of Toronto’s culturallife. The man who oversaw the launch of the hall, and who is responsible for itsprogramming, is Mervon Mehta, the Royal Conservatory’s executive director ofperforming arts.Mehta, 53, comes from music royalty. He’s the son of famed conductor ZubinMehta and soprano/voice teacher Carmen Lasky Mehta. Grandfather/conductor/violinist Mehli Mehta was the founder of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, uncleZarin Mehta was executive director of the Montreal Symphony, Ravinia Festivaland the New York Philharmonic, while cousin Bejun Mehta is an internationallyacclaimed countertenor. There are also many Mehta cousins scattered around theworld who are engaged in music activity of some sort. Mervon Mehta himself is aman of many talents, first as an actor and later as an arts administrator.Mehta sat down with Paula Citron for a wide-ranging and candid interview thatlasted for over two hours. The following Q&A reflects the who, what and where ofMervon Mehta.NICOLA BETTS“The RCM ...were buildinga palace formusic ...That is themandate Iinherited, andI absolutelybelieve in it”PAULA CITRONYou certainly had a peripatetic early life thatincluded Vienna, Liverpool, Saskatoon andPhiladelphia, before finally settling in Montrealwhere you grew up. Why all the travelling? Myparents met as music students at Vienna’s Hochschule.We left when I was six months old. My dad was appointedassistant conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonicafter winning an international conducting competitionthere. Because my parents had no job prospects and nomoney when that appointment ended, we went to livewith my mother’s parents in Saskatoon. When it wasclear that Saskatoon wasn’t going to jumpstart a career,we moved to Philadelphia to be with my father’s parents.We slept on their couch. My grandfather was a memberof the Curtis String Quartet and taught at the Universityof the Arts. My dad got a lucky break when he was calledto replace a conductor at the Montreal Symphony, whichled directly to his becoming the music director of theMSO. Maybe the board thought that an Indian conductorwas exotic and sexy.Your uncle Zarin, Zubin’s brother, is also your stepfather.After my parents divorced, my mother marriedZarin. It was like Hamlet, only no one got killed. I adoredmy uncle so it didn’t feel strange when he moved in. Ihave one full sister and two half-siblings.What was it like growing up in a musical family?My family is in the classical music business, so for me,normal was going to a lot of concerts, and being exposedto many different genres of music. My mother taught herstudents in the house, so I was surrounded by music, butI never thought my life was special.And yet, when it came to a career, you avoided music.I did take violin and piano lessons, but I had no musicaltalent. I went in a different direction by engaging insports. I played hockey, soccer and tennis. I went toColgate University in upstate New York to get away fromMontreal. That’s where I fell in love with drama, althoughI was studying Russian and political science. I did everythingrelating to theatre — acting, directing, writing andproducing. I introduced the drama department to theplays of Michel Tremblay. It was my Colgate theatre profwho said I should go to theatre school.So that took you toNew York, and SanfordMeisner and the NeighborhoodPlayhouse. Histraining was based onConstantin Stanislavski.Is that what attractedyou? I liked his organicway of teaching. Likedoing scales in music, hisbasic training was grassroots, honing in on thebody, mind and instincts.It was all about theatreand acting. He was terrifying,always shouting atus that we had no ideaabout life, which wastrue. I studied with himfor two years.How did your careeras an actor take form?I spent six years in NewYork, doing soap operas,Off-Broadway and summer stock. I was a singing waiterfor three years, which helped pay my way. I came toToronto in 1985, because I had some high school friendshere, and I was looking for a new experience. I got anagent, which led to two glorious years at the StratfordFestival. When I came back to Toronto, I couldn’t get anywork because of the belief that once you did Stratford,you couldn’t do TV or stage. So I looked to the States andwent to Chicago. There was a lot of acting work, but itpaid nothing.And Chicago led to Ravinia which led to Philadelphia’sKimmel Center. My uncle Zarin had left the MSOto become the executive director of the Ravinia Festival.He asked me to babysit the pop concerts. It was supposedto be a temporary position, but then I was asked toprogram the pop series. I had produced concerts at Stratfordand I knew my way around an IATSE contract. I wasan expert in nothing, but was knowledgeable about lots8 | October 1 – November 7, 2013

of things relating to performance. Eventually I becamedirector of programming, and then director of production.That’s where I got experience programming classical,jazz, world music, country, pop and music theatreartists. I made the move to the Kimmel Center for thePerforming Arts in 2002 when I was offered the positionof first vice-president of programming and education. Ireally opened up the programming to all kinds of diverseartists and musical genres.And then the Royal Conservatory headhunters camecalling. I wasn’t interested in a school at all. I had hatedmusic school when I was there, but because my motherhad graduated from the RCM, I gave her a call. I alsocontacted Janice Price who was head of the LuminatoFestival. She had been CEO of the Kimmel Center. Infact, I was her first hire. Both of them told me the RCMMehta on stage at Koerner Hall introducing the Hong Kong Sinfonietta.deserved looking at. It was Janice who introduced me toPeter Simon, the RCM’s president.You had married Carey Suleiman who was inmarketing at Ravinia. How did these moves affect hercareer? She was able to get marketing jobs in everycity. She’s currently vice-president of marketing andcommunications for the Toronto Symphony.I’m curious about your son’s name, Zed. Because therewas Zubin and Zarin, we were looking for a name thatbegan with “Z.” We finally decided, why not Zed? Othernames are alphabet letters.Do you have an overriding vision for your role atthe RCM? Before I got here, Peter Simon and the boardhad envisioned that they were building a palace formusic — that they were going to create a great musicaldialogue with the audience. That is the mandate Iinherited, and I absolutely believe in it. They certainlyhad their priorities straight by | continued on page 70LISA October 1 – November 7, 2013 | 9

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