The Ravinia Festival: A talk with Zarin Mehta

Zarin Mehta was born in Bombay in 1938, the son of violinist and conductor Mehli Mehta. Since 1990 Zarin Mehta has held the positions of executive director and chief operating officer of the Ravinia Festival, which offers more than 130 music and dance performances each June through September. Every summer since 1936, the Festival has featured the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing more than 22 separate symphonic programs.

Under Mehta’s leadership, Ravinia Festival has attracted new audiences and has inaugurated several new programs, including the innovative “Rising Stars” series of indoor recitals and chamber music performances. Currently in its ninth year, Rising Stars at Ravinia introduces to Chicago audiences talented young musicians certain to make their mark upon the cultural landscape of the 21st century. Avant-garde and world music is explored every summer in Mehta’s adventurous Musica Viva series, which offers Ravinia audiences numerous national and international premieres. Mehta has also expanded the Festival’s series of Saturday morning children’s concerts.

Consolidating and giving focus to the Festival’s jazz programming, Mehta created Jazz at Ravinia, a concentrated annual series of jazz performances featuring many of the biggest names of the international jazz scene.

During his Ravinia tenure, Mehta has spearheaded numerous community outreach initiatives, including the Jazz in the Schools Mentor Program through which Ravinia places eight professional jazz musicians in Chicago Public High Schools to share with students their knowledge and expertise during 400 school visits. In 1994, under Mehta’s guidance, the Festival appointed one of the world’s most sought-after conductors, Christoph Eschenbach, to the post of music director.

Mehta, whose father was conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, left India as a teenager to study accounting in England. In 1962 after qualifying as a Charted Accountant, he moved to Canada to join the international accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand. While a partner with that prestigious firm, he joined the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors and later became its vice president.

In 1981 Coopers & Lybrand granted him an indefinite leave of absence to devote his energy to the position of managing director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. During his tenure the orchestra’s subscription base as well as its fundraising and operating revenues markedly increased, as did its reputation as one of the world’s great symphonic ensembles. For his contributions to the orchestra and Montreal’s cultural life, the Canadian government named Mehta a Member of the Order of Canada.

Through the years Mehta has garnered numerous other honors. Among the most recent are Dominican University’s 1996 Bravo Award for his distinguished contributions to the fine arts; the 1997 Arts Entrepreneurship Award from Chicago’s Columbia College; and the 1998 Dushkin Award from the Music Institute of Chicago (formerly Music Center of the North Shore). In May 1998 Mehta received an honorary doctorate from Chicago’s Roosevelt University.

Zarin Mehta is married to Carmen Lasky, with whom he has two children, daughter Rohanna, born in 1967, and son Rustom, born in 1968.

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