Continuing the celebrations of Her Majesty the Queen's 80th birthday, Bangkok's International Festival of Dance and Music is bringing back a true maestro - Zubin Mehta - for a once-in-a-lifetime gala performance on January 8 at Sanam Luang. Admission is by invitation only.
One of the world's most sought-after conductors, Mehta will be fronting one of the world's top symphonies - the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
After his Bangkok debut at the festival in 2008, Mehta set his sights on this extraordinary outdoor show in Thailand. This rare performance has a setting as spectacular as the music: in front of the Grand Palace. An international-standard stage is planned at Sanam Luang so that Mehta will conduct with the palace lit up in the background.
Fans of Mehta will recall another landmark performance by the maestro, the first by anyone at the Forbidden City in Beijing. In 1999 he led the orchestra and chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and stars Giovanna Casolla, Sergej Larin and Barbara Frittolo in a grand open-air performance of Puccini's "Turandot" in the courtyard of the old imperial palace. Filmmaker Zhang Yimou assisted in the staging and captured the historic performance on camera.
"Live in Front of the Grand Palace" is set to rival that one. This is in fact a triumph for Bangkok to be able to organise a gala event of such distinction. Those not lucky enough to be among the fortunate thousand attending the concert can look forward to a CD and DVD release of the show.
Mehta's sustained virtuosity still astonishes his critics. At 18, the Bombay native gave up a career in medicine to attend the Academy of Music in Vienna. Seven years later he conducted both the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras. From 1961 to 1967 he was music director of the Montreal Symphony and in 1962 was the youngest music director appointed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a post he retained until 1978.
He then became music director of the New York Philharmonic, a tenure that was to last 13 years. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra appointed him music adviser in 1969, music director in 1977 and music director for life in 1981.
The maestro's genius has been acknowledged with a string of awards, including India's highest civilian honour, a star on Hollywood Boulevard, an honorary doctorate by the Russian Academy of Art, the Praemium from the Japanese imperial family, the Israel Prize and a Lifetime Achievement Peace and Tolerance Award from the United Nations.
Mehta and the orchestra will first play Ludwig van Beethoven's Overture Leonore No 3 from "Fidelio", the only opera by the great composer. It took him nearly 10 years to write it.
Next will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major for violin, viola and orchestra. Historians say the composition was strongly influenced by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, an important Parisian composer and conductor whom Mozart met while touring Europe.
The evening moves on to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol", based on Spanish folk melodies. He originally intended it as a solo violin with orchestra, but later realised that only a full orchestral work could do the melodies justice.
After an interval, Mehta will lead the orchestra through Brahms' Symphony No 1 in C minor. There is a strong resemblance between the main theme of the finale and that of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - an act of conscious homage to the traditions Brahms revered.