Mehli Mehta never seemed to mind that I always referred to him as ”the musical Mehta“; his 94 years had taught him humor and infinite forbearance, even to sharp-tongued critics who deplored the failure of son Zubin to rise to his father‘s level of eloquence. His legacy is the hundreds of players who went forth from his American Youth Symphony -- junior orchestra for senior audiences -- into good jobs with great orchestras in that rewarding if dangerous world.
I didn’t get to his AYS concerts as often as I wanted to; the few times I made it, I was always bowled over by the way those kids played. Last week, at the first of this season‘s Royce Hall concerts (free, kindly note), they took on the Mahler Fifth Symphony, which is hardly pablum for kiddie orchestras. It was a stunning performance; the first horn’s solos, the winds, and, in the well-known adagietto, the strings -- all first-rate. Before the Mahler there was a Mozart symphony, crisp, elegant and beautifully spirited. The conducting was by Alexander Treger, who took over at Mehli‘s retirement four years ago. The smile they imparted to that music was Mehli’s own, perfectly preserved.