Asked the secret of his success, Mehli Mehta replied, "Love."
Backstage at the Music Center on Sunday night, after leading the American Youth Symphony in its 30th annual gala benefit concert, the 86-year-old conductor was embraced by his wife, Tehmi, with whom he celebrates 60 years of marriage this week. Tehmi Mehta got a kiss and a lei of orchids presented by the evening's guest soloist, cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Positive emotions were definitely in the air and on the minds of guests and AYS supporters who joined the Mehtas and Ma at a post-performance dinner in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Grand Hall.
"He's one of the grand men of this world, who gives his life to children," said AYS founder Mildreth Sheinkopf Samson about Mehta, as she spoke of the symphony's free concerts and programs that bring music appreciation to inner-city schools.
Gala chair Iris Rothstein said, "We need to talk more about good things. We hear too much about what is wrong with young people when we should be hearing about the wonderful kids who are involved in this orchestra."
"Sharing the Bounty" was the theme of the dinner: a menu of salad, a choice of chicken, salmon or white fish, and berries with ice cream. On the tables, silver gift-wrapped boxes, in lieu of flowers, symbolized food donations to be distributed to LIFE (Love Is Feeding Everyone).
Among those appreciating the evening's music were AYS president Lisa Auerbach, chairwoman Mitzi Eisenberg and Vidal Sassoon.
The London born hairdressing entrepreneur describes himself as "a ghetto kid" for whom music is one of life's bounties. "The sense of music getting into your soul is so sustaining. I love it."
Much love was directed toward Ma. "If you're giving out kisses I definitely want one," said Diana Ayres, who went home happy, kissed by the cellist.
Ma, who finds time in his performing and recording schedule to work with young musicians, said, "I think kids want the real thing. They want to have a great time. Think of how exciting it is for someone to perform for the first time--or hear--a Mahler Symphony. We are in this business to create memories and the better the experience the stronger the memory."
Ma said one of his important memories was when, as a teen-age musician, he saw the elderly cellist Pablo Casals, who like Mehta was still making music at an advanced age. "When I saw the energy of that old age, I was inspired to think maybe this music thing is a good thing to get into," Ma said.