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Zarin Mehta, former president of New York Philharmonic, joins SSU's Green Music Center


Zarin Mehta, former president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, has been hired to lead the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University as its new co-executive director, the university announced Wednesday.

Mehta will focus on artistic planning and management of the center alongside Chief Financial Officer Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, who also serves as co-executive director of the center.

"I have expertise in the management of the arts, but I don't know about the university and how it works," Mehta said. "Larry has been involved and knows his way around here."

Since it opened in September 2012, the center's Mastercard Performance Series has brought in such top artists as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and soprano Renee Fleming with the help of artistic consultant Robert Cole of Berkeley.

The university appointed Emmanuel Morlet as its first full-time artistic director in February, but Morlet left that position over the summer.

"It was his decision, and I'm not able to talk beyond that," Furukawa-Schlereth said.

Mehta, who will start work this Friday, is known for his intellect and integrity in the music world. He served as president and CEO from 1990 to 2000 of Chicago's Ravinia Festival, which bills itself as the oldest outdoor music festival in the country, and as managing director of the Montreal Symphony from 1981 to 1990.

"I think he's very engaging, down-to-earth and wise," SSU President Ruben Arminana said. "He is a man who comes with an incredible level of experience and knowledge, has done it all, and has every major artist in his Rolodex."

The respected arts administrator retired from the New York Philharmonic last year after 12 years and has consulted over the past year for the Montreal Symphony and the Ottawa Arts Center, among others.

Mehta, 75, is the younger brother of conductor Zubin Mehta and resides in Chicago with his wife, Carmen. He plans to keep his residence in Chicago and live in Sonoma County as well.

"My wife is a vocalist and singing teacher, so she will come when she can," he said.

Mehta was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), studied accounting and worked in England, then moved to Montreal, where he worked for the public accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand from 1962-1981.

Mehta will be paid a yearly salary of $300,000 that will be largely underwritten by Sandy and Joan Weill, Furukawa-Schlereth said. The Weills' $12 million gift in 2011 enabled the university to complete the center's concert venue, the 1,400-seat Weill Hall, after 15 years of fund-raising.

After speaking with the center's board of advisors on Wednesday, Furukawa-Schlereth said the board plans to raise money to support Mehta's position, so that the center can flourish and not be a drain on the university's budget.

Weill, who serves as chairman of the center's board of directors, played a key role in recruiting Mehta to help lead the center.

When renowned pianist Lang Lang returned to the hall to play a recital on Sept. 17, he spoke with Weill about reaching out to Mehta.

"Lang Lang called me and he said, 'Sandy is here and we'd like to talk to you,'" Mehta said.

Mehta flew out to attend baritone Bryn Terfel's recital on Oct. 13 and spent two days in the region.

"I fell in love with the place," he said. "I've always taken jobs in places that I've liked physically."

Mehta said he plans to focus on the big picture, planning programming concepts and building the hall's audience alongside its reputation.

"I will look at the numbers and attendance and meet with (artistic consultant) Robert Cole and get debriefed," Mehta said. "Then I'll meet with the faculty and talk about Schroeder Hall."

The 250-seat recital hall, named for the character in Charles Schulz' Peanuts comic strip, is expected to open in August of 2014 and will serve as a recital venue for students, faculty and the community.

The MasterCard Performing Arts Pavilion, a large, open-air venue, is expected to open in 2015 if the remaining $2.5 million can be raised by spring of 2014, Furukawa-Schlereth said.

Mehta, who pioneered a jazz festival and world music series at the summertime Ravinia Festival outside Chicago, will oversee those venues as well.

"We have to tie all that together," he said.