Ventura Music Festival – Ventura CA

MC18 – Bejun Mehta

From Executive Director Susan Scott

Dear Friends,

I attended my first Ventura Music Festival in 2005 shortly after moving here, and one performance has remained uppermost in my memory ever since. The performer I most wanted to see and hear again is the subject of this week’s Music Connects: American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

He was born into a musical family: his mother a soprano and voice teacher, his father a pianist, older brother Nuvi (ultimately) a violinist and conductor. As for Bejun, he was a prodigy: an award-winning boy soprano from ages 5 to 15, singing with orchestras and making recordings.  Leonard Bernstein said of Bejun’s CD for Decca records: “It is hard to believe the richness and maturity of musical understanding in this adolescent boy.” His performances caused grownups to listen in wonderment. 

He was set to perform with Bernstein in a Mahler program. Then his voice changed and his boy soprano career was over.  

He moved on to study cello, both as a soloist and orchestral player, graduated from Yale, became a Grammy-winning record producer and sang for several years as a baritone – “not very successfully” by his own estimation. Then, influenced by the story of an artist with a similar vocal history – he began experimenting with singing as a countertenor and in 1998 found his way to the Music Academy of the West where the great mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne became his sponsor. He debuted later that year as a countertenor in Handel’s opera Partenope and has been ranked among the best countertenors in the world ever since.  Bejun’s MC18 video presents him soloing with a studio orchestra in a piece from Handel’s opera Agrippina.

In profiling Bejun some years ago, the New York Times asked: “Why countertenor? Why bother trying to sing like a soprano?” Their answer: “When it is done well, it is a revelation: a sound at once fluid and muscular that is somehow both male and female and that confounds all our habits of gender typecasting.”     

A beautiful revelation, a wonderment. That was the New York Times’ assessment of Bejun’s voice. What’s yours?