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Meet Lahav Shani: The Young Israeli Conductor Taking the Musical World by Storm

Marco Borggreve
Conductor Lahav Shani

Lahav Shani followed Yannick Nézet-Séguin as principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic in September of 2018. He succeeded Zubin Mehta as music director of the Israel Philharmonic in 2020. A concert pianist, he has also studied and played the bass professionally. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on the young maestro and the story of how Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 led him into conducting.

Born in Israel in 1989, Lahav Shani grew up listening to music at home and at the nearby concert hall of the Israel Philharmonic. He says the music of Sergei Prokofiev always spoke to him in many different ways. “It’s the very energetic, rhythmical element...the wonderful lyricism,  and for me personally, as a musician, I find it incredibly original, especially in terms of harmony.”  

Shani says Prokofiev infused traditional harmonic structure with his own innovations.

"He would add the strangest notes to these pure harmonies. I like to describe it as dirty. That’s why there are so many colors, so unique."

Originally aiming for a career as a pianist, he also began playing double bass professionally, which led to thoughts of conducting.  "Then I was more and more attracted to the idea of making musical decisions, leading the orchestra in a certain way that I thought was the right way for me, very subjective."

It was, he says, a musical impulse.  “And the very strong feeling that if I had the chance, I knew exactly what I would have done. I knew it might not mean anything, but I thought I should give it a try.”

And Prokofiev’s fifth symphony? It’s one of his favorite pieces.  "And one of the pieces that pushed me into conducting. I really wanted to express this music myself."

In 2010, Lahav Shani went on tour with the Israel Philharmonic as a pianist, bass player, and assistant conductor.  In 2013, he won first prize at the Gustav Mahler International Conducting Competition.

In addition to his positions in Rotterdam and Israel, he is currently principal guest conductor of the Vienna Symphony.  

Conductor Lahav Shani talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis back in 2018 about Prokofiev, growing up with music, his philosophy of conducting and his new positions leading the Israel Philharmonic and the Rotterdam Philharmonic.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.