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

May 11, 2018

Lahav Shani succeeds Zubin Mehta as music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 2020. He also follows Yannick Nézet-Séguin as chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic in September of 2018. 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.”  

On Sunday, May 13th at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1, Lahav Shani conducts Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program that also includes music by Stravinsky and Lindberg.

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 upcoming positions in Rotterdam and Israel, he is currently principal guest conductor of the Vienna Symphony.