Lahav Shani, 29, to succeed Zubin Mehta as head of Israel Philharmonic

The young Israeli pianist will take over as musical director in 2020, when the famed conductor steps down after 50 years

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Lahav Shani who was appointed to succeed Zubin Mehta as the music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. (Courtesy Marco Borggreve)
Lahav Shani who was appointed to succeed Zubin Mehta as the music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. (Courtesy Marco Borggreve)

For the first time in 50 years, the Israeli Philharmonic will have a new music director, with Lahav Shani, the 29-year-old Israeli conductor and pianist, set to take over in 2020 from legendary conductor Zubin Mehta, 81.

“It’s a tremendous honor for me to be appointed the musical director of the symphony orchestra and to continue in the path of a mythic figure like Zubin Mehta,” said Shani in a statement Wednesday.

“This orchestra conducted my musical development from a very young age, and my close connection with the orchestra has guided me for all of my artistic life.”

Shani’s appointment marks a tremendous change for the orchestra, which Indian-born Mehta joined in 1969, became director of in 1977, and was appointed “music director for life” in 1981. He announced in 2016 that he would step down in 2019, making Shani music director designate.

Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Moscow Conservatory, January 21, 2002. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Mehta was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1936, which is also the year that the IPO was founded as the Palestine Orchestra. His father, Mehli Mehta, was the founder of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra.

Shani, a pianist and conductor, is a rising star in the classical music scene. He isn’t new to the orchestra, having first performed as a soloist when he was 16, and conducting its season opening concert in 2013.

He was elected to the position by a large majority of the orchestra’s musicians, said Yoel Abadi, the Philharmonic’s chairman.

Shani will also become the chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in September 2018 (succeeding Yannick Nézet-Séguin) and recently became the principal guest conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. In 2013, he won first prize at the Gustav Mahler International Conducting Competition in Bamberg, Germany.

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