TEL AVIV, Israel — When Zubin Mehta joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, it would be 20 years before Lahav Shani was even born. Now, at the age of 30, the Israeli wunderkind is poised to succeed his mentor at the helm of the acclaimed orchestra.
Stepping into the shoes of a beloved living legend would seem to be no easy task. But Shani is embracing it, calling it an “honor” and promising to put his own distinctive touch and high expectations on an institution that is widely seen as a national treasure.
“What we are trying to convey to the audience is that the music you’re hearing now is incredible. It’s amazing,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “If I am not convinced as a musician that the music I’m performing is the best music there is, I cannot expect the audience to have the same feeling.”
Mehta, 83, is set to step down late this year after leading the orchestra for half a century and holding the title of “music director for life” since 1981.
A towering figure in the music world, the maestro has conducted thousands of performances on five continents with the orchestra. He also has had hundreds of performances in stints as the music director at the Montreal Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and numerous guest appearances with orchestras worldwide.
Shani said he does “not even dare to compare” himself to Mehta, but said he counts him as one of his biggest influences and supporters.
Shani, a gifted pianist who grew up in Tel Aviv as the son of a local conductor, performed as a soloist with the philharmonic under Mehta’s tutelage as a teenager and said he was encouraged by Mehta to pursue a conducting career.
“He always supported me,” he said. “He was a real part of my education as a musician.” Currently, he also is the principal guest conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
He is set to become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director in 2020.
After Mehta announced his plans to retire, orchestra musicians held a vote and overwhelmingly chose Shani — their friend and colleague — to be the next director.