After 50 Years, Israel Philharmonic Names a New Conductor

Posted January 17, 2018 4:23 p.m. EST

The baton is (finally) passing at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: Lahav Shani, a 29-year-old Israeli conductor and pianist, will become the orchestra’s next music director in 2020, succeeding Zubin Mehta, 81, who is stepping down after half a century.

It will be a rare changing of the guard at the orchestra, which Mehta has shaped for decades; he joined the ensemble in 1969 and was appointed music director in 1977 before being named “music director for life” in 1981. Mehta announced in 2016 that he would step down in 2019, when Shani will become music director designate.

In turning to Shani, the orchestra opted for a rising star who is well known to its players: He performed with the group as the soloist in a Tchaikovsky piano concerto with Mehta in 2007, and by 2013 was invited to conduct its season-opening concert. Shani was elected to the position by “a large majority” of the orchestra’s musicians, Yoel Abadi, the Philharmonic’s chairman, said in a statement.

Shani will become the chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra this September (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.

“This orchestra shaped my musical development from a very early age,” he said of the Israeli ensemble in a statement, “and my close relationship with the orchestra has been a constant thread in my artistic life.”