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[Herald Interview] Versatile conductor Lahav Shani's golden triangle of inspiration

June 9, 2023 - 14:21 By Park Ga-young
Conductor and pianist Lahav Shani (Lotte Concert Hall)

On June 19, 2016, Lahav Shani made his debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra as conductor of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, "Pathetique." Two months later, he was appointed as the chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra to lead it as its youngest conductor from September 2018.

On the same date this year, Shani will lead the orchestra to perform the Symphony “Pathetique” for a Korean audience -- the symphony with which he made his first encounter with the orchestra which he describes as “very curious and open-minded.”

“The orchestra has a rare sense for budding talent, so you’ll find that many of the greatest musicians made their Rotterdam debut before the rest of the world discovered them,” he said during an email interview earlier this month.

He was appointed as their new chief conductor and their youngest conductor in 2016, though he believes it was not because of his youthfulness. “But because we share the same energy, the same sense for risk-taking and pushing your limits, and the same view on music making,” he added.

Shani, born in Israel, started to play piano when he was six but it was with the double bass that he joined the Israel Philharmonic. With the support of Zubin Mehta, to whom he worked as an assistant, and conductor Daniel Barenboim after Shani moved to Berlin, he rose to the podium.

Mehta served as the music director of the IPO for more than 50 years. Succeeding Mehta, Shani has also served as the music director of the IPO since 2020. In addition to his role with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and IPO, Shani will lead the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra as its new chief conductor from September 2026.

“As a student I would go and watch Barenboim’s rehearsals with the Staatsoper on a weekly basis. It was my second school: I was at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule with my teacher studying the scores, while also seeing the actual thing in rehearsals. That’s how all conductors have always learned – by watching others,” he said.

He once thought about quitting his piano studies to focus on conducting. However, Barenboim, who is also a pianist, convinced him not to do so.

“It takes time and effort to remain in shape in both disciplines, but I find they benefit from each other and are essentially not that different,” he said.

Lahav Shani conducts the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. (Lotte Concert Hall)

For this versatile musician, he draws inspiration from thoroughly studying music scores to make the composer’s thoughts his own, and from the musicianship of the orchestras he performs with -- an exchange of energy that is extremely vitalizing -- as well as from an audience that lets itself get immersed in the music. “The score, the performing musicians and the listening audience: these three make a golden triangle,” he added.

On June 19, the conductor will also lead Korean violinist Kim Bomsori to perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto. The concert will take place at Lotte Concert Hall in Jamsil, Seoul.

Ticket prices range from 60,000 won to 220,000 won.