Conductor Lahav Shani on Kurt Weill and musical life in Tel Aviv

Recently appointed Chief Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and soon-to-be Music Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Lahav Shani makes his LSO conducting debut in February 2019. Ahead of the concert, Lahav talks about growing up musical in Tel Aviv and why he’s so excited to bring Kurt Weill’s Second Symphony to London in the new year.

Lahav Shani 073 credit Marco Borggreve 1

In February you'll be conducting the LSO in music by Kurt Weill, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. How did it come together?

I wanted to introduce a piece audiences and the Orchestra don’t know, and I think that Weill’s Second Symphony has never been played by the Orchestra. When I discussed the piece with Sir Simon Rattle, we both thought it’d be a great thing to bring for the first time.

It’s one of my favourite pieces to conduct with orchestras across the world; I’ve also recorded it with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. It’ll be combined with pieces the LSO knows very well – Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme of Paganini.

When we think about Kurt Weill the first thing that comes to mind is theatre music and the songs. Of course you’ll find the same style but it’s serious music, it’s absolute and it’s not about something. It’s fully symphonic – symphonic writing and symphonic development. I think it’d really surprise you if you’d only heard songs by Weill. I was certainly surprised! It’s a shame it isn’t performed more.

You could hear a bit of Mahler and Shostakovich, but the style and harmony is very personal and unique. It’s really not comparable to anything else. It’s tonal music, very melodic, very theatrical. It was the last piece Weill wrote in Europe, and also his last symphonic music. After that he only wrote music for film and theatre. It’s a big loss for the classical music world that he didn’t write more like this.

You’re a pianist yourself …

Yes, and I still play alongside conducting. Next week in Vienna I’ll be directing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto from the keyboard. I do a little bit of chamber music as well, and I’ll be doing some recitals this season in Berlin and Rotterdam.

What are your early memories of hearing Classical music?

I don’t remember my first time. My father was a choir conductor and music was always part of my life. I grew up with it. At home, on video tapes, and my father would take me to rehearsals and performances by the Israel Philharmonic. I really grew up in this world!

Tel Aviv was an amazing place to grow up, musically and artistically. Not only do we have the Israel Philharmonic with the best conductors, but we also have chamber music and chamber orchestras performing constantly – almost every day. You can have a rich musical life, all high quality, and my father made sure I had lot of experience of that.

Lahav Shani 052 credit Marco Borggreve 1

Photos: Marco Borggreeve

You’re now appointed as Music Director with the Israel Philharmonic. What are you hoping to bring in the role?

The Orchestra is well known for playing Romantic repertoire: German, Viennese and Russian. I’d like to keep that and bring some more music from the twentieth century, some Mozart and Haydn, and music by Israeli composers of all generations. There are many living composers and some I’ve whose music I’ve already performed in premieres. There are lots of Israeli composers who are no longer alive, of course, such as Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984), who wrote wonderful symphonies and is really the father figure of Israeli classical music.

Find out more about Lahav Shani’s LSO debut concert on Thursday 28 February