Israeli Maestro Conducts Philadelphia Orchestra


Being named music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra would be a pinnacle in most any musician’s career, and that is no less true for Lahav Shani, the 29-year-old pianist and conductor who will assume the role in the 2020-2021 season.

He will succeed Zubin Mehta, who held the position for 50 years.

This news came out in January, by which time Shani already had plans to conduct The Philadelphia Orchestra on March 22 in a performance celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Lahav Shani and Dani Dayan | Photo provided

That night began with a reception hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in New York at the Kimmel Center, which included speeches praising Shani, the event’s role in promoting cultural diplomacy, and the partnership between The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia that will take the orchestra to Israel and European countries in June.

“There are diplomats who see culture as miscellaneous,” said Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York. “I see it as an integral part of our effort here. We have a lot to show, a lot to contribute, a lot to share with the American public, and we do that.”

In addition to Dayan, other speakers included Moti Amihai-Bivas, Israel’s consul for cultural affairs; state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-District 8); Ryan Fleur, interim co-president at The Philadelphia Orchestra; and Naomi Adler, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation.

What makes cultural diplomacy important, Dayan said, is that it reveals Israel’s true picture.

“The challenge is to represent here and to expose the American public opinion and American civil society to Israel as it really is,” he said. “That means to expose the American public opinion to Israel’s politics, but also to Israel’s economy and to Israel’s arts and to Israel’s sports. Without it, it would be a partial picture of what really Israel is.”

Fleur said they first started planning this performance two years ago, so it was an exciting development when they learned that Shani had been named music director of the Israel Philharmonic. The performance also ended up working well with the tour’s timing.

“We find that when we leave the city limits, we bring the brand of Philadelphia, and we also represent the highest ideals of art and what we aspire to,” Fleur said. “When you bring that, whether it’s in New York or whether it’s in Canada or whether it’s in Europe or whether it’s in Israel, it brings people together and promotes a conversation that couldn’t happen otherwise.”

After the reception, the group went downstairs to watch the performance. Following that, groups from the Jewish Federation and the consulate went backstage to meet and take photos with Shani.

Shani said The Philadelphia Orchestra was a gem, and Dayan asked Shani what it’s like to be so successful at a young age.

“I cannot compare how it would be if I was 50, if it would be any different,” Shani demurred. 

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