How is he connected to Hungary? How can we acquire the art of conducting? What feelings does it evoke in him that he steps into the position of one of the world’s greatest conductors, Zubin Mehta? Interview with Lahav Shani, the conductor of our all-Russian program in early November.
Have you ever conducted in Budapest before?
Lahav Shani: As a conductor, this is my first time in Budapest, however, I’ve been here some times before, because one of my grandparents lived here. From this aspect, the concert has a personal touch.
This also means that you are conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) for the very first time?
L. S.: I’ve heard the orchestra many times in concerts and on records too, I also know Iván Fischer personally, but this is the first time for me working with his orchestra.
You will take over the duties of Zubin Mehta as the Music Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) soon. I am sure that many of us are interested, so let me ask some questions about this. How did he choose you as his successor?
L. S.: Being his successor wasn’t his personal choice, because the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is a really democratic institution, so it was the decision of the musicians. However, I have the maestro’s support.
How is your personal relation with maestro Mehta?
L. S.: When I started to work with the IPO as a soloist [Mr. Shani is a practicing concert pianist] and a double bass player, maestro Mehta was really inspiring and supportive, just as when I started to conduct. He suggested me to go and study in Europe, especially in Vienna, because a conductor can learn the most in these places. At the end I went to Berlin to study and there I had the chance to see the world’s greatest conductors and orchestras on rehearsals. As maestro Mehta said: you can learn the most by watching the greatest working.
Do you feel it a burden to be the successor of such a renowned artist?
L. S.: Absolutely not! When Zubin Mehta became the Music Director of the IPO he was only 33 years old. I’m 31 now, so I will get the same position in a close age as maestro Mehta got it. It’s also great that as a former member of the orchestra I know every musician by name. It makes the atmosphere very friendly and familiar.
Did he give you some good advice?
L. S.: Not really, but he is very supportive and helpful in many things. I can imagine calling him and asking for advice in artistic questions.
In November you are going to conduct an all-Russian program with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. We can say that Russian music is a very special thing. Can you speak a little about the concert?
L. S.: Of course! As a first piece we are going to play a rare overture by Prokofiev. This is the overture of his opera, War and Peace and compared to the piece it is a really short overture, but it’s really an exciting one! The following piece is Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto with the solo of Renaud Capuçon. It’s a fantastic, romantic piece. Last but not least, we are going to play my selection from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suite.
In your selection? Can we say that music composed by Sergei Prokofiev, edited by Lahav Shani?
L. S.: I wouldn’t say that I’m an „editor” in this piece. Prokofiev wrote many suites for his ballet, but all of them are too short for a second part of a concert. On the other hand, these suits are also following more the music than the story line. In my selection the suite is longer than the average and follows more the story than the music.
What makes Russian music so special?
L. S.: Russian music is really direct, expressive, filled with emotions and beautiful melodies. Unlike his contemporaries, Tchaikovsky followed the German style and became influenced by Shakespeare. Just like Prokofiev. Both of their music has its own voice and universe that you can especially see in Prokofiev’s music.
You know each other well with Renaud Capuçon, the soloist of the concert.
L. S.: Yes, we know each other quite well. We have recorded violin sonatas. In these productions I played the piano. Later we played concertos together. And we are also good friends!
Last but not least, what would you suggest to the Hungarian audience before your concerts in Budapest?
L. S.: To come to the concert! [laughs] To be serious: we are going to play a wonderful Russian program and I wish they can experience the beauty and the directness of this music.
You can listen to the concert of Lahav Shani, Renaud Capuçon and the Budapest Festival Orchestra on November 7&8&9 in the Liszt Academy, Budapest. The concerts are sold out, but we will live stream our concert on November 8 here on our website.