'I grew into a musician through and with this orchestra.'
Michael Barenboim, concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Violinist Michael Barenboim knows a thing or two about passing on knowledge to the next generation. Not only is he the Dean of Berlin’s Barenboim-Said Akademie (where he is also Head of Chamber Music and Professor of Violin), his parents are both prominent musicians: his father is Daniel Barenboim, conductor and co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and his mother is pianist Elena Bashkirova. ‘I try to import as much as I know to my students but the main thing a teacher can transmit is the love for music,’ he says. ‘My parents are both people who see music as absolutely essential to their lives. Growing up, my father said to me: if you feel you have a choice between being a musician and doing something else, then you should probably do something else. The will to make music has to be so strong that it feels like a necessity.’
Michael, who began learning to play the violin when he was seven and joined the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra when he was 14, recalls it as a life-changing experience – as much about a well-rounded education as it was playing and performing. ‘At that time the orchestra was completely new. It was much more of a workshop; the performance mattered but living and working together was equally important. I shared a room with an Egyptian pianist, and I had never met an Egyptian pianist before,’ he continues. ‘Meeting all these musicians from the Middle East and having conversations with them, has enriched my life to such a degree. I grew into a musician through and with this orchestra.’
Professor Axel Wilczok, who coached the first violins, became Michael’s long-term teacher and within a few years he was promoted to the role of concertmaster (which he still holds today). ‘I always say that as long as there are no violin solos, you’re just sitting in the front playing the same instrument,’ he quips. Today, the academy works along the same lines as the Divan Orchestra, offering students a humanities component (subjects include philosophy, history and literature) alongside their musical studies. ‘I believe that being a musician is a lot more than about handling your instrument in the best possible way. It’s important to educate people, not just to be specialised pros but to be artists in the real sense of the word,’ he says.
'Growing up, my father said to me: if you feel you have a choice between being a musician and doing something else, then you should probably do something else.'
Daniel Barenboim, conductor and co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Since 2020, Quintet has been the principal partner of West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Kurt Van Den Bossche, managing director of sales for the Flanders region at Puilaetco, is passionate about bringing these two cultures together. He also takes a holistic approach to supporting clients. ‘Our goal as a bank is to become trusted advisors for the families of our clients,’ explains Kurt. ‘This means they know that they can call on you with any question or problem – whether it’s about an investment or the marriage of a child or a death of a relative. We don’t want to advise only on investment management. Of course, these are important but we try to play a broader role, so that clients trust us on a deeper level.’
For Michael, passing on knowledge to up-coming musicians is fundamental. ‘I think it’s really important that musicians are forced to engage with the world around them. That they learn how to express themselves critically,’ he explains. ‘They don’t have to be the greatest academics the world has ever seen; that’s not what they want, they’re musicians, but they can be better representatives of society than if they just scratch on their cellos for eight hours a day.’ Equally vital, says Kurt, is passing on inter-generational wealth in the right way. ‘It’s very critical to have these conversations within families. Aside from the fiscal impact, there needs to be as much transparency as possible with the next generation so that problems don’t arise in the future. I’ve seen many situations where children begin to argue and, as the head of the family, that’s not what you want. From the bank’s point of view, we need to invest in the next generation because they are our future.’
For some, following in a parent’s footsteps could be daunting but Michael says that pressure has only ever come from ‘going on stage and playing the music of Beethoven and Bach to the best of my ability. My name doesn’t add anything: the moment the music starts, all the audience is hearing is what’s being played, not who is playing.’ Duetting with his father is, he says, still an incredible experience. ‘I played Mozart’s Sonatas with him in January and realised once again just how much I learn from him. I remember when I was starting out with the violin; he would play a passage on the piano and I would think, wow.’ He also cites his many collaborations with the late composer Pierre Boulez and playing chamber music – both at his mother’s Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival and with his own West-Eastern Divan Ensemble – as other career highlights.
'Our goal as a bank is to become trusted advisors for the families of our clients.'
Kurt Van Den Bossche, Market head Flanders at Puilaetco
He does admit that in practical terms, it was ‘probably smart not to learn the piano. If I played the same instrument as both my parents, then you could really compare.’ Does he ever see himself becoming a conductor like his father? ‘A lot of my colleagues do this: they play with conductors they don’t like and think they can do it better, so they start conducting. But I don’t feel the urge to do that. I have enough to do; I don’t need to start getting conducting jobs to keep busy.’ Conducting aside, Kurt sees many similarities between an orchestra and a bank – and connecting these two worlds has proven very successful. ‘A good bank has colleagues who work together in harmony, just like musicians who play together in an orchestra. Everyone has their own part but to succeed, you stand as one united team,’ he concludes.
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Imagery courtesy of Marcus Hoehn & Peter Adamik