His viola already poised, Barenboim addresses the young clarinetist: “Come closer.” The dark-haired musician moves his music stand a little nearer to the maestro. Barenboim smiles and beckons again: “Closer still.” The clarinetist looks doubtful – isn’t that a little too close? But no. Barenboim nods: “Now it’s good!”
Getting closer together, developing an understanding of one another, is the explicit goal of the Music Meets Life Sciences series hosted by the Barenboim-Said Akademie (BSA) and the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology of the Max Delbrück Center (MDC-BIMSB). The two institutions have much in common; both are international and interdisciplinary. Since 2021, young musicians and scientists have been getting together to gain inspiration from one another. “Both these fields are astonishingly creative,” says Nikolaus Rajewsky, a systems biologist and the director of MDC-BIMSB. It was he and Michael Naumann, the founding rector of BSA, who hatched the idea for the concert series. Rajewsky now runs the program in collaboration with the BSA’s current rector, Regula Rapp. At the event, she emphasizes the important learning function of the collaboration: “We want to train excellent musicians who are also inquisitive, thoughtful, committed individuals who make a contribution to society. And that requires conversation and exchange with people from all walks of life.”
Exploring what makes us human
During her welcome address, Maike Sander, scientific director of the Max Delbrück Center, stated that molecular biology and music are both about exploring the unknown. Also, she said, researchers are like the members of a musical ensemble in that they too create something new and thrilling when they get together. And so it makes sense, particularly when artificial intelligence is such a hot topic, for scientists and musicians to come together to explore what it is that makes us human.
The ability to feel and experience is one possible answer. That is certainly something clarinetist Ibrahim Alshaikh can identify with on this April evening as he plays Robert Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen alongside Michael Barenboim, who is also his lecturer in chamber music here at the BSA. “I tried as much as possible to keep an eye on him, not to miss one second,” says Alshaikh. Pianist Tähe-Lee Liiv concurs: “In our classes we listen to his words, but here at the concert we were listening to his actions.”
For each piece, a group of different students join Barenboim on the stage. Barenboim, son of celebrated pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, is the concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and dean of the Barenboim-Said Akademie, which teaches young musicians primarily from the Middle East and North Africa. Daniel Barenboim is the patron of the special partnership between the BSA and MDC-BIMSB.
From the science lab to the chamber hall
The ensemble’s interpretation of the concert’s final piece, Franz Schubert’s Adagio Notturno, closely recalls the style of the legendary Rubinstein trio. That is almost certainly due to Itamar Carmeli. The young Israeli pianist brilliantly masters Schubert’s arpeggios, conjuring soft yet overpowering waves of sound from the rigid keys of his instrument. When Carmeli bows to the audience following his feat, he places his arm around his cello partner Parya Moulaei from Iran – demonstrating how music easily and naturally brings together people from countries that are usually one another’s mortal enemies.
The animated discussions around the bar tables after the concert prove that this is, indeed, an event where music meets science. Two researchers from the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology are rounding off the evening with a glass of red wine, feeling pleased that they were able to attend a chamber concert simply by walking down a few stairs at the end of their working day. At the next table, conversation flows among the president of the Humboldt-Universität, Julia von Blumenthal, MDC director Maike Sander, and the rector of the BAS, Regula Rapp. Across the room, Rapp’s predecessor Michael Naumann, the former German commissioner for cultural affairs, congratulates Michael Barenboim on an impressive performance. In the meantime, Barenboim’s young children are playing hide-and-seek in the foyer. This is a place for shared experiences and inspiration and a place for encounters of all kinds, including between the generations.
The next concert in the series will take place in the Pierre Boulez Saal.
Text: Elske Brault