Contrasting perspectives of a banker and an orchestra conductor

Joint interview with Joji Hattori, the celebrated conductor of the Mirabaud Concerts, and Etienne d’Arenberg, director at Mirabaud & Cie SA. They speak about their love of classical music.

Once the last village has been left behind, a long road twists between steep hillsides, passing some country cottages, then burrows through leafy forestland with hardly any sunlight. Suddenly, the Wallersee comes into view, with its air of complete calm. This mountain lake, surrounded by large farms, is a serene presence in the beautiful morning light and emblematic of the landscape around Salzburg.

This is the tranquil setting of Austro-Japanese conductor Joji Hattori’s summer home. It is here that he enjoys the simple life, despite being only tens of kilometres from Salzburg, the city of Mozart, and its vibrant festival. He has been joined by his friend Etienne d’Arenberg, a director at Mirabaud & Cie SA. They have come together to talk about their shared passion for classical music. Their friendship goes back a long way and there is probably no subject – serious or trivial – that they have not tackled. The conversation between the two sparkles.

What are your earliest recollections of music moving you as a child?

Etienne d’Arenberg: I didn’t grow up with music, but with art, the Old Masters that my father introduced me to when I was young. I think the first music that really captivated me was sacred music, particularly Mozart. My love of opera came later, when I had moved to London, thanks to my wife.

Joji Hattori: My mother was a very highly regarded professional violinist in Japan and my father, while only an amateur musician, was a real music lover and a passionate collector of recordings. Etienne adores opera, while I love chamber music, because it resembles a discussion between friends over dinner. This intimacy is risky. Sometimes you can try to put a particular emotion into your phrasing, but it all fails if your partners don’t like it! What I love about music is its effect on the listeners and the power it has to create or transform an atmosphere. That is something that painting is unable to do – to my mind at least – and not in any collective fashion in any case. In Japan, music used to be considered a mere diversion, because that was for a long time the view of the imperial court. Only the traditional Japanese arts – such as Noh and Kabuki theatre – and sacred music from Shintoism, were seen as noble. Personally, I do not really draw such distinctions between different forms of artistic expression.

Do you prefer classical music and art?

Etienne d’Arenberg: I myself like music that is not amplified and the sounds of the human voice move me deeply. However, that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the process behind contemporary art, fashion, architecture or design. I think that you need to know who you are to be able to open up and use your own energy and essence, to reach out to other people and create something new.

Joji Hattori: I have come to prefer good pop music to bad classical music. It is important sometimes to stop and ask how relevant the quest for novelty at any price is. There are some art forms that are totally traditional and yet can be transformed by their interpreters. My musical approach, for example, is undoubtedly influenced by the oriental tradition.

Did music shape your friendship?

Etienne d’Arenberg: It all began more than 10 years ago, on a flight between Salzburg and Zurich. We were sat next to each other after we had – unbeknown to us – both attended the wedding of a mutual friend the day before.

Joji Hattori: There was an immediate affinity between us. Etienne talked to me about his love of music and his desire to organise concerts in the Bernese Oberland. I told him that the idea and his way of seeing things appealed to me. We organised an extraordinary series of concerts at Lauenen, thanks to the d’Arenberg Foundation. I was the musical director and went on to direct the Mirabaud concerts.

Your latest musical adventure is taking shape in Palma, in the shape of the Balearic Symphony Orchestra (BSO). Can you tell us any more about this?

Joji Hattori: This orchestra is made up of excellent musicians who can easily rival Madrid’s orchestras. I became its joint artistic director alongside the Spanish conductor Pablo Mielgo in 2014. In the past, the BSO has not had the support and promotion it deserved. Personally, I love a challenge, and I was inspired to transform this orchestra and give it the public profile that it deserves. I spoke to Etienne about it because public funding was limited. The Mirabaud management team came to Majorca, were won over by the project and decided to support the BSO.

Etienne d’Arenberg: This was a great project, bringing together Joji, with his knowledge of the music world, and Mirabaud, a bank of entrepreneurs. We were very keen to get involved, as everything Joji touches turns to gold. It also happened to coincide with Mirabaud’s expansion in Spain. And Antonio Palma, a Mirabaud Group partner, is from Spain. It really is an excellent fit.

How would you describe your friend in a nutshell?

Etienne d’Arenberg: Joji is a man whose extreme intelligence is matched by his unbridled love of beauty, of others. He is extraordinarily open and in no way bound by received ideas. These are rare qualities. As you can imagine, it gets rather annoying that he is so much faster than most of us to grasp matters. But on the ski slope and on horseback, it’s a different story: I still beat him there!

Joji Hattori: Etienne is a master of empathy and extraordinarily generous. There are plenty of people who want to help us, but his generosity is on a different scale. Etienne is superb at reading other people’s souls and emotions. He has the very rare gift of understanding and getting along with people whose ideas he doesn’t necessarily share. That is impressive.

Etienne d’Arenberg: I believe that ultimately we share the same belief in action, in faith that can move mountains, in the idea that we can accomplish everything by throwing ourselves into battle, even if the outcome is unclear.

Joji Hattori: “Yes we can!” Obama stole that from you, right?

Photos : © J.-F. Robert

Their favourite tunes

Joji Hattori

“For me it would be a track played by Dinu Lipatti, Dinu Lipatti is a Romanian pianist, who died very young. There are not many recordings,but there is one recording he made in his home a few months before dying and among that there are transcriptions of Bach chorals, and also a transcription of the « Siciliano », which is actually a flute sonata by Bach, which was arranged I think by Wilhelm Kempff for the piano and he plays that. It is just four minutes or something like that. It would be that.

So far in my life, this track, this 4 minutes has been the purest experience I had, I mean tears come to my eyes when I listen to it. I can’t explain why, something to do with the way Lipatti plays it but also the simplicity of that piece, basically one little melody, and it is Bach.”

Etienne d’Arenberg

“I love the « Meditation de Thaïs » de Massenet, played by Anne-Sophie Mutter. I think it is a very moving piece.

I absolutely adore Shubert’s « Ave Maria », it moves me greatly.  It corresponds to a number of events in my life that are important to me and for me it represents the compassion of Christ, the mother and the child.”