David Sela and Andrew Wan: when giving turns into friendship


by Benjamin Goron

By responding affirmatively to Maestro Nagano’s request in 2008, patron David Sela did not suspect that the procurement of a 1744 violin would open the door to a heartfelt and lasting friendship with OSM Concertmaster Andrew Wan. Over the last 12 years, both patron and artist have shared a common passion for music, and also for fine restaurants, in the course of projects and of concert appearances throughout the world.

In 2008, the OSM welcomed its new Concertmaster, young virtuoso Andrew Wan. At that time, Andrew played a violin on loan from the Juilliard School, one he would soon have to retire. Seeing the need to equip his Concertmaster with a world-class instrument, Kent Nagano proceeded to contact David Sela, a businessman, music enthusiast and amateur violinist, who agreed to obtain such a violin for Andrew. “Our first conversation was over the phone and very amicable: David said he would be interested in procuring an instrument that he would make available to me for my professional needs. We wanted to find a violin that had history, that had an exceptional sound and that was in good condition.”

How to choose

The acquisition process lasted an entire year. After trying out about twenty of some of the finest instruments in the world, from New York, London and Montreal, Andrew finally decided upon a violin built in 1744 by Italian luthier Michel’Angelo Bergonzi which had belonged to Daniel Guilet, a founding member of the famous Beaux Arts Trio, an ensemble that has performed notably with Maurice Ravel and Menahem Pressler. It was a highly distinctive instrument for which Andrew Wan found the perfect companion: an 1860 bow crafted by Dominique Peccatte on loan from Canimex.

By agreeing to loan this instrument to Andrew Wan, David Sela gained on all fronts: for one, he made a first-rate investment enabling the instrument to be played and thereby increase in value, but beyond the purely financial aspect, he has equipped the OSM with an outstanding instrument that has a special and identifiable sound, hearable in concert, on tour, or in the Orchestra’s recordings. In this way, he has contributed very concretely to the Orchestra’s excellence and international stature. To these financial and artistic benefits, a very significant human aspect may also be added: this donation sparked the beginning of a beautiful friendship between David Sela and Andrew Wan.

Michele Angelo Bergonzi - 1721-1758

Michele Angelo Bergonzi was a proponent of the famous tradition of violin makers from Cremona. The son of luthier Carlo Bergonzi and a contemporary of Antonio Stradivari, Michel’Angelo worked alongside his father until the latter’s death in 1747, then continued to hone his craft at the Casa Stradivari until his own untimely death in 1758. His craftsmanship bears the influence of Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, great luthiers from the previous generation. The instrument made in 1744 and loaned to Andrew Wan is among the first ones to be completed by this master luthier from Cremona.

How to appreciate

Born in the Soviet Union, David Sela took piano and violin lessons between the ages of 5 and 13, before resuming the violin at age 35 with the OSM’s Sofia Gentile, then with the Concertmaster of the McGill Chamber Orchestra Yaëla Hertz. David also sang for 5 years with the OSM Chorus under the direction of Charles Dutoit, and more recently in Shostakovich’s “Babi Yar” Symphony under Kent Nagano.

A lover of music, the violin and the OSM, David Sela now shares in the daily life of the OSM through his friendship with Andrew Wan. “Even though we are both very busy, we speak regularly. David gives me mortgage and financial advice, and in return, I give him advice when he wants to attend concerts or find teachers with whom to study.” The two men also share a taste for fine restaurants, where they sometimes meet to discuss their projects. Hence, David financed Andrew’s albums and enjoyed the privilege of being seated…. at the centre of the orchestra during the recording of Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concertos, released in the fall of 2015.

An interview with both Andrew and David revealed the warmth of their companionship: smiles, winks and anecdotes abounded. A strong bond can be felt between artist and patron. Once David had left, Andrew divulged: “I feel lucky to be able to play this exquisite instrument, but more so to have met David. He is a great man, a true music lover and wants nothing more than to see me happy and play this instrument and to evolve with it.”

On the occasion of the release of Saint-Saëns Concertos pour violons on disc, we find in the picture (from left to right) : Marie-Josée Desrochers, Mario Labbé, David Sela, Andrew Wan, Sabina Ratner, Carl Talbot et Maestro Kent Nagano.

How to give back

“Some religions believe that making money is a sin. In mine, Judaism, making money is encouraged so long as we give that money back. Both are regarded as positive, and giving implies not expecting anything in return.” For David Sela, giving is essential. And among the numerous choices one has when one wishes to donate to an artistic organization such as the OSM, each kind of donation has its specific benefits. Thus, financing the acquisition of instruments has direct consequences for the reputation and stature of an orchestra, as well as for cultural and musical vitality. It also facilitates a fostering of long-term relationships with artists, as is the case when a donor chooses to sponsor a particular concert or work, or the chair of a musician in the Orchestra, the latter being a widespread practice in the United States of America. There is an appropriate type of donation for every donor, according to the level of involvement and connection they seek with the Orchestra.

For their part, Andrew and David are delighted to see the world gradually reopening, a prelude to all manner of projects and adventures. David Sela had planned to fund the OSM Chorus’ trip to Carnegie Hall to perform the “Babi Yar” Symphony; “the greatest of them all” according to him, however, the pandemic prevented this concert from taking place. Pending this project’s realization, Andrew and David enjoy discussing its details, seated in one of their favourite restaurants, and also conversing about the violin!