Art and the Working World

Crescendo issue: February 2014
During a fall reunion of Arts Academy graduates around ten years ago, a survey was conducted showing that only 10 percent of those surveyed were following their anticipated careers. With the current economic climate and the natural evolution in one’s quest for success, it is not surprising to recognize this statistic, as shocking as it is.

A grand example is Nicholas Baumgartner. He graduated in 1994 as a piano major. He had been a camper at the Arts Camp for three summers and a student at the Academy for four years. In 1999, Nicholas earned a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Arts in German literature at Oberlin College. In 2003, he earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Vanderbilt University Law School. Part of his significant, but “unofficial,” education was rooted in summer travels throughout Europe as a child, enabling him to absorb culture from cities, museums, cathedrals, and other historic landmarks. His parents, both retired professors of German and philosophy at Albion College, were very influential in these summer excursions. 

While at Interlochen, Nicholas had many sources of inspiration, primarily from his piano instructor Michael Coonrod, his French instructor Jim Murphy, and his history instructor Scott Dean. Nicholas explains that “they taught me to seek out and experience new things, be it the pleasure of playing chamber music, the intricacies of French grammar, or the depths of western philosophy.”  His instructors and, more generally, the rigorous Interlochen environment, drove Nicholas to “think creatively, to be intellectually curious and ambitious, and to apply discipline to [his] studies.”

Nicholas realized at an early age that it would be prudent to consider an alternative plan for his career goals, recognizing the scarcity of jobs for pianists and the intensely competitive environment. His love had always been the piano, but Nicholas was able to postpone a decision to pursue piano exclusively by enrolling in Oberlin’s double-degree program. Many students there followed the same path.

The music of J.S. Bach has always been Nicholas’ passion, and while at Oberlin he wrote a significant contribution to scholarly research documenting current performance practice of Bach’s music. This article was published by Baldwin Wallace College in the “Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute” in 1999, and was followed by a second article in 2001. Still continuing in this vein, even at age 37, Nicholas’s current project (aside from his job and raising his family) is to perform Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” on his 40th birthday. 

When Nicholas graduated from law school, he turned his professional aspirations to pursuing a career as an international lawyer. He practiced in the corporate department of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, an international law firm based in London, beginning in 2003. During his seven years with Freshfields, he worked in the firm’s London, Frankfurt and Hong Kong offices.

Currently, Nicholas is Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at Citigroup in London. He heads the legal team responsible for coverage of Citi’s equity capital markets and equity-linked businesses throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In March 2013, Financial News named Nicholas as one of its “40 under 40 Rising Stars” in the European legal profession.

One thing that has not changed in Nicholas’ life is that piano remains his greatest love (along with his family, which now includes his two children). Nicholas cherishes every minute of practicing and any opportunities to perform. Including, for example, Saint-Saens’ Carnaval des Animaux with the chamber orchestra of his former law firm, the Freshfields Sinfonietta. 

Thinking back to his education at Interlochen, he says, “I owe a great debt of gratitude to Interlochen for challenging me both artistically and academically, because the foundation I developed there enabled me to pursue two different paths with equal vigor.”

Given Nicholas’ artistic training and academic background, he was originally somewhat surprised at how much he enjoys working in the financial services industry.

“I had never aimed for this type of work when I set my career goals. Rather, I endeavored more generally to join a profession that enabled me to pursue intellectually challenging work in an international environment. One particularly favorable aspect of this community in London, however, is that many of us indeed have musical or otherwise artistic backgrounds. It is not at all unusual that some of my colleagues and I get together to play chamber music!”