First Violins

Alexander Barantschik

Concertmaster, Naoum Blinder Chair

Portrait of Alexander Barantschik

Alexander Barantschik, occupant of the Naoum Blinder Chair, began his first season as Concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony in September 2001. Former concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra (1989-2001) and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (1982-2001), he has also been an active soloist and chamber musician throughout Europe. He has collaborated in chamber music with André Previn and, on a number of occasions, Mstislav Rostropovich, with whom he participated in a series of concerts that also featured violinist Maxim Vengerov and violist Yuri Bashmet. As Leader of the LSO, Mr. Barantschik toured Europe, Japan, and the US, and served as concertmaster for acclaimed cycles of Mahler, Stravinsky, and Debussy with Michael Tilson Thomas, as well as major symphonic cycles with Rostropovich and Bernard Haitink. He was also concertmaster for Pierre Boulez’s year-long, three-continent 75th Birthday Celebration.

Born in Saint Petersburg in 1953, Alexander Barantschik attended the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and went on to perform with the major Russian orchestras, including the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic. After emigrating from Russia in 1979, he served as Concertmaster of Germany’s Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. His awards include first prize in the International Violin Competition in Sion, Switzerland, and in the Russian National Violin Competition. Since joining the SFS, Mr. Barantschik has led the Orchestra in several programs and appeared as soloist in concertos and other works by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Walton, Piazzolla, and Schnittke, among others. In March 2018 he performs Shostakovich's Second Violin Concerto with the SFS and guest conductor Pablo Heras-Casado.

Through an arrangement with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Mr. Barantschik has the exclusive use of the 1742 Guarnerius del Gesù violin once owned by the virtuoso Ferdinand David, who is believed to have played it in the world premiere of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in 1845. It was also the favorite instrument of the legendary Jascha Heifetz, who acquired it in 1922 and who bequeathed it to the Fine Arts Museums, with the stipulation that it be played only by artists worthy of the instrument and its legacy. For more on Alexander Barantschik, visit

(November 2017)

Nadya Tichman

Associate Concertmaster, San Francisco Symphony Foundation Chair

Nadya Tichman, Associate Concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, occupying the San Francisco Symphony Foundation Chair, joined the Orchestra in 1980. She served as acting concertmaster from 1998 to 2001. Born in New York, she studied at the Juilliard School pre-college division and received a bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music. Ms. Tichman has participated in festivals such as the Grand Teton Music Festival, Chamber Music West, the Olympic Music Festival, Music in the Vineyards, and the Gualala Summer Arts Festival. She was a founding member of the Donatello Quartet and co-director of Chamber Music Sundaes, and she has collaborated in chamber music with Yo-Yo Ma, Yefim Bronfman, and Garrick Ohlsson, among others. As a member of the World Orchestra for Peace, she performed in Geneva to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. A champion of contemporary music, Ms. Tichman has had pieces dedicated to her by composers Peter Schickele, Jim Lahti, and Allen Shearer. She is on the faculty of California State University, Sacramento and she plays a 1724 Stradivarius violin purchased by the SFS for her exclusive use.

(June 2017)

Mark Volkert

Assistant Concertmaster, 75th Anniversary Chair

SFS member since:  1972

Hometowns: Milwaukee, WI, St. Paul, MN

Music school you attended:  Stanford University

Began playing music: At age 11

Musical inspirations: My church choir director

If I were not a professional musician, I might be a: History or German teacher

Favorite composers:  J.S. Bach, Frederick Delius

Favorite works featuring my instrument: Goldmark’s and Delius’s Violin Concertos; “Erbarme dich,” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion; any piece by Fritz Kreisler

When I’m not working, I enjoy: Going to the race track (Golden Gate Fields); watching college football and People’s Court on TV

Recent reading: Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores, by Alan Tyson (I don’t read fiction)

On my CD player/iPod: Coon-Sanders Nighthawks and Gus Arnheim Cocoanut Grove Orchestra (both from early 1930s)
Favorite thing to do in the Bay Area: Go for walks. The East Bay Regional Park system is wonderful!

Jeremy Constant

Assistant Concertmaster

Jeremy Constant

Assistant Concertmaster

Member since 1984

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Other interests:

I got my pilot’s license in 1996, and went on to build my own airplane. It is an experimental Vans RV7A that took 7 ½ years to complete and it passed the FAA inspection, receiving its airworthiness certificate in November of 2010. It’s been a blast, and a huge project.


Music and flying:

Musical performance and flying a plane are similarly all-encompassing. And there’s certainly risk in both, though as Flying magazine writer Lane Wallace observed, “In performance you may feel like you could die, but in the end, unlike flying, it’s a death you can live with.” A lot of people focus on the risks, but both activities are about feeling joy.

On being in an orchestra:

What made me first love orchestral playing was this idea of having more than 100 people working toward exactly the same thing. When those 100 people and the conductor are really good, the performance can spontaneously change and the orchestra will still be together. It’s the closest thing we have to telepathy. Playing in an orchestra is an inherently uplifting activity and I’m very grateful that I’m able to make a living doing something that I view as a fundamentally positive endeavor.

Recent listening:

I often listen to internet radio service Pandora. I have a station I programmed with everything from Santana and Led Zeppelin to Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, and Billie Holiday. And Bach is always in my CD player—his music clears my mind and reminds me of what got me interested in music in the first place.

Mariko Smiley

Paula & John Gambs Second Century Chair

Mariko Smiley
Violin, Paula and John Gambs Second Century Chair
Member since 1982
Hometown: Mill Valley, CA

On being in the Orchestra:
The mix of personalities in the Orchestra is always fascinating to me—I really enjoy that. It’s so educational to communicate with people not just through conversation, but also by interacting musically. It’s a very enlightening way of getting to know someone.

Musical memory:
I remember when Rostropovich came to San Francisco just after he had left the Soviet Union. He played the Dvořák concerto. I think I was 15 at the time, and some friends and I found seats near the front. That was a really memorable occasion, plus musically it was so wonderful.

I love to teach; right now I’m on staff at UC Berkeley, and it’s something I’d like to carve out more time for in the future. I also do a lot of chamber music wherever I can fit it in. I play in the SFS Chamber Music Series, and in Berkeley, and I used to play in the Aurora Quartet with my Symphony colleagues.

SFS highlights:
I enjoyed the New and Unusual Music Series we did in the ’80s. I like to play new or lesser-known compositions every now and then. A lot of the music I didn’t necessarily love, but I like the variety, and the idea of bringing all sorts of music to all sorts of audiences.

On being a musician:
It is interesting to be around people who think so much about music, and who are really immersed in it. After family, music is our first priority—it always comes back to that. You always have a piece of music going through your head; you are always thinking in musical terms. That’s simply how your brain works. You might say we are obsessed with one thing; it’s true, but hopefully it’s true in a good way.

Mariko Smiley has served as a Symphony mentor in the SF Symphony Community of Music Makers program.

Melissa Kleinbart

Katharine Hanrahan Chair

SFS member since: 1998

Hometown: Plymouth Meeting, PA

Music schools you attended:  Juilliard School of Music

Began playing music: At age 5

Musical inspirations: Hearing classical music on the radio and always picking out the violin as the instrument I wanted to play—I just always thought that would be my career.

If I were not a professional musician, I might be a: Travel Photographer/journalist or a child developmental psychologist

Favorite composers: Stravinsky, Bach, Bartok, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, and Mozart

Favorite works featuring my instrument:  Schoenberg's Verklaerte Nacht, Brahms' A Major Piano Quartet, Bach's unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas, Scubert's Death and the Maiden, Brahms and Beethoven violin concerti, music for violin by Astor Piazzola and the Bartok String Quartets.

When I’m not working, I enjoy: Spending time with my daughter, traveling, photographing, relaxing!

Recent reading: Poisonwood Bible, Einstein's Dreams

On my CD player/iPod: Schumann "Dichteliebe" with Fritz Wunderlich, Schubert Impromptus with Murray Perahia, podcasts of "This American Life."

Favorite things to do in the Bay Area: I live near Golden Gate Park and love to spend time there, whether It's running at Stow Lake, pondering at the Japanese Tea Gardens, relaxing in front of the Conservatory of Flowers or meandering at the deYoung. When time permits, I enjoy trips to the wine country, hikes near the ocean and working in my garden.

Yun Chu

Yun Chu joined the SFS violin section in 2002. He received his early training at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and served as concertmaster on two concert tours with the Asian Youth Orchestra under Sergiu Commissiona, where he also performed as soloist with Yo-Yo Ma. While a student at the University of Southern California, he was selected to participate in the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in Germany, and was subsequently appointed concertmaster of the Festival Orchestra. Learn more about Yun Chu at

(October 2017)

Sharon Grebanier

Sharon Grebanier
Member since 1973
Hometown: Seattle, WA

My husband (SFS Principal Cellist Michael Grebanier) and I own tribal art pieces from Ontong-Java that Jack London collected in 1909 during his sailing cruise to the South Seas, and so I started reading his log of the voyage.

It’s wonderful to go sailing on our boat; we've had some great coastal sailing adventures. I also like to bushwhack in our garden. My doctor calls me his "favorite poison oak patient.”

SFS highlights:
I feel very lucky to be in the Orchestra. There have been many highlights, beginning with the 5-week tour to Europe and Russia with conductor Seiji Ozawa—that was amazing. I'll never forget cellist Mstislav Rostropovich teaching us the Russian national anthem in Moscow, the throngs of people at the stage door greeting us, exchanging pins with them, and how they waited for us at the end of the concert. We also toured Japan with Seiji and he was treated like a rock star! I loved playing Don Juan under conductor Fabio Luisi.

Other musical activities:
I was in the Aurora Quartet for more than twenty years and did several recordings; I especially liked recording the Prokofiev quartets. 


Naomi Kazama Hull

Naomi Kazama Hull
Member since 1998
Hometown: Yokohama, Japan

Music studies:
I left Japan when I was 18 to study at the Vienna Hochschule. I was planning to be there for just three or four years to finish school. But then I started to do a lot of chamber music, and to get more involved in orchestral playing, and three years became nine years. I was pretty much set to live there for my whole life, until I got the opportunity to come to Florida and play in MTT’s New World Symphony.

On being in the Orchestra:
Playing in an orchestra, you get so many different ideas from the musicians and conductors around you. In doing that, your vision gets wider. If you play solos all the time, you develop your own strong sense of how you want to play; but here, you have to be more flexible, and I like that. After we play a really great concert, it is a great feeling to know that I contributed one little part to something that became a really fine production.

Favorite composer:
I love the music of Brahms. I think that his pieces are well-structured and complex, and also have such beautiful melodies. To me Brahms’s music is very romantic and I get emotional playing it.


In Sun Jang

In Sun Jang, a top prize winner at the International Henryk Szeryng Violin Competition, made her Korean recital debut in 2000 at the Kumho Art Center in Seoul, Korea and her Japanese recital debut in 2004, playing for sold-out audiences at the Airefu Hall in Fukuoka and at the Cultural hall in Shiida, Japan. She has also appeared as a soloist with the New World Symphony, the Puchon Philharmonic Orchestra, the Nanpa Festival Orchestra.

In 2001, by special invitation of the late Isaac Stern, Ms. Jang performed at Carnegie Hall as part of the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshop. She has collaborated with some of the world’s top artists, performing with Menahem Pressler, Thomas Adès, and Orion String Quartet among others. Her numerous engagements as a chamber musician have taken her to many renowned venues in Asia and America such as Jordan Hall in Boston, Yellow Barn Music Festival in Vermont, Miyazaki Prefectural Arts Center in Miyazaki, Japan and the Seoul Art Center and LG Art Center in Seoul, Korea.

A native of Seoul, Korea, Ms. Jang began studying violin and piano at the age of four. She graduated from the Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory, where she studied with Donald Weilerstein. Prior to joining San Francisco Symphony in 2011, she was a concertmaster with the New World Symphony.

Yukiko Kurakata

Catherine A.Mueller Chair

Yukiko Kurakata
Catherine A. Mueller Chair
Member since 1993
Hometown: Tokyo, Japan

Musical influences:
I studied with a wonderful teacher in Japan, named Takiko Ohmura. She was the first Japanese violinist to enter the Juilliard School and she came back to Japan because of World War II. Later, I studied with Jascha Heifetz at the University of Southern California, and I taught as his assistant. He was a tremendous influence, as was cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who was also teaching at USC.

On being in the Orchestra:
The feeling of community in the San Francisco Symphony is amazing. I admire the myriad of talents and the musicianship of my colleagues; in concerts, we completely focus on listening to each other and on experiencing the music together. And we are supportive of each other both in and out of music—a special quality that has been noticed by some out-of-town friends.

Other activities:
I enjoy teaching at home. I practice the pieces my students are studying, and some are very difficult and keep me busy!

Recent reading:
I enjoyed John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction very much. We have played his Harmonielehre, which was also recorded live. I thought the piece was so beautiful and also enjoyed reading  Adams’s explanation of his use of titles like Meister Eckhart and Quackie in our program notes. Now I want to see all his operas! I have been privileged to have played in many of the productions of Adams’s work at the Symphony, including the beautiful El Niño and A Flowering Tree.

Yukiko Kurakata has served as a Symphony mentor in the SF Symphony Community of Music Makers program.

Suzanne Leon

Suzanne Leon
Member since 1990
Hometown: Grosse Pointe, MI

Favorite works:
I was very fortunate to play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Symphony of the Redwoods—that concerto is one of the gems of the repertory. And I love anything by Prokofiev.

Musical influences:
It was incredible studying with some of the best teachers in the world at Curtis. The Curtis orchestra would rehearse whatever the Philadelphia Orchestra had programmed, culminating with their guest conductors leading us in rehearsal by the end of each week. I was inspired by Leonard Bernstein, Sergiu Celibidache, and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, to name a few.

Yoga, alternative medicine, chamber music, and organic food are all big interests of mine. I like trying new recipes from gourmet cookbooks, including The French Laundry Cookbook and The Babbo Cookbook. Practicing violin daily and doing homework with my youngest son keeps me very busy.

Advice for aspiring musicians:
Find the best teacher you can, immerse yourself in music, and practice, practice, practice!

Profiled in our Meet the SFS Musicians series, Suzanne Leon discusses family.

Leor Maltinski

Leor Maltinski
Member since 2003
Hometown: Tel Aviv

Important musical influences
My violin teacher since I was eight years old, Igor Polesitsky, is a major influence. When I was old enough, I would take a bus, have a lesson, stay overnight, and have another lesson. It was fantastic. Igor would often invite musicians over and we would play chamber music, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Igor taught me to always seek the true essence of the music while reading what’s in the score.

Becoming a musician
My father is a physician and a classically trained lyric tenor.  He took me to my first opera when I was three years old. After moving to Siena, Italy, he taught me music notation, and brought me a quarter-size, Chinese-made violin from Florence when I was six.  I was twelve when I had my, let’s say ‘debut.' From then on I knew what I wanted to do with my life.


Diane Nicholeris

SFS member since:  1984

Hometown:   Braintree, MA

Music schools you attended:  Boston University, Eastman School of Music

Began playing music: At age 10

Musical inspirations:  My parents

If I were not a professional musician, I might be: in finance

Favorite works featuring my instrument: Bach solo violin sonatas

When I’m not working, what I enjoy doing most is: I’m almost always working

Recent reading: The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis

Plus: I especially enjoy working with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra as part of their coaching team. I also teach at San Jose State and enjoy playing chamber music


Sarn Oliver

Sarn Oliver earned degrees from the Juilliard School. He is the former principal second violin of the Sacramento Symphony and concertmaster of the Santa Cruz Symphony. His recordings include the Benda and Stamitz violin concertos with the Montpellier Chamber Orchestra. Mr. Oliver has his own recording studio and label, SarnWorks. He has served on the faculty of UC Berkeley and the University of the Pacific. He joined the SFS violin section in 1995. 

(October 2017)

Florin Parvulescu

SFS member since:  1999

Hometowns:  Bucharest, Romania; New York

Music schools you attended:  Juilliard, Peabody Conservatory

Began playing music: At age 6

Musical inspirations: My parents

If I were not a professional musician, I might be a: Visual artist

Favorite composers:  Bach, Brahms, Strauss, Beethoven, Bruckner, Franck, Stravinsky, Nielsen

Favorite works featuring my instrument:  Brahms, Violin Concerto; Franck, Violin Sonata; Bach and Beethoven sonatas

When I’m not working, I enjoy: Going out with friends and having lively discussions

Recent reading: Hemingway

On my CD player/iPod: Nielsen, Symphony No. 5; crossover genres

Favorite things to do in the Bay Area: Lake Tahoe (biking, skiing, hiking, swimming)

Plus: Have traveled to Asia and performed in China

Victor Romasevich

Victor Romasevich has served as a Symphony mentor in the SF Symphony Community of Music Makers program.