Meet the SFS Musicians: Violinist Raushan Akhmedyarova

Raushan Akhmedyarova’s upbringing in the folk music tradition of her native Kazakhstan has profoundly shaped her musical outlook.

Raushan Akhmedyarova

Member since: 2006
Hometown: Almaty, Kazakhstan

You’ve probably never heard (or seen) a dombra. But this ancient, long-necked, two-string lute has a direct connection to the San Francisco Symphony, in the person of violinist Raushan Akhmedyarova. Her father was a master of the instrument.

“The dombra is the spirit of Kazakhstan,” says Raushan, who was born in Almaty (formerly Alma-Ata), Kazakhstan’s largest city. “I was bathing in my father’s music from the time I was born. He was one of the most well-known musicians in Kazakhstan. He’d go to rural areas and search out forgotten pieces for the dombra and was the first person in Kazakhstan to notate this music, to pass it on to the next generation. If there were master musicians in town, they always stayed in our house for days. There was constant music from breakfast to dinner.”

As a child, Raushan herself tried the dombra for few months, before taking up the violin in earnest. She still has a dombra in her house, and picks it up from time to time. So why is she a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony instead of a professional dombra player?

“When I was about five years old my father had a rehearsal for a major concert, and there was no one to babysit. So, he took me along, and told me ‘Just be quiet; I’ll play, and we’ll be done.’ But right before his solo, there was a huge ensemble of 150 or so violinists. They played beautiful music... and wore beautiful dresses. When I saw that I said, ‘That’s it, I want to wear that dress and I want to become a violinist!’”

Raushan AkhmedyarovaSFS violinist Raushan Akhmedyarova in the Davies Symphony Hall Loge Lounge. Photo by Jeanette Yu

After initial studies in Kazakhstan, Raushan came to the US in 1994 to study at Southern Methodist University. Shortly thereafter, she won a spot in Michael Tilson Thomas’s New World Symphony in Miami. She rejoined MTT in 2006, as a member of the SFS.

Raushan recently began experimenting with transcribing her father’s music for the violin. “I ask myself, ‘Why is it so challenging?’ What he does with two strings I cannot do with four!” A recent project brought this to fruition as Raushan and a trio of SFS musicians performed the world premiere of Sam Post’s Sketches of Kazakshstan, based on music by her father. She says the dombra sounds unusual to Western ears. “When we played Sketches from Kazakhstan, I had to play a segment, so people could understand the sound. There are a lot of small notes between the notes of the scale we know.”

Raushan says that “having that unique blend of an upbringing in folklore music tradition combined with modern Western education has benefitted me not only in how I hear classical and world music but also in my playing.”

In addition to her musical satisfactions, Raushan simply loves San Francisco. “I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but when my father traveled the world in the 1980s, he played at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and in San Francisco. I was a little kid, but I remember hearing him say that there are two paradises in the world; one is Kazakhstan—and the other is San Francisco!”