Meet the SFS Musicians: Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik

SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik describes the history of his famed violin and how music enriches his soul.

Alexander Barantschik

Concertmaster, Naoum Blinder Chair
Celebrating 15 years with the San Francisco Symphony
Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Russia
School: Saint Petersburg Conservatory

Instrument: 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. Through an arrangement with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Mr. Barantschik has the exclusive use of this remarkable instrument.

Began playing music: At age six.

From Rostropovich to Ellington: I have learned from so many wonderful people. I’ve listened to recordings of Heifetz my whole life. I actually had lessons in the same room as Heifetz did in Saint Petersburg! And I was privileged to play with Rostropovich, who was a great musician and an amazing human being. I’ve also learned from other genres. Some of my favorite jazz artists are Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, and Stéphane Grappelli. I admire the ultimate freedom with which jazz musicians make music. You could almost compare a great jazz session to the naturalness of a bird singing, especially when you hear a live performance: the players are not looking at music or counting bars. It’s still a lot of work though don’t get me wrong! Some of this comes into play when I perform chamber music with my colleagues as I try to anticipate what they will do musically.

San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik Alexander Barantschik plays his 1742 Guarnerius del Gesù violin, once owned by the legendary Jascha Heifetz.

Favorite part of being in the San Francisco Symphony: The Orchestra is like a melting pot—we of course need to be playing together—but we still need bright personalities and people who really contribute as individual performers. Perhaps the signature quality of the San Francisco Symphony is the ability to changes styles very quickly. It’s not just me who has to respond, but the whole orchestra. I think you just need to be passionate about the music you perform. This is my fifteenth year in the Orchestra and the audience here is the best in the world. It’s so wonderful to play for people who think of us as an integral part of the city—it’s totally unique.

Most memorable SFS performance: Playing Mahler’s First Symphony at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on our most recent European tour was very special. It was a wonderful combination of a fantastic acoustic, the perfect piece for that hall, and an amazing atmosphere.

Other musical activities: I do quite a lot of teaching, mainly at the San Francisco Conservatory, and I like it more all the time. I was trained to rely on intuition and feeling, which is wonderful, but it doesn’t work for everyone. So I analyze aspects of playing in order to explain them to my students, and in doing so, I realize things I’ve never thought about in detail. It can be surprising.

Interests/activities: When I’m not at the SFS, I try to use every minute I can to be outside. I like hiking, biking, and skiing occasionally.

MORE MUSICIAN PROFILES: