Meet the SFS Musicians: Cellist Barbara Bogatin

SF Symphony musician Barbara Bogatin says, "when it comes to playing the cello, we're all Buddhists."  Bogatin shows how her meditation and music practices intertwine.

Barbara Bogatin

Member since: 1994
Hometowns: Santa Rosa, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Schools: SF Conservatory Preparatory Division, Juilliard School

Began playing music: At age eight.

On being a musician:  I fell in love with the sound of the cello when a string quartet came to perform at my elementary school in Philadelphia. The public school offered free lessons and instruments, and I started as soon as I could, in third grade. Since the sixth grade, when I played in my first string quartet and youth symphony, I knew that music was something that I really loved doing.

A musical soulmate: My cello was made by Giovanni Battista Gabrielli in Florence, Italy in 1752. This maker is known for his wide grain wood and beautiful golden varnish. I discovered "Giovanni" in a professional instrument dealer's shop in Philadelphia in 1986, so we have been together now for thirty years, which is even longer than my marriage! I knew from the first note I played, this was the cello for me, my musical soulmate.

Meditation and Music: I've been interested in meditation for more than thirty years and have often thought about the parallels between cello practice and meditation practice. My husband Cliff Saron is a neuroscientist who does research on the effects of meditation, so our dinner table conversations have circled around these topics for a long time. Over the past couple of years, together with meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein, we have developed a workshop titled “The Buddha, the Brain, and Bach,” which we will present at Spirit Rock Meditation Center on February 21 and again at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur next July. Besides improving my focus while performing, practicing meditation helps me feel more deeply connected to the emotion in the music I'm playing. 

San Francisco Symphony percussionist Jacob Nissly Barbara Bogatin at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin.

Branching out: Now that my two kids are in college (my son is a senior at UC Davis and my daughter is a sophomore at Berkeley), I'm surprised at how much more time and energy I have to explore other things! Some of my "empty nest projects" have been writing several articles for Strings Magazine, and giving a TEDX talk in Silicon Valley called "The Art of Failure."  I'm happy to know there is new life after parenting!

Out and about on tour:  I perform in a string quartet (the Sunrise Quartet) with some of my Symphony colleagues and we enjoyed performing Haydn’s Joke Quartet at the Lucerne Festival on the recent SFS tour. On one of our free days I also had the unique experience of playing an impromptu cello concert at a Benedictine nunnery in Bavaria where my husband was presenting a talk at a Buddhism and science meeting. As my cello was packed away with the rest of the SFS instruments, I ended up playing on a cello borrowed from the Abbess Sister Scholastica. It was a powerful experience and the music was welcomed equally by the nuns, scientists, humanists, atheists, and Buddhists among the conference participants. [Barbara has written about her experience for Strings Magazine.]

Recent reading: I loved John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven