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.

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

(May 2018)

Nadya Tichman

Associate Concertmaster, San Francisco Symphony Foundation Chair

Nadya Tichman, Associate Concertmaster and occupant of the SFS Foundation Chair, joined the Orchestra in 1980 and served as acting concertmaster from 1998 to 2001. Born in New York, Ms. Tichman studied at the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute. She was a founding member of the Donatello Quartet. Ms. Tichman plays a 1724 Stradivarius violin purchased by the San Francisco Symphony for her exclusive use. For more on Nadya Tichman, visit

(May 2018)

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 began violin studies at age six with her father, David Smiley, who was a violist with the SFS. She trained with former SFS musicians Leonard Austria and Stuart Canin before attending Juilliard, where she studied with Dorothy DeLay, Robert Mann, and Joel Krosnick. Ms. Smiley joined the SFS in 1982 and was for many years a member of the Aurora String Quartet. Currently SFS Acting Assistant Concertmaster, she occupies the Paula & John Gambs Second Century Chair.

(May 2018)

Melissa Kleinbart

Katharine Hanrahan Chair

Melissa Kleinbart, occupant of the Katharine Hanrahan Chair, joined the SFS in 1998 after serving as associate concertmaster with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and assistant concertmaster with the Vancouver Symphony. In addition to solo appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony, and the New York Symphonic Ensemble, Ms. Kleinbart has been a participant at the Marlboro and Tanglewood music festivals and has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. A graduate of the Juilliard School, she performs and teaches with the San Francisco Academy Orchestra. 

(February 2018)

Yun Chu

violinist Yun ChuYun 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, where he played under such conductors as Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Spivakov, and Mstislav Rostropovich, and was subsequently appointed concertmaster of the Festival Orchestra. Learn more about Yun Chu at

(February 2018)

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

Diane Nicholeris Diane Nicholeris has been a member of the SFS since 1984. She studied violin with Joseph Silverstein and Sylvia Rosenberg and graduated from the Eastman School of Music. Ms. Nicholeris has appeared as soloist with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony Esplanade Orchestra, and the Monterey County Symphony Orchestra, where she was also concertmaster. She has served as coach for the violin section of the SFS Youth Orchestra for many years, and has also coached at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, UC Berkeley, the New World Symphony, and the Greater Boston Youth Symphony. She was previously on the faculty of San Jose State University. Learn more about Diane Nicholeris at

(February 2018)


Sarn Oliver

Sarn Oliver earned degrees from the Juilliard School. A member of the SFS violin section since 1995, he is 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. For more on Sarn Oliver, visit

(May 2018)

Florin Parvulescu

Florin Parvulescu, a native of Romania, joined the SFS in 1998. He holds degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard Preparatory Division. He was previously a member of the Saint Louis Symphony and Baltimore Symphony, won the 1993 Marbury Competition at the Peabody Conservatory, and was a prizewinner in the 1994 Yale Gordon Concerto Competition. He also attended the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival. 

(May 2018)

Victor Romasevich

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