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Articles & Interviews

These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you'll hear in the concert hall. We hope you'll find them provocative and entertaining.

Aug 2, 2017

Summer Listening: 2017-18 Season Highlights from San Francisco Symphony Musicians

We asked a few San Francisco Symphony musicians to share a piece of music they are looking forward to in the 2017–18 season schedule. Curate your own summer listening playlist with these picks from Principal Oboe Eugene Izotov, violinists Suzanne Leon and Raushan Akhmedyarova, and Principal Percussion Jacob Nissly, and then return next season to experience them live in Davies Symphony Hall.

Get to know Eugene, Suzanne, Raushan, Jacob, and other San Francisco Symphony musicians even better through their musician profile videos at

Eugene Izotov, Principal Oboe // Photo courtesy of the SFS

Where are you from? Moscow, Russia.                       

What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco? Ebisu. It’s the best sushi I have had outside of Japan!

What’s on your summer listening playlist? Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17. It’s not just summer listening for my family, it is a piece I play at home for my young sons all the time!

What is it about this piece that inspires you to play it for your children? In addition to the oboe, I also studied piano as my second instrument, and I often play piano at home. The first time my older son Rafa heard me playing the third movement of this concerto, he stopped what he was doing across the room and was completely mesmerized. He was so moved by the music that he began creating his own dance to it, and ever since that day, dancing to these melodies has been our little tradition. Rafa loves this piece, and it remains amazingly special to him—and thus it is very special to me as well. In fact, he has even taught his younger brother Sammy to love this music as much as he does.

Suzanne Leon, First Violin // Photo courtesy of the SFS


Where are you from? Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.


What career would you have pursued if you didn’t become a musician? Ophthalmology.


What’s on your summer listening playlist? Mahler’s Symphony No. 4! I have utterly sublime memories of playing it with the Curtis Institute of Music as a student with Elly Ameling singing.  


It’s a major piece of orchestral work, do you have a favorite section? My favorite section occurs in the 4th movement when the soprano sings: Sankt Peter im Himmel sieht zu (Saint Peter in heaven looks on). That interval of a minor third, from the G descending to the E sends shivers down my back, and those exact notes are found in the opera Pagliacci at its most poignant moment, and is quoted in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd when the Beggar Woman is pleading for alms.

Jacob Nissly, Principal Percussion // Photo by Brandon Patoc

Where do you live? Rincon Hill in San Francisco.

Who is one famous person you would like to invite to a dinner party? Stevie Wonder.

What’s on your summer listening playlist? Boléro, every percussionist’s “best-friend.” 

Why do percussionists love Boléro? It is a virtual snare drum concerto that involves not only physical stamina but even more so mental stamina.  The 13–15 minutes straight of the same ostinato pattern can induce a trance-like state.  This is ideal for the listener, not so much if you're the one playing the part.

Does it still make you nervous when transitioning from different percussion instruments on stage during a performance? Do you have any horror stories of accidentally dropping a mallet or the cymbal during a performance? I think a big part of what we do as percussionists involves physical choreography.  If the quarters are too cramped, you might find a literal traffic jam on stage with percussionists running into one another.  I was once playing a percussion quartet and the head of my rubber mallet flew off on the last note of the piece.  Thankfully the cellist towards whom the mallet was flying had hands like a shortstop and made the catch.

Raushan Akhmedyarova, Second Violin // Photo courtesy of the SFS

Where is your hometown? Almaty, Kazakhstan.

What’s your favorite restaurant in town? Burma Superstar on Clement Street.

Who is your favorite author? Paulo Coelho.

What’s on your summer listening list? Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, the Mt. Everest of the solo violin repertoire, with the central Chaconne being the top of it!

Is that your favorite movement? No doubt. When you surmount all the challenges and bring out that somber theme in a musically structured way and everything is in the "flow"—like water moving from one variation to another—the whole piece becomes one symphony on its own, and there's nothing more satisfying than that! At that moment all the technical aspects sort of peel away to allow the profound music to shine.

It sounds like you relate to Bach in an almost spiritual way. I like to warm up and start my practice with Bach, especially in the morning. It is not only deeply satisfying and meditative, but also will show you exactly where you are at in terms of sound, intonation and whether you're in good shape over all. I call it a great morning hygiene test!


Tickets to individual San Francisco Symphony 201718 season concerts can be purchased online at, by phone at (415) 864-6000, and at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, located on Grove Street between Franklin and Van Ness.


The San Francisco Symphony performs Ravel’s Boléro Opening Night, September 14; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 with pianist Piotr Anderszewski October 13–15; and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 November 24–26. Violinist Christian Tetzlaff performs Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in recital December 17. Davies Symphony Hall, (415) 864-6000,