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Nadya Tichman

April 21, 2009

This week, from April 22 through April 25, the San Francisco Symphony will be performing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 (1935), one of the composer's best. Long-time symphony member and Associate Concertmaster Nadya Tichman is the soloist for the same composer's haunting tone poem, The Lark Ascending (1914, rev. 1920). A member of the San Francisco Symphony since 1980, Tichman is noted for her musicianship as well as her grace and presence. I had a chance to speak with her and to get a glimpse of the person behind the violin.

What makes Lark Ascending special?

It’s just not like any other violin concerto. It’s ethereal. There is a beautiful melancholy about it, and it’s just a lovely soaring piece.

When did you start playing the violin?

I started when I was 9, in school, though I had played piano before. When it was suggested that I try the violin, I went along with it; I was a docile child. I come from a family where everyone was a professional musician, so to me, that was what you did. My parents played and taught, and my sister, who was 9 years older, was already very accomplished by the time I began on the violin. I had a lot of role models.

It does help to have music all around you. As a parent, I really notice the lack of music education for children today.

If you weren’t a violinist, what instrument would you play?

Probably the piano. The repertoire is so large.

What brought you to the Bay Area?

I grew up on Long Island and attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia — a great school. I won the position of second violinist when I was just finishing college, moved out here, and have been here for 29 seasons. I still love it.

So, what are the pluses of being a professional musician?

I love being around great music all the time. I like playing it more than listening, and being a part of the music, seeing it evolve. I also like to come back to pieces and to see new things in them, and it's great to be around such good musicians — both my colleagues and visiting artists.

Any minuses?

Not really. I have a pretty easy temperament, so I don’t get as frustrated as others do. I’m able to turn it off. It can be physically hard, though, when there are weeks and weeks of difficult music, which is loud and relentless and technically tricky — such as a month of Mahler and Tchaikovsky — my limbs start to hurt. But that’s really about it.

How about away from the music and out of the spotlight. What’s your life like there?

I love to walk and I’m obsessive about cooking. My ideal vacation would be a walking vacation in Italy where you ended each day with great meals. I need to plan that.

At home, I do art projects and garden. I’m not always good at the garden care, though. My neighbor is a fantastic gardener; her yard is gorgeous. She gives me advice. This year we’ve added some fruit trees to the yard — a Fuji apple and a satsuma mandarin orange — so I have hopes for them. And for the raspberries and tomatoes we’ve planted.

Other than that, it’s pretty quiet. It helps that my husband is a musician, freelance guitarist Jim Imholz. Our schedules work out well so we can be with the kids when they come home from school. Our evenings vary, depending on our performance schedules, but my father also is available if we both are working. My husband and I do have movie night dates every Sunday night, if we aren’t working.

So what do you think you would be doing if you weren’t a professional musician?

That’s hard to say as far as other careers. I do wish I was more athletic. I wish I could windsurf, or rollerblade in Golden Gate Park. I’d like to be more of a daredevil skier; I do ski, but I don’t go all out. I know I could take up windsurfing or rollerblading, but you get more cautious as you get older. Also, I really can’t injure my hands. I think that being more athletic would be one thing I wish I could change.

What are your thoughts about today’s classical music environment?

There is amazing young talent out there. But I think it’s hard, because there’s always a push for the next great thing. Young artists don’t have a chance to learn and grow. They have to mature in the spotlight, without a lot of support. It’s an issue across our society.

What are you listening to on your iPod?

I listen to a lot of solo piano repertoire. I love Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Chopin, and Prokofiev. I also love chamber music, Berlioz, and Bartók. I play music for the kids, music I feel they should know, which they won’t hear otherwise. My husband, who plays everything from Mahler and pops to lots of shows, also plays music for them. There’s just so much out there. But in general, I’m surrounded by so much music, that often I don’t have it playing in my private life. I enjoy the silence.

Marianne Lipanovich is a writer and editor based in Redwood City. A gardening expert, she is a lifelong music lover, having learned to read music before she learned to read.