These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you’ll hear in the concert hall.

Jan 1, 2019

Meet The SFS Musicians: Cellist Barbara Bogatin

Barbara Bogatin


Celebrating 25 years with the San Francisco Symphony

Hometowns: Santa Rosa, CA; Philadelphia, PA

San Francisco Symphony cellist Barbara Bogatin was introduced to meditation by her (not-yet) husband, Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist who studies the effects of meditation on the brain and well-being.

“When we were first dating he kept trying to convince me to do a meditation retreat. The idea of sitting on a cushion for twelve hours a day, in silence, was not very appealing! But I was curious about what effects such an intensely self-reflective experience would have, and eventually I attended one with him.”

Much of classical music can be very judgmental. But Barbara is able to reconcile that aspect of the field with Buddhist practice.

“We do have to listen critically when we play: Are we flat or sharp, are we using our musculature in the best possible way? But the extra thoughts we put on, like ‘why can’t I play this right?’ or ‘what’s wrong with me?’ Those self-judgments get in your way. I’ve found that the way to my deepest connection to music is to try to be free of that type of judgment, critical of the sound, not the self. I use what we call mettā, a loving-kindness meditation, before a solo performance, where I repeat some affirmations: May I be peaceful, may I be calm, may I feel joy. If I cultivate being present in an embodied way, when the time comes to perform I can take that spirit of freedom, joyfulness, and equanimity on stage.”

Barbara is dedicated to sharing these insights with others.

“Over the years my husband and I, along with two wonderful meditation teachers, Sylvia Boorstein and Nikki Mirghafori, have developed a workshop called ‘The Buddha, the Brain, and Bach,’ which we teach at the Esalen Institute. We talk about the relationship of contemplative practice, music performance, and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change. It’s been so exciting to keep delving deeper into these ideas.” (More information can be found on her website,

Barbara’s other creative pursuits include writing for Strings magazine and political activism, as founder of Musicians Indivisible SF. Reflecting on her twenty-five years with the SFS, she notes “It’s been a continuously learning and growing experience. My own children have grown up as part of the Symphony family and I love the idea of passing on our shared love of music to the next generation.”


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.

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