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Ian Swensen

On Leave
Ian Swensen playing violin


Office 618

Courses Taught

Applied Lessons

Violin Performance Class

Chamber Music


BM, Eastman School of Music, 1985


Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, 2008-Present

Tanglewood Music Festival, 2011-2015

Music@Menlo, 2002-2014

Awards and Distinctions

First Prize, Naumburg Chamber Music Competition, 1985

Top Prize, Naumburg Solo Violin Competition, 1984


What is your hometown?

New York, NY

What is your favorite recording?

Prokofiev's Violin Concerto in D Major by Joseph Szigeti.

What are you passionate about outside of music?

Hiking, family, and eating great Japanese and Chinese food.

Who were your major teachers?

Dorothy DeLay and Donald Weilerstein.

What question do you wish students would ask sooner rather than later?

"What are good ways to practice or study?"

What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue music as a career?

Probably when I played the Ravel Quartet at the Aspen Summer Music Festival at the age of 16. I was studying with Claus Adam of the Juilliard Quartet. That piece did it for me.

What was a turning point in your career?

When my college quartet (the Meliora Quartet) performed in Boston's Jordan Hall with the Cleveland Quartet.

If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?

I might be an oceanographer.

What is your daily practice routine?

Playing some Bach and some scales and basic patterns, along with learning new works.

If you could play only three composers for the rest of your life, who would they be?

Beethoven, Bach, and Bartók.

What are your most important collaborations?

The Cleveland Quartet, Menahem Pressler, and Robert Mann.

Who are three students you have had the privilege of teaching?

Joseph Maile, Eric Chin, and Li Lin.

What recordings can we hear you on?

Mendelssohn: String Octet, with the Cleveland Quartet and Meliora Quartet, Telarc
A Baroque Festival, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, 2007
Various Music@Menlo recordings

What is your unrealized project?

I've never played the complete Beethoven quartet cycle.


Ian Swensen, violinist, chamber musician and teacher holds the Isaac Stern Chair of Violin and Chamber music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He had taught there in the college and pre-college divisions for 31 years. He is one of the few musicians to have been awarded the Walter W. Naumburg International Competition’s top prize for both solo violin and chamber music (as first violinist of the Meliora String Quartet). In 2015, he was presented in a Naumberg Foundation’s solo recital in Carnegie Recital Hall.

Chamber music has dominated his performing career. He has worked with so many wonderful artists including Robert Mann, Donald Weilerstein, Menahem Pressler, Leon Fleisher, Bernard Greenhouse, Paul Katz , Yo Yo Ma, Bonnie Hampton, Norman Fischer, Lynn Harrell, Steven Isserlis , Colin Carr, Jean-Yves Thibaudet , Yefim Bronfman, Gil Kalish, Kim Kashkashian, Martha Katz, Dimitri Murrath, Ani Kavafian, Joseph Silverstein, Mark O’Connor, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Shai Wosner, members of the Cleveland Quartet, Juilliard Quartet, Concord Quartet, Emerson Quartet, Tokyo Quartet, Takacs Quartet, Guarneri Quartet, Mendelssohn Quartet, Ying Quartet, Berg Quartet, Jupiter Quartet, Beaux Arts Trio, and the exceptional performing faculty and students at SFCM. These experiences rehearsing and performing with such fine musicians have created a rich musical life for Ian.

Over the years he has been a part of many great music festivals around the world both as teacher and performer including Tanglewood, Music from Menlo, The Spoleto Festival, Santa Fe Chamber Music, Bowdoin Music Festival, Orford Music Academy , Domaine Forget de Charlevoix, Marlboro Music Festival , and Morningside music bridge. He has also played concerts and tours with the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society as well as many seasons as a part of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society with Kenneth Slowik. He recently enjoyed being at Prussia Cove in England playing chamber music.

At age 22 he began teaching at Florida State University and at 24, taught at the Longy school of music . After that he taught for a semester at Oberlin college before beginning his position at the San Francisco conservatory at age 27. He has also taught part time at Sacramento State University and for a semester at the New England Conservatory. In his early years with the Meliora quartet (age 21) ,he performed hundreds of concerts around the world and was managed by ICM and later IMG Artists managements. He has recorded on Telarc and Deutsche Gramophone as well as Music from Menlo.

This year, he was named as a 2021 US Presidential Scholar most influential teacher. His student Grace Huh (2021 US presidential Scholar) also won the Bach prize and the second prize in the 2021 Irving M. Klein International String Competition. Amaryn Olmeda ,current student, (13 years old ) won the first prize in the 2021 Sphinx Competition Junior Division. His former students have won positions in major orchestras including Montreal Symphony (principle), Danish National Symphony, Houston Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, New Zealand Symphony (principle), Utah Symphony (principle), Delaware Symphony (concertmaster), Calgary Philharmonic, New Century Chamber Orchestra, Irish Chamber Orchestra, Sichuan Symphony (concertmaster), Bergen Philharmonic (former concertmaster). Others have formed international competition winning quartets including the Telegraph Quartet who won the Naumburg Chamber Music competition in 2016, the Nightingale String Quartet who received the 2014 Gramophone’s “Young Artist of the Year Award”, the Thalea String Quartet who won the top prize at the 2018 Fischoff Competition and the Del Sol Quartet celebrated for their performances of the new music. His former students were also appointed to major teaching positions including Cornell University, San Francisco Conservatory, Sacramento State University and the Juilliard School.

Ian was born in New York of Japanese and Norwegian parents. They were both musicians, a professional pianist and clarinetist. They also studied at Juilliard and Mannes. His brother is a renowned conductor and violinist as well as a composer. His sister, a fine pianist and artist who also graduated from Juilliard. Ian began his study at Juilliard at 9 years old. His primary teacher there was Dorothy DeLay. At age 19, he went to the Eastman School of Music to study with Donald Weilerstein and the other members of the Cleveland String Quartet. In earlier years Ian’s other teachers were Shirley Givens, Christine Dethier and Jens Ellerman. Ian plays recitals these days with his partner and pianist Weicong Zhang. He is fortunate to play on a beautiful Nicolo Gagliano violin from 1761 and a Grand Adam bow from the early 1800’s. This violin was recently restored by Adam Pelzer of Florian Leonhard Fine Violins.