Musician Spotlight: Ai Nihira Awata, Violin

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Ai started the violin at age four in Seattle, Washington, with Mihoko Hirata. Ai later moved to Los Angeles, California, where she studied with Margaret Shimizu, Richard Schwabe and Henry Gronnier at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. Originally starting as a long-term substitute accompanying the Symphony on their China Friendship Tour in 2013, Ai eventually won a permanent spot in 2018. Read more about Ai below:

1. Tell us about your musical journey and how you came to play with the San Diego Symphony. 

I started playing the violin when I was 4 years old in Seattle, Washington. According to my parents - I begged them for violin lessons after seeing a little girl play at a family friend’s house. Soon after, my family relocated to Los Angeles, and I began my music study at the Colburn School with Margaret Shimizu, Richard Schwabe, and Henry Gronnier. I received my undergraduate degree and artist diploma from the Cleveland Institute of Music where I studied with William Preucil and Stephen Rose, and Yale School of Music with Peter Oundjian and Soovin Kim.  

My first time playing with the San Diego Symphony was on the China tour in 2013. I continued playing here as a long-term substitute until I moved to LA to play with the Pacific Symphony for a year but, returned to San Diego after winning a permanent spot with the Symphony in 2018. 

2. Do you have a favorite San Diego Symphony memory? 

One of my favorite memories is our recent tour and performance at Carnegie Hall. The energy of the orchestra felt incredible during that performance. I also really enjoyed getting to spend extra time with my colleagues while on tour.

3. Describe your favorite musical piece to perform and why. Is there a piece that you have not yet performed but would like to perform in the future? Explain. 

I would love to perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 when Jacobs Music Center reopens. Some other symphonies I have not yet played with San Diego, and on my wish list, are Brahms’ Symphonies No. 3 and 4 and Strauss’ Alpine Symphony. I also have a couple string orchestra pieces I would like to perform: Britten’s Variation on a Theme by Frank Bridge and Stravinsky’s Apollon Musagète

4. When you are not performing or practicing how do you like to spend your free time? 

When I’m not performing, I like to spend time with my husband and three-year-old daughter. 

5. What are you looking forward to most with the San Diego Symphony in 2024? 

I am looking forward most to performing at the newly renovated Jacobs Music Center! I am also looking forward to performing with Yo-Yo Ma and playing Act I from Die Walküre in May



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