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03/07/2011 08:00:00

Freshman Violinist Mixes Music with Molecules

Since birth, Misha Raffiee has stood out among her peers. By the age of two, she was reading. At 11 she was speaking five languages, and by 15, she had graduated from a progressive public school designed for profoundly gifted students. Now, at age 16, she is a freshman at Caltech studying both chemistry and business economics and management. 

Raffiee is also an accomplished violinist—a talent she has cultivated since she was a toddler, when she had to use a cardboard instrument because she was too young for a real one.

She showcased her talent as the featured violin soloist on February 26 and 27 during the Caltech-Occidental Symphony Orchestra concerts. Raffiee earned the top spot—and the chance to play Sibelius' violin concerto for the first time with an orchestra—by winning the Caltech-Oxy annual concerto competition in December. (Listen to Raffiee play the 3rd movement of the Sibelius concerto here)

Raffiee has been playing the violin for most of her life. Her mother, a classical music enthusiast, first took her to music lessons before she turned two. When she was nine, she became the youngest member of her hometown youth orchestra in Reno, Nevada, and was named concertmaster the following year. She made her solo debut at the age of 10 with the Tahoe Symphony Orchestra, and two years later, was recognized as the youngest musician ever to be awarded a contract with the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. Since September, she has been studying with Martin Chalifour, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

"Playing violin is very near and dear to my heart," says Raffiee. "It's what I do for fun, and to relax. I find it so intellectually satisfying." For the record, she also plays the piano and is involved in the Chamber Music program as a violinist.

When she's not making music, Raffiee—who is also a member of Caltech's swim team and water polo team, volunteers time through the Caltech Y, and is active in the Chemistry Club—is studying chemistry with plans to pursue an MD/PhD degree. She says Caltech was her top choice for undergraduate study because of its small size and emphasis on research.

"Caltech is well known for its chemistry program. I knew research-wise, Caltech was the best place for me," explains Raffiee, who credits her parents for her ambition and strong drive to succeed.

"One thing I learned at a very young age is that you never become successful unless you work hard, no matter how intelligent or talented you are," says Raffiee. "My personal motto is that if you want to do something, you have to give 100%. Otherwise, it's not worth doing."

Written by Katie Neith