During the 9th century BCE, when King Jehoshaphat of Judah was threatened by the armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites, he positioned his musicians—men singing and praising god—in front of his soldiers, who miraculously defeated the overpowering number of troops.
The message that the power of music wins battles is the thread that runs through Anna Rosnovsky’s life and her mission to bring musical excellence and the joy of music to the children of Israel.
“Israel should not be only known for its wars, but for the beauty it signifies, its freedom, and great musical tradition,” says Anna, who became a spirited fighter for these values. Thanks to her great perseverance, she was able to win strong allies for her causes, among them musicians like Zubin Mehta and Maxim Vengerov.
Anna emigrated to Israel in 1977 during a small window of opportunity at a time of strictly enforced embargo on emigration imposed upon Russian Jewry by the Soviet regime. She paid a high price, leaving her family and most of her belongings, including her beloved violin, behind. The gifted violin scholar with a doctorate from the Moscow Academy of Music, a pupil of Prof. Yankilewitz and Prof. Glesarova, auditioned for the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra’s available position of second chair soon after arriving in Israel. There were many former musicians in Israel, many looking to teach and only few available students. Mehta of course soon realized Anna’s talent and upgraded her position to first chair. “I sat for over a year without a partner, in the first-row seat he created for me,” she remembers.
This was the beginning of a long-lasting friendship and musical collaboration between Anna and the charismatic Mehta, Israel’s beloved, just recently retired Maestro for life.
While Anna was able to leave the Soviet Union, where antisemitism was rampant, her family struggled throughout the years to follow suit. Anna’s fight for her family’s freedom was no isolated case, and in 1988, international outcries in support of Jews wanting to emigrate to Israel were heard increasingly, not only by Jewish communities, but by all communities around the world. It was a historic moment, nevertheless, when Mehta personally addressed the world in a public appeal, broadcasted after he conducted the IPO’s concert performance on Masada, Israel’s symbol of freedom from tyranny, pleading for Anna’s family’s liberty. Putting his prominent reputation behind a personal plea for Anna, and lending his voice to her struggle, has become an iconic moment in the long plight of the Russian Jewry behind the Iron Curtain. Shortly after, Anna was reunited with her sister in Israel; Mehta’s appeal was most likely responsible for making it happen.
Despite these struggles, many musicians who immigrated to Israel or became wandering cosmopolitans kept Russian music traditions and cultural connections to their homeland close to their hearts. This is certainly true for another compatriot of Anna’s, the great violinist Maxim Vengerov. Though he has lived in the UK, Germany, Israel, and now Monaco, and has not lived in Russia since age 13, Vengerov still feels deeply connected to his roots in Novosibirsk. He also feels spiritually connected to his other home, Israel.
Vengerov was involved as an ambassador for UNICEF, the first classical musician to sign up and to engage with the international outreach for children; Anna contacted Vengerov, who lived at Migdal, not far from the northern border at the time, shortly before her retirement from the IPO. Vengerov was on a lengthy sabbatical from concertizing—a severe shoulder/arm injury kept him from performing for several years. During his time in the Galilee, he was captivated by the mission to continue the great Russian tradition of music making, and to inspire the next generation of Israel’s children. As they made plans to commit to a mutual project in 2006, Israel became involved in a military conflict with Hezbollah paramilitary forces. The battle, dubbed the second Lebanon war, lasted for 34 days until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire took effect.
While the second Lebanon war slowed progress on Musicians of Tomorrow, it did not stop it from coming into being. Rather it motivated Vengerov, who decided he wanted to make a difference, and show solidarity and support. “Anna was thrilled that we would do this together, she was a wonderful teacher and musician, and created a lovely and nurturing environment to teach the children. I became the co-founder and patron, and as it was close to my house, it was possible to get involved, check in, play for the kids, and give some masterclasses and conduct their orchestral performances. It was a great incentive for me to bring more culture and education to the kids here, and I very proudly watched it grow into an award-winning expanding project: a real center for music. Some of the kids that started at kindergarten age are very gifted, are partaking in international competitions and are now commencing careers in music.”
In a 2007 BBC cover story, Vengerov is described as an artist with “a Russian approach—emotional, engaged, heart on [his] sleeve…with music as a secular religion, a way to understand life and mitigate conflict.” This was his way of answering to conflict, and inspiring others. It may seem like a small step, but creating this organization was a big undertaking in this rural area, widely untouched by culture, let alone classical music. “We wanted to make an impact on the lives of children, the same way classical music had touched our own lives so intensely,” said Vengerov at our brief but enthusiastic exchange during a Carnegie Hall backstage encounter.
During their first three years working together on MOT, Vengerov was actively involved, helping Anna to achieve attention and some funding. “He really found himself in the process as well, ” says Anna. “He was very engaged in the mission and seemed very happy.”
Upon his relocation and rekindled performance career, Vengerov’s involvement became mostly limited to inviting the students to his yearly performances in Tel Aviv. One of Anna’s most loyal devotees, evocatively named Jehoshaphat, for the biblical strategist who tapped into the power of music, became Anna’s right hand. A German non-Jewish immigrant, he fell in love with the land and its people, and together they planned concert tours, sponsorship appeals, and other ways to sustain their mission. Soon they will celebrate Anna’s 80th birthday, another opportunity to remind people of her one true wish—that the center may prosper.
“Initially no one knew of the new initiative,” he explains, “and there was only a handful of kids attending. Steeped in the ‘Russian school,’ Anna was a born teacher, in fact she always saw herself rather as a pedagogue than a performer. But only when the right public relations agent, a small neighborhood newspaper, got involved to write about Vengerov’s involvement, suddenly eighty kids showed up!”
Anna, the children, and his time spent in the Galilee certainly had an impact on Vengerov, and one can sense his admiration for Anna and her undying enthusiasm to keep going and to build the foundation on which the love for music thrives.
Since then, many international musicians, ranging from famed cellist Misha Maisky to the young superstar pianist Daniil Trifonov, have joined Anna and Musicians Of Tomorrow, in their effort to keep the music playing. Musicians Of Tomorrow are invited to show their talent during several local and international tours, providing the project and its participants the necessary attention and continued support.
Thanks to Anna and her loyal support system, the firm tradition of Russian pedagogy continues to flourish in a small town in Israel, and guides new talents, one child at a time.