While teaching piano at college and performing as a concert pianist in her native Moscow, Anya Grokhovski still found time to gather at friends’ homes to perform, sing, and celebrate with good food and drink.
When she and her first husband arrived in San Antonio in 1991 for teaching positions at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Grokhovski continued that musical tradition with new friends. It was through these small, festive gatherings that the seeds were planted for Musical Bridges Around the World (MBAW) after a group of music lovers, mostly physicians, helped raise funds to get the organization off the ground.
“I had no ambition of ever starting a nonprofit. I didn’t even know they existed,” said Grokhovski, artistic director and CEO. “I left Russia when it was still the Soviet Union, which was not an enterprising country at all.”
MBAW recently kicked off its 17th season, and in conjunction, the board of directors has approved offering free admission to all public concerts, including its Musical Evenings at San Fernando Cathedral and the International Music Festival, “Music Without Borders,” slated for next May, which will move to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
“We know that people who enjoy our programming might not always be able to afford to purchase tickets, but we are a public organization and need to be accessible to everyone,” Grokhovski said.
Offering free admission, however, and moving its spring festival to the Tobin Center, can be costly.
“Funding is more critical than ever,” said Suhail Arastu, director of development and marketing. “We want to increase the opportunity for our business community to underwrite programs that align with their interests and offer branding opportunities and premier seating for their employees to showcase their support.”
MBAW also hopes to expand its free, educational outreach program, Kids to Concerts, which introduces children from low-income areas, or Title I schools, to cultures from all over the world through music and dance from international artists.
“With recent budget cuts in the Texas Legislature for the arts, many schools no longer have music lessons,” Arastu explained. “Musical Bridges takes these international musicians to the schools, which gives kids an opportunity to travel the globe through a world-class music performance that they otherwise might not get to see. We also work with teachers to incorporate our performances with their STEM curriculum.”
Last year, the Russian quintet Flying Balalaika Brothers performed at Indian Creek Elementary, among other Southside schools, for about 300 students.
“It was wonderful to see the kids actively participating,” Principal Monica Munoz said. “We started STEM, and the performers were able to integrate that by explaining the different instruments, talking about the technology of the instruments and how wind helps create sound.”
Grokhovski, meanwhile, reflected upon the organization’s success since those early days when putting on concerts with friends and colleagues was pure fun and entertainment.
“But then you realize that everybody needs to get paid,” she said. “Then you have to raise money for this and how do you do that? So I learned as I went. I made a lot of mistakes. But that’s how I learned.”
Today, Grokhovski, who oversees a $535,000 annual budget, is amazed at how much MBAW has grown. She attributes the expansion to sophisticated concert-goers who desire quality entertainment, including those that Houston, Dallas, or Los Angeles hosts, and to current and previous board members, who paved the way for success.
“Our programming has always had a lot of support from the community, and we have an active and generous board of directors,” the CEO said. “All board members are financially and emotionally invested in the organization mission and vision and go out of their way to make sure every season we reach our fundraising goal.”
Dr. Eric Miller, board president who owns several medical companies, underwrote the Sept. 26 annual gala, “Viva Havana,” at the Tobin Center that featured six world-class ballroom dancers and musicians from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Cuba. The event raised $110,000.
“Our adult programming is inspiring, but the kids programming is what touches my heart,” Miller said. “Over this time we have been blessed to be able to offer high-quality programs to San Antonio schools. The kids who witness our Kids to Concert series are touched with something that will last throughout their lifetimes. It is a tremendous service to the San Antonio area, and I am proud to be part of it.”
Grokhovski, whose father was a violinist for the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra for 40 years and whose mother was a violin teacher, hand picks all of the performers, who come to San Antonio either for Musical Evenings at San Fernando Cathedral or the International Music Festival. Grokhovski has a doctorate degree in piano performance from one of the most prestigious institutions in the world – Gnessin Russian Music Academy in Moscow.
During the early part of her professional career, she performed at music festivals around the globe – Holland, Norway, Estonia, France, and Portugal, to name a few – where she met fellow performers and forged friendships with many that continue today. She constantly travels to New York and other music meccas for professional conferences and artist showcases.
“My intent has always been to bring the best to San Antonio,” she said. “I see and listen to everyone who I invite.”
Noting that San Antonio is an evolving landscape with more businesses and people moving here every day, and with SA2020’s goal of making the Alamo City an international cultural destination, Grokhovski believes MBAW is doing its part to fulfill that vision.
“An organization like ours tremendously increases the quality of life for everyone,” she said. “I believe by merging classical music with ethnic musicians from various regions, such as India, Ukraine or the Middle East, it creates a unique cosmopolitan experience.”
People then begin to develop a fine taste in music, arts, and culture that enriches lives, Grokhovski added.
“And like developing a taste for good wine or music, you crave more,” she said.
Musical Evenings at San Fernando Cathedral begins with “Under the Tuscan Sun” featuring Italian pianist Alessandro Deljavan and Houston Grand Opera soprano Pureum Jo, a Korean native, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9. It is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.musicalbridges.org.
Full Disclosure: Rudy Arispe handles public relations for Musical Bridges Around the World.
*Featured/top image: Musical Bridges’ “Viva Havana” gala featuring Kiki Nyemchek (left) and Magda Fialek (right). Photo by Ken Mahnke.