Nurturing musical talent in the Galilee

A unique charity is giving children in Northern Israel the chance to train as classical musicians


When I spoke to the violinist Maxim Vengerov for the JC in the spring — which feels longer ago than it is — he told me about a remarkable initiative that he co-founded 15 years ago. Musicians of Tomorrow (MoT) is a unique musical charity in Israel, devoted to nurturing the most gifted children from the country’s northern peripheries free of charge, regardless of background or socio-economic situation.

His co-founder and project director is Anna Rosnovsky, formerly a violinist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Together with a small team of teachers, Rosnovsky has devoted herself to providing these young musicians with every support — from lessons to instruments to hot meals — enabling them to fulfil talents which might not otherwise have been realised.

The pandemic has meant that the centre’s usual fundraising events through this year have had to be cancelled. Therefore it is holding its first-ever virtual concert, a Chanukah Global Gala, on December 13, hoping to show the world just how special its students are, and to recruit new friends and supporters from a wider audience able to access their work for the first time. They aim to raise $250,000 to enable them to continue functioning.

Leat Sabbah is MoT’s cello teacher and director of the centre’s East West Ensemble. Speaking on Zoom from Rosh Pina, near Safad and the Sea of Galilee, she is also serving as spokesperson. She credits Anna Rosnovsky with the personal drive and capacity to transform these children’s lives.

Rosnovsky emigrated to Israel from St Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1977, leaving behind her entire family and her violin. After she joined the Israel Philharmonic, the music director Zubin Mehta intervened personally to help her sister Elena Keiss-Kuna, a chemical engineer, gain permission to emigrate too. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Soviet authorities had denied Keiss-Kuna a visa on the grounds that her job gave her access to state secrets. Mehta refuted that charge, saying: “I told them the only state secret this woman knows is the recipe for borscht.”

“Anna is a phenomenal musician and a pillar of the Russian violin tradition,” says Sabbah. “Also, as a woman I think she brings something unique to the project. From the beginning it was about the children receiving the things they need so that they can study. She will go into their homes and their private lives and see how she needs to help. When she started the project 15 years ago, the children were coming to her every day and she was giving them all meals. I see the relationship she has with the kids and especially the alumni — she’s like a second mother to them. She understands their world. Sometimes their own parents don’t understand them.”

MoT currently has 25 students aged between 10 and 18, drawn from the region’s diverse Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities alike. “The Galilee region is roughly half Jewish and half Arab,” Sabbah says. “Although we’re a small project, we really want to connect with those special kids from all over the area and bring them together. We’ve partnered with various different musical organisations in the north and have been working with Muslim, Christian and Jewish youngsters, putting them together in chamber music. Besides making music, they’re developing friendships, getting to know each other.”

This mix of cultures is key to Sabbah’s own inspiration. Half Moroccan and originally from New York, she studied at the Manhattan School of Music and moved to Israel to pursue her interest in Sephardi music. Now, as a multi-genre performer, composer and educator, she works often with world music projects from as far afield as India.

At MoT the children have one special thing in common that transcends their different cultures: their passion for music. “When you’re growing up playing classical music so intensively, you often find there are fewer children who understand you,” Sabbah says. “This is less about background and more about doing music on an excellent level and finding other people who are like that too.” Not every student will become a professional musician, “but they’ve got something in their soul that means they really need to do it seriously.

“It’s important that the family understands and is supportive. For instance, the kids need to be taken to lessons two or three times a week, which is a huge investment from the parents’ side; but they’re getting an amazing education, an amazing tool with which their child will go out into this world. Not many people are willing to make that investment, especially in northern Israel, which is a socio-economically deprived area. There aren’t many cultural institutions — it’s almost like a desert and many parents start off without any notion of what it takes to study music like this. Anna says it’s not just about educating the students, but also the parents.

“In Russia there were institutions like the Central Music School which were well known. Parents could already see them as part of their culture. In Israel we don’t have such institutions. Here a ‘conservatory’ provides some access to musical activity after school, which is quite different from what we’re trying to do.”

The online gala showcases performances by the young musicians as soloists and in the East West Ensemble; films give insights into how the centre has changed their lives. For instance, for one 16-year-old pianist in a council flat in Safad, MoT has provided with a high-quality grand piano. Access to a professional-level instrument makes a major difference, because if you have never played one, you won’t know how to handle its potential when you finally do. “This girl has already won Israel Cultural Foundation awards and works with the head of the Jerusalem Music Centre,” says Sabbah. “You see in this film the reality of the situation and the impact the project has made.”

Last but not least, the gala includes passionate endorsements from Mehta and, via video, from Vengerov himself. The latter has provided a touching introduction to the project on its website: “I very proudly watched it grow into an award-winning expanding project,” he writes. “A real centre for music.”


The gala is on December 13 and can be accessed here:

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