Sheila Swartzman, Vladimir Bochkarev, and Jan Puckett at the first MBAW concert at Sheila’s house in 1998.

A History by Anya Grokhovski, DMA, MBAW CEO, Founder & Artistic Director

Soon after moving to the US from the USSR, I came to Texas with my then-husband, Valeri Grokhovski and my six-year-old son Arseni. Valeri was working as a professor of piano at the University of Texas at San Antonio and having studied piano performance myself at the Gnessin State University in Moscow, I was hired as a staff accompanist at UTSA.

In 1998, I decided to invite my favorite professor Vladimir Bochkarev from Russia to visit San Antonio and share my new home city with him. We spoke in the fall and agreed he would visit in the spring and play a few concerts to help cover his travel costs. I was very much looking forward to reconnecting with him, being inspired by his piano artistry, artistic mentorship, and charismatic personality. I contacted the Mexican Cultural Institute in Hemisfair Park hoping they might have a budget for guest artists that season. To my delight the director of Instituto Cultural de México, Maestro Felipe Santander, kindly agreed to present a concert that would help pay for his international airfare. A few months later, not having heard from Vladimir, I started to doubt whether he was coming after all. More time passed, until one day, he called saying, “I am arriving next week!”

Anya’s professor Vladimir Bochkarev

I called the Mexican Cultural Institute frantically and asked if the concert they promised to organize was still on and if we could proceed with advertising. “Anya!” they said, “we did not hear from you for five months so we had to program another pianist!” Needless to say, I did not sleep that night as I was trying to figure out what to do.

The next day, I shared my concern with one of my private students, Dr. Jan Puckett. “Don’t you worry,’’ she said. ‘’We will have a house concert, invite our friends and ask them to donate and help pay for your teacher’s airfare.” Jan then spoke to her good friend and colleague Dr. Sheila Swartzman and the two of them created a miracle. This first concert took place in the beautiful Texas Hill Country home of Drs. Sheila Swartzman and Kenneth Bloom. Not only did we raise enough money to pay for Vladimir’s airfare, but we were also able to pay him an artistic fee. He still thinks money grows on trees in the United States. This was my first introduction to the great power of philanthropy in America.

Since everyone loved that first concert at Sheila’s home, they asked me to invite another professor, and so I did. During this second concert, a guest named Teresa Oxford suggested that we become incorporated as an organization. It turned out that she was a lawyer and offered to take care of this process. Then another friend, and mother of my student, Suzanne Rostomian, offered to apply for 501(c)(3) non-profit status on our behalf so that people could deduct their contributions from their taxes. It turned out that she was a CPA and handled this for us.

Anya Grokhovski, Gladys Miller, Connie White, and Susan Dunis during the first MBAW concert in 1998.

For the first few years it was a lot of fun, as the “party” went on – with me, my family, and a few friends performing. But then I realized we needed funding to continue programming on a regular basis and to expand our offerings. So began my lifelong education in building a not-for-profit organization.

I have been very lucky to meet wonderful people over the course of this 25-year journey who poured their love and support into this dream called Musical Bridges Around the World. It is because of them that we were able to come this far. Along the way, I learned day-to-day operations through much trial and error and did not take a salary myself for the first 10 years of the organization’s existence. We finally hired our first full-time employee, Diana Osborne, 17 years after our inception in 1998 and since then the organization has grown to eight full-time employees. I take tremendous pride in this growth, understanding that I began without any knowledge of the word “budget,” and we now have a million-dollar endowment and $1.3 million annual operating budget. Another miracle!

Our founders were the following smart professional women who fell in love with the idea of sharing beautiful international music with each other, and later with the community: Drs. Jan Puckett and Sheila Swartzman, artist Susan Dunis, healer Connie White, engineer Gladys Miller, CPA Suzanne Rostomian, and lawyer Teresa Oxford. This is how Musical Bridges Around the World was born. I had no idea what I was getting into, but time after time I felt miracles taking place all around me, continuing to this day.