MONTREAL – Anna Levitina is still thanking Maestro Joseph Milo for giving her back the musical life she left in Belarus in the former Soviet Union.
Milo met her even before 2006, the year he and his wife, Lucy Ravinsky, formed the Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra (MWSO) that is made up mostly of immigrants, including Levitina.
The violinist had been living here since 1991, after a year in Israel, leaving to marry a Montrealer. “I knew English, but had never practised it and had no French. I opened the newspaper to study language and saw an ad for a Jewish women’s choir that is now defunct, and I said why not? At least I would start meeting people,” she says.
One of the members heard her beautiful three-octave voice, knew that she also played violin and piano, and introduced her to Milo, who was directing the Shaare Zedek choir.
She sang for him for 15 years, then easily made the transition to violinist with the MWSO from its outset. Her English is good now and so is her French since she attended language classes. Even her Hebrew has improved, and that’s thanks to Milo, as well.
“Solomon Schechter Academy was looking for a music teacher and he introduced me to the person responsible, and she decided to try me. I’ve been working there this year as the music teacher,” says Levitina, who had honed her Hebrew reading skills in synagogue and found it fairly easy to “pick up the musical vocabulary. All my life, I’ve been working with kids and teaching. I have private piano and violin students.”
She remembers how early exposure to music can develop a lifelong affinity for it.
“In Minsk, they had symphony orchestra interludes instead of TV commercials. When I was six, after seeing one of these, I told my parents I wanted to study violin,” she recalls. After a hiatus to give birth to three daughters, she now uses her playing talent.
For good measure, when Milo launched the 50-member orchestra, he cut back on some of his other musical activities and handed the reins of La Chorale Kinor, a Sephardi choir, over to Levitina.
“He introduced me to the choir and they decided I fit them. For six years now, I have been conducting them and working with them,” she says.
Meanwhile, she is preparing for the MWSO’s 10th anniversary concert on April 27 at Congregation Chevra Kadisha-B’nai Jacob under the Song of Songs II banner, the second in a series of three sponsored by the Azrieli Foundation and the Chevra, with funds raised going to the shul.
Subtitled From Bach to Broadway: A Symphonic Experience, the concert features soloists Gino Quilico, the renowned Canadian baritone, spinto soprano Sharon Azrieli-Perez, the Kleztory klezmer band and teenage pianist Pinchas Antal.
Levitina is a member of the hardworking strings section that, Milo says, “is always there for every piece. She’s got her hands full!”
The program reflects the orchestra’s mandate to attract a diverse audience through accessible listening, thus giving its immigrant members well-attended houses to show off their talents.
Highlights include the orchestra playing Bach, popular operatic pieces by Rossini, Bizet and Puccini, a heart-swelling rendition of The Impossible Dream and a West Side Story medley.
The MWSO continues its busy schedule with a fundraiser on June 7 featuring Israeli singer-composer Yonatan Razel at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim and, on Aug. 23, they entertain at their fifth benefit concert in aid of the Côte St. Luc Cats Committee.
“This orchestra is important,” Levitina says. “It helped musicians to meet and find opportunities, and for that, I’m grateful to Yossi Milo.” Music lovers owe him their own kudos.
For tickets to the Chevra concert, call Sara at 514-482-3366 or email [email protected] .