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March 27, 2013

Reception for Russian-Austrian opera singer, Anna Netrebko

Anna Netrebko

Anna Netrebko receives flowers from Aleksandra Efimova and Prince Piotr Galitzine. Photos by Alex Riemann for Kontinent Media.

Anna Netrebko

Aleksandra Efimova, Anna Netrebko and Laura Sekhar. Photos by Alex Riemann for Kontinent Media.

Anna Netrebko

Anna Netrebko receives a book about Chicago from Aleksandra Efimova. Photos by Alex Riemann for Kontinent Media.

The Moscow Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, chaired by Aleksandra Efimova and Prince Piotr Galitzine, was proud to host a reception for Russian-Austrian soprano Anna Netrebko on March 15.

The VIP reception was held at The Graham Room at the Lyric Opera House, following Netrebko’s debut performance at the Lyric Opera. Guests were treated to wine, champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and they had the chance to meet Netrebko, as well as other stars of the Lyric.

As chair of the Moscow Committee, Ms. Efimova is dedicated to spotlighting Russia’s immense contributions to the arts, and she said the reception was a wonderful way for Russians and Russian-Americans to come together and honor one of their national treasures.

“Hosting a reception for Ms. Netrebko has been my dream for years! Her vocal talent, beauty and artistic mastery make audiences love and applaud her on stage and off,” Ms. Efimova said. “As chair of the Moscow Committee, I view this event as one of the best ways to share the richness of Russian culture with the residents and guests of Chicago.”

Ms. Netrebko is considered a rising star among sopranos around the world. Born in Krasnodar, Russia, in 1971, she studied with conductor Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theatre and made her operatic debut there at the age of 22. In 1995, at the age of 24, she made her America debut at the San Francisco Opera, and since then has received rave reviews on stages throughout the world including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, The Royal Opera House in London, La Scala, and the Vienna State Opera.

She is currently starring as Mimi in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s acclaimed production of La Boheme, running now through March 28.

Robert Blumberg, the honorary consul general of Latvia in Chicago, said he was surprised at how charming and accessible Ms. Netrebko was in person. “She was very accommodating and she took time to talk to all of the guests and take pictures,” he said.

Steve Robinson, general manager of WFMT 98.7 FM, attended the reception, and said he appreciates the events that the Moscow Committee hosts because they give people the opportunity to meet artists in person.

“It was a great honor to meet this wonderful artist in such an intimate setting and I know the other guests felt the same way,” Robinson said. “The work that the organization is doing to bring the Russian community together in Chicago is exemplary and I wish them great success in the future.”

The event was attended by about 70 prominent members of the Russian-American community and was sponsored by Prince Piotr Galitzine and his company, TMK IPSCO.

“Anna Netrebko is a world-class diva. She both mesmerized and charmed the audience as Mimi at the showing of Puccini’s La Boheme before the reception, which TMK IPSCO was pleased to sponsor,” Mr. Galitzine said. “We at the TMK Group were delighted to sponsor this not only because our corporate social responsibility has children and the arts as its main foci, but because this event embodies the Russian-American exchanges and interactions which are the main goal of the Moscow Sister Cities Committee, of which I am chair.”

Chicago Sister Cities International coordinates programs and projects with Chicago’s 28 sister cities and is committed to promoting Chicago as a global city, developing international partnerships and networks, and sharing best practices on a city-to-city basis.

Since its inception in 1960, Chicago Sister Cities International has built bridges between the people of Chicago and its international neighbors to achieve greater mutual understanding and to strengthen civic, economic, and cultural ties. Chicago has been a sister city with Moscow since 1997.

March 6, 2013

Russian language seminar in Washington, D.C.

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: About Growing Through Arts, Aleksandra in the Community

Russian language seminar

According to the 2009 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census, there are almost 1 million Russian speakers in the United States, making Russian the eighth most spoken language in the country. However, for many Russian families, it is hard to find a place where their children can learn their native language, and many parents fear their children will eventually lose their connection to their homeland by growing up in a foreign country.

To help improve Russian language education in the United States, the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., held a seminar on Feb. 27 for Russian language teachers who work in either public or private schools or at community centers that also offer classes in subjects such as Russian, math, chess and ballet.

I had the pleasure of being one of about 30 people who attended the seminar, and it was wonderful to see how eager the teachers were
to share their experiences and exchange ideas about new ways to present information to students in the classroom.

As a speaker of both Russian and English, I believe it is important that children learn the Russian language in order to remain connected to their homeland. That’s one of the reasons that I published two of my Growing Through Arts® books, The Peter and the Wolf Symphony by
® and The Cinderella Ballet by Aleksandra®, as well as an illustrated Alphabet Set, in Russian.

At the seminar, I shared my Russian-language children’s books and alphabet set with the teachers, and many of them said they would be useful tools in keeping children engaged and excited about learning Russian.

I truly hope the teachers who attended the seminar left feeling inspired to try new teaching techniques and passionate about helping children stay connected to their homeland by learning their native language.


March 5, 2013

Supporting the Makkai Classical Ballet & Dance School

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: Aleksandra in the Community


Makkai Classical Ballet & Dance School
Fundraiser for the Makkai Classical Ballet & Dance School

One of the most heart-warming parts of my job is seeing young dancers wear my Russian Pointe® shoes and watch as they transform into beautiful, accomplished ballerinas. That’s why I was honored and humbled to meet so many students at the Irina Makkai Classical Ballet & Dance School in Highland Park who wear Russian Pointe® shoes.

Irina Makkai, who owns the school along with her daughter, Lilla, has been a long-time fan of Russian Pointe®, and today, she says almost all of her students wear the Russian Pointe® brand.

I met Irina’s students on Feb. 22, when I attended “Raising the Barre,” the Makkai school’s first annual fundraiser, which featured performances from Swan Lake, as well as several other ballets. After the performances, the dancers were so excited to meet me and tell me how much they love dancing in the Russian Pointe® pointes!

Held at the Art Center in Highland Park, the event also included food and drinks provided by local restaurants, as well as a silent auction, which included Russian Pointe® gift certificates. In all, the event raised more than $5,500 for student dance scholarships.

The Irina Makkai Classical Ballet & Dance School has been offering classes in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip-hop and pre-ballet since 1981, and over the years, the school has had students dance with the Joffrey Ballet, Ballet San Antonio, Ballet West and the North Carolina School of the Arts.

With the money generated from the fundraiser, Irina and Lilla Makkai say they hope to expand their performances to full-length ballets and to also form a professional company to provide more opportunities for local dancers.

May they succeed in their goals and inspire even more young people to pursue their dreams of dance!

A French fête at the Fantasy of the Opera Ball

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: Aleksandra in the Community
Fantasy of the Opera 2013
Aleksandra Efimova, dressed as a dancer from an Edgar Degas painting, for the Fantasy of the Opera 2013.

Attending the Lyric Opera’s Fantasy of the Opera Ball is always one of my favorite events of the year ― and this year was no exception!

This year, I was proud to be on the planning committee for the gala, and I was so impressed with how the entire event came together and thrilled that we were able to raise more than $450,000 to support the Lyric Opera.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, more than 700 people gathered at the Civic Opera House, which was transformed into 1920s Paris. Guests entered through the main hall, which was adorned with a French-style market, a recreation of the Moulin Rouge, and the Eiffel Tower, and then headed upstairs where several local restaurants, including AVEC, Magnolia Bakery, Coco Pazzo, Embeya, N9NE, The Palm, Lloyds, and Pazzo’s provided delicious hors d’oeuvres.

What made this year especially fun was the fact that guests were invited to dress up to match the theme, so everywhere you looked you saw men with handlebar mustaches and French berrets, women with feather headdresses and fancy hats, and even cancan skirts. Naturally, for my
costume, I dressed up as a ballet dancer inspired by one of Edgar Degas’ famous paintings!

Another highlight of the evening was the cabaret that featured live performances by Lyric Opera singers Elizabeth Futral, David Cangekosi, Amanda Majeski, Lucas Meachem, Albina Shagimuratova, Ana Maria Martinez, Jamie Barton and Andrea Silvestrelli.

During the cabaret, attendees bid on silent auction items. As the chairman of the silent auction committee, I was so pleased at how many people bid on the items, helping us to reach our fundraising goals. Everyone seemed excited to bid on exciting items such roundtrip airline tickets to London and Shanghai, a round of golf for 20 people, Chanel purses and a handwoven Oscar Isberian rug. My donation to the silent auction was a Ballerina Experience with Aleksandra, an afternoon party where 10 children will have a chance to meet professional dancers at the Russian Pointe Dance Boutique.

Following the cabaret, some guests enjoyed a delicious sit-down dinner, while others sipped on Veuve Clicquot champagne and Grand Marnier cocktails in the main hall, and then everyone got on the dance floor and danced the night away!

Last year, I served as the chairman of the Young Professionals Board for the Lyric Opera, and this year, I was happy to see such a broad range of ages of the people attending the ball. I hope it signifies that the Lyric Opera will be a vibrant institution in Chicago for years to come.

January 31, 2013

Celebration at the Polish consulate

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: Aleksandra in the Community
Aleksandra Efimova and Dan Rutherford

Aleksandra Efimova and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford

On Jan. 17, the Polish consulate in Chicago held a reception celebrating the purchase of a Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft by the Polish airline LOT to establish direct flights between Chicago and Warsaw.

The event was attended up Ryszard Schnepf, Poland’s Ambassador to the United States, as well as by Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and several other dignitaries.

I am a strong believer that cooperation between countries can not only spur economic growth, but can also help promote peace and harmony around the world, so I was especially pleased to see how the Polish and American governments and business people are trying to work together to increase economic ties.

Laura Sekhar, senior economist at Chicago’s Compass Lexecon, attended the event and felt proud about the possibility of expanded relations between the United States and Poland.

“The Polish Consulate event… was a clear success,” she said. “We were thrilled to be part of this exciting new development in the U.S.-Polish economic relations.”

Unfortunately, the flights have been grounded for now due to a technical issue with the batteries, but once the planes are deemed safe to fly, I’m sure this new development will be one of many business alliances that will lead to greater interaction between both countries.

President of Northwestern University hosts dinner of Russian Culture

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: Aleksandra in the Community
Aleksandra Efimova and Morton Shapiro

Aleksandra Efimova and Northwestern University President Morton Shaprio

Aleksandra Efimova with Irwin Weil

Aleksandra Efimova with Irwin Weil (center)

Northwestern University President Morton Shapiro hosted a dinner at his home on Jan. 29 honoring Professor Irwin Weil, one of the most preeminent leaders in teaching and promoting understanding of Russian culture.

The private event included several prominent Russian Americans, as well as members of the Lyric Opera, WFMT radio station, Northwestern faculty members, business people and others who have an interest in Russian culture.

Born in Cincinnati, OH, in 1928, Mr. Weil has devoted his life to improving the relations between the United States and Russia. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1948 and his PhD from Harvard University, he first taught at Brandeis University before transferring to Northwestern in 1966. During his tenure at Northwestern, Weil became famous for developing the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, and his courses on Russian music and literature are among the most popular at the university.

In class, he is often known to break out into song, believing that students can understand the meaning of Russian poetry better when it is set to music. He has also worked closely with Natalia Lyashenko, of the Northwestern University Music School, to develop a unique course that encourages students to study and perform Russian operas as a way of deepening their understanding of Russian culture.

Mr. Weil is so knowledgeable about Russian operas, in fact, that Steve Robinson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of WFMT, announced at the event that the station is planning to air a new radio program featuring Mr. Weil, where he will discuss Russian culture.

As someone who is passionate about promoting Russian music, arts and culture in the United States, I am deeply grateful to Mr. Weil for his enthusiasm and tireless efforts to introduce Americans to Russia’s great artists.

At the event on Tuesday night, it was wonderful to see Mr. Weil perform selections from the opera Eugene Onegin ― even at the age of 85!

Alena Tsimis, Managing Director at I Imagine, was also impressed by Mr. Weil’s performance, as well as his accomplishments.

“Professor Weil is one of the most respected and inspirational educators of Slavic literature and music, who, like no one else, is able to evoke interest and appreciation for Russian culture,” she said. “It was an honor and a great pleasure to listen firsthand to the professor’s recital of Eugene Onegin in a warm home atmosphere of Morton and Mimi Shapiro.”

I, too, loved the event and feel proud that so many people are passionate about Russian culture and are helping to make Americans even more aware of Russia’s rich history.

October 23, 2012

Fashion of the Opera benefits budding musicians

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: About Growing Through Arts, Aleksandra in the Community

When I founded Growing Through Arts®, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and encourage them to become interested in and inspired by the arts.

So I was so pleased to attend the “Fashion of the Opera” fundraiser on Friday, Oct. 5, which was presented by the American Chamber Opera and benefited the Merit School of Music — two institutions that both support young people in studying and performing music.

Held at the Grand Ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel, the evening featured models walking down the runway in creations from some of
Chicago’s most prominent designers as opera singers performed live. Guests enjoyed sipping on cocktails, dining on hors d’ouevres and catching a glimpse of fashion-forward gowns by designers such as Borris Powell, Fraley Le, Rachel Frank, Anastasia Chatzka and Stix & Roses.

To help support the cause, I donated a set of the Music Series books by Growing Through Arts® — which included The Peter and the Wolf Symphony by Aleksandra®, The Snow Maiden Opera by Aleksandra®, and Twist, A Musical by Aleksandra® — to the silent auction.

The event was organized and hosted by Marisa Buccheit, who is currently Miss Chicago 2012 and is also a soprano with the American Chamber
Opera. Founded in 2011 by Chicago-based artists Jonathan Cambry and Karrah Cambry, the American Chamber Opera’s mission is to provide high-quality performance opportunities for emerging artists. This season, the ACO will be producing full-length, English-language productions of Madame Butterfly, Die Fliedermaus, The Magic Flute and Carmen, performed by up-and-coming opera singers.

October 3, 2012

Parisian-inspired theme for Lyric Opera’s Fantasy Ball

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: Aleksandra in the Community

Lyric Opera Fantasy Ball

The upcoming Lyric Opera Guild Board’s Fantasy of the Opera party is going to be c’est magnifique!

As a member of the Guild Board, I am proud to be serving on the planning committee for this spectacular event taking place at the Civic Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013.

This year’s theme is Midnight in Paris, and attendees will have the chance to enter the Moulin Rouge, wander past the Eiffel Tower and experience performances that would have inspired artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

To make the evening even more memorable, guests are encouraged to dress in Parisian-inspired costumes, as they enjoy cocktails and gourmet samplings from Chicago’s finest restaurants, as well as a silent auction, raffle and star-studded performances. I am looking forward to seeing the imaginative and elegant costumes that people wear for the ball!

Also new this year, guests will have the option of having a sit-down dinner or enjoying h’ors dorvors at a lively cocktail reception.

Ticket prices start at $275 for general admission or $500 for a seated dinner service. To purchase tickets, visit or call 312-827-5656.

October 1, 2012

Chicago Consular Corps Ball begins Chicago’s fall social season

Consular Corps Ball

Aleksandra Efimova at the 2012 Chicago Consular Corps Ball

Consular Corps Ball

Consular Corps Ball

Consular Corps Ball

Consular Corps Ball

Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI) was privileged to once again host the Chicago Consular Corps Ball on Thursday, September 20, 2012 at the Four Seasons Chicago. The international guest list included members of the 84 foreign Consulates and Honorary Consulates in Chicago.

“Chicago has been a great and welcoming partner to the 84 countries that make up the Chicago Consular Corps,” said Patricia Maza-Pittsford, Dean of the Chicago Consular Corps and Consul General of El Salvador to Chicago. “Together, we succeed in maintaining the vital ties between the city and our respective countries. Each year at the Chicago Consular Corps Ball, we celebrate these important relationships between Chicago and the diplomatic community and honor a Chicagoan who has proven to be a leading example of the city’s values around the world. We were pleased to honor such a person, William A. Osborn, with the 2012 Global Citizen Award.”

This was the second year in a row that Russians made up a complete table at the event. Russian attendees included Aleksandra Efimova of Aleksandra Enterprises, Alexander Tseitline of NLMK Indiana, Alena Tsimis of I Imagine Studio, and Victoria Friedman of the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery.

“The ball was wonderful,” Ms. Friedman said. “It reminded us that Chicago is a major player on the international scene and that we have much to be proud of.”

Ms. Efimova agreed. “To me, celebrating the contributions of all cultures is important in building bridges among people worldwide, both to foster business development abroad and to promote a peaceful global community. I am proud to be part of events like this that help strengthen and maintain strong ties between countries all over the world.”

The Chicago Consular Corps chose William A. Osborn to receive the prestigious 2012 Global Citizen Award, which honors an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the international reputation, stature and outreach of Chicago. Last year’s honoree, Ann Lurie, joined Consul General Maza-Pittsford in presenting the award. Osborn has a long and impressive record of giving back to the Chicago community—making the city a better one and helping to enhance Chicago’s standing worldwide.

“In our capacity as Chicago’s ambassador to the world, Chicago Sister Cities International was once again proud to host the Chicago Consular Corps Ball. With 84 consulates represented in Chicago, one of the largest diplomatic communities in the United States, we work with the Chicago Consular Corps to
develop international partnerships and share best practices between Chicago and our global partners whether they’re in government, business, schools or
cultural organizations. Events such as this strengthen the connections between Chicago and our international partners and help to highlight Chicago as a
global city,” said Leroy Allala, Executive Director of Chicago Sister Cities International.

Mayor and Mrs. Rahm Emanuel & Consul General Maza-Pittsford and Philip Pittsford served as Honorary Chairs for the Ball; President and Chief Executive Officer of Motorola Solutions Gregory Brown and Anna Brown & Chairman of Chicago Sister Cities International Sam and Dona Scott served as Co-Chairs; ABC7’s Ravi Baichwal served as Master of Ceremonies; and a speech was given by Deputy Mayor Steven Koch. Mayor Emanuel attended a special VIP reception with the Chicago Consular Corps.

The proceeds from the Chicago Consular Corps Ball support the work of Chicago Sister Cities International and fund Chicago Consular Corps scholarships to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

August 31, 2012

Meeting with Michael Bloomberg and Bill Daley

 Posted By: Aleksandra Efimova  In: Aleksandra in the Community
Aleksandra Efimova and Bill Daley

Aleksandra Efimova and Bill Daley

On Aug. 14, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating discussion with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and William Daley, former Chief of Staff under President Obama and brother of Mayor Richard Daley.

Sponsored by the Economic Club of Chicago, the discussion focused on immigration reform, the current political campaign and the economy and was moderated by Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News.

It was personally touching to see William Daley return to his hometown of Chicago for the event, since I have known the Daley family for several years and have had the opportunity to meet him on numerous occasions. In fact, the first time I met William Daley was when we both were in Copenhagen representing Chicago as a potential host city for the 2016 Olympic Games.

The discussion centered on the upcoming Presidential election, which could greatly impact small business owners, such as myself.

Both Bloomberg and William Daley said they are frustrated that the candidates are refusing to discuss immigration reform, which they say is one of the best ways to improve the economy. “There is no way to help the economy as quickly and as cost-free as opening the borders to create jobs and create business,” Bloomberg said.

I found both Daley’s and Mr. Bloomberg’s views on immigration, health care, taxes, and the economy very enlightening, and I am looking forward to hearing more dynamic speakers at the next Economic Club of Chicago event.

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