Born in Jerusalem in 1988, Avigail Bushakevitz’s family moved to South Africa when she was one. Wanting to keep up with her older brothers, Avigail began playing piano when she was five, venturing into violin at eight. Determined to nurture her undeniable talent, her mother, Leonore, used to drive her the 400-odd kilometres from their home in George to Stellenbosch, and later Cape Town, for lessons with Professor Jack de Wet every fortnight. ‘I owe everything to him,’ she has said of one of South Africa’s most legendary teachers.
Homeschooled so that she could keep up with the rigorous practice routine required by De Wet, Avigail registered for a Bachelor of Music with Unisa in 2006, and received a scholarship from the Ackerman Foundation to study at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York a year later. She was one of only two students that violin teacher Sylvia Rosenberg took on that year. ‘She has phenomenal musical instincts, and I am extremely lucky to be her student,’ Avigail said of Rosenberg in an interview with ClassicSA. ‘She is one of the greatest influences on my life.’
At Julliard, Avigail worked as a teaching assistant in ear training, developing a fascination with the different ways music students hear. She went on to graduate with a BMus in 2010, and received her Master of Music in 2012. While in New York, she performed at Carnegie Hall with the Juilliard Orchestra under conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, an experience she lists as one of the highlights of her young career. She moved to Tel Aviv in 2013, where she started her artist diploma studies under Hagai Shaham at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music.
Avigail has been winning competitions since primary school. In 2009, she played Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and won the Unisa National Strings Competition. She also won the Samro Foundation’s Overseas Scholarships Competition in 2012. In 2013, she was awarded first prize in the UNO Competition in Jerusalem. She regularly plays in a duo with her pianist brother, Ammiel. Last year, they won an international chamber music competition in Catalonia, and included in the prize was a 15-recital tour of Spain.
She continues to build her concert experience by playing around the world, not least as a member of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in their tour of Spain and Abu Dhabi last year. Now based in Germany, where she is a member of the Essenz Streichquartett in Berlin and the 1st violins of the Konzerthausorchester, she often returns to South Africa to give recitals, usually with Ammiel.
‘The many opportunities that have arisen simply from being South African – including winning the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year – make me a very lucky girl and a fortunate musician,’ Avigail says. ‘I have met so many other incredible violinists who grew up in New York or Berlin or Tel Aviv, who have not once had the opportunity to play a concerto with an orchestra, whereas my country has blessed me with many such occasions.’