In 1993, Russian virtuoso Nina Kotova was stuck in Manhattan without money, an apartment or a cello. "I was desperate," said Kotova, who will perform Jewish music from her new CD March 16, 2 p.m. at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. So she dabbed on some makeup for the first time in her life and strode into the Ford Modeling Agency, where her resemblance to icons such as Paulina Porizkova caused a stir.
Within days, she was posing for French Glamour, although music continued to pull at her heartstrings. Kotova struggled for three years to make her professional debut at London's Wigmore Hall, when she successfully traded the catwalk for the concert stage.
Life hasn't always been so harmonious for Kotova, 33. At 15, a month after she won the prestigious "Concertino Praha" International Competition, her father, a famed bassist hounded for his political views, died due to alleged medical neglect. Thereafter, Kotova fled to the West, secured a Yale scholarship but was penniless by 1992. When an acquaintance suggested modeling, "at first I didn't take it seriously," she said.
Kotova wasn't thrilled about sashaying down runways in Versace, but her first paycheck allowed her to purchase a cheap cello, "which was like a treasure," she said. Observers have noted that her supermodel looks may have helped her switch back to music, as record companies hype the sex appeal of classical stars to combat dwindling sales.
A decade after her desperate New York years, the acclaimed cellist prefers to focus on her art. She's now touring Jewish museums to promote her new CD, "Nina Kotova: Bloch, Bruch, Kotova," featuring Bloch's "Prayer, From Jewish Life" and Bruch's "Kol Nidrei." The non-Jewish Kotova said the album is a wedding gift to her husband, a Jewish businessman: "Judaism has brought so much beauty to my life," she said.
For information about the museum benefit concert, call (323) 761-8170.