Feb 2, 2018
by Christopher Kerosky, Kerosky, Purves & Bogue, LLP, Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner
In keeping with the title of this column, going forward I will be presenting profiles of some of the many outstanding immigrants who make their home here and contribute so much to our culture, our economy and our lives. While we are blessed with a large population of immigrants from Mexico, we also have members of our community from every other corner of the globe. This story is about Rudolf Budginas from Lithuania, one of the many thousands of immigrants who are “making Sonoma County great”.
Born in Lithuania to a family of musicians during the Soviet Union era, Rudolf Budginas made his concert debut at the age of 9 with the Lithuanian National Symphony. “My family – my father, mother and sister, grandfather, cousins and uncles – were all musicians. It was already decided…I didn’t have a choice,” he says of his career path. Even as a music prodigy, the life Rudolf faced in the Soviet bloc was harsh: a poor standard of living, limited options professionally and constraints on travel and other freedoms we take for granted here.
Then, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and new doors of opportunity opened for Rudolf. He was offered a scholarship to study at the University of Southern California in the U.S. His music community, family, friends and pulled together to help him to obtain the student visa and money for the whole year in US.
He started his American life in Southern California in 1994. “When I came to the United States I had to start everything from zero,” said Budginas. Rudolf came to America with very little and his English was still broken. Once in Los Angeles, he found himself among the very privileged at the USC campus. “I was in such a culture shock. In Lithuania I had watched American television shows and expected lots of friends right away.” Los Angeles was quite the opposite. “It was very competitive, very individualistic, very fast, and very cold. Everyone was fighting for themselves and I realized I needed to do something. The competition was fierce.”
Apart from the societal aspect, there were other challenges, including the fact that Rudolf had never used a computer before – most classes were computer based. There was not much time to make up for a lifetime of growing up in the Soviet Union.
Rudolf is not a stranger to overcoming challenges and adversity. His father Paul grew up in Siberia after his family was deported to the tundra by Stalin. Rudolf’s grandparents were forced to cut trees in Siberia because they had land and a distant relative had once been in the Lithuanian Independence Army. As such, they were considered a threat to the communist society. A man who the Budginas family thought was a friend, but who was actually an informant for the government, escorted them with a machine gun to the railway station.
The Budginas family was not able to attain high positions in their career because they chose never to formally become part of the communist party. “I remember my parents being pressured to join.” At times, the pressure rose to threats but the Budginas stood their ground. “I am proud of my family’s strength and it probably gave me the values that allowed me to do well in the United States,” says Rudolf.
Rudolf completed his Masters and Doctorate in music with honors. He spent countless hours practicing piano, touring as a solo artist and meeting the standards of one of the top music schools. Rudolf has performed around the globe. In 2010 he headlined an 82 city, 32 state tour to conquer American music lovers. Among his numerous awards are international piano competitions and the Yamaha of Europe award. At the same time Rudolf took advantage of opportunities that American freedom offers: searching for the new and being relevant in the industry; learning and using technology.
For the last 5 years, Rudolf has been a professor at Santa Rosa Junior College. He is Coordinator of the Piano and Digital Audio department at Santa Rosa Junior College. He still performs frequently, including giving concerts at our local County venues.
Professionally, the United States has allowed Rudolf to go beyond his dreams. “America offered opportunities to change and to grow as a new artist” he explained. Because of this, Rudolf found his passion in expanding the accessibility of classical music to American audiences and changing the format of the traditional classical concert. He focused on breaking the wall between the artist and the audience “I needed to communicate with the audience and I chose to mix genres to create fun and surprising entertainment.” says Rudolf
After obtaining US citizenship in 2006, Rudolf felt it was an important step in the immigrant’s journey to build a new life. “Voting and taking part in our political system has really made me feel American. This is now my home.”
Budginas is married to attorney Liliana Gallelli, and has two daughters, Sofia and Nicolette. Sadly, like so many in our County, their home was lost in the recent Tubbs fires; but their American dream continues. After all, like most immigrants, starting over is something Rudolf has had to become very good at.
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