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Prominent Philadelphia pianist held for trial on charges he sexually assaulted a Temple student on campus

In addition to his former position teaching at Temple, Yanovitsky is the cofounder of Elite Music Academy, an Elkins Park-based private music school.

Michael Yanovitsky arrives at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice on Thursday. He was ordered held for trial on charges he sexually assaulted a Temple University student last year.
Michael Yanovitsky arrives at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice on Thursday. He was ordered held for trial on charges he sexually assaulted a Temple University student last year.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

A former Temple University faculty member and prominent local pianist was ordered held for trial Thursday after a student testified that he sexually assaulted her during a private lesson on campus last year.

The now-21-year-old Temple student said that Mikhail Yanovitsky, 56, hugged, kissed, and fondled her while she practiced piano in a classroom at Temple’s Rock Hall in February 2020, then forced her to touch him sexually over his clothing while he spoke of “eroticism.”

After the woman’s testimony, Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joffie C. Pittman III ordered Yanovitsky to face trial on charges of institutional sexual assault and indecent assault.

Yanovitsky, of Huntingdon Valley, has performed at some of the nation’s most respected performing arts venues, and he has mentored students both at Temple and the Elite Music Academy, a private music school he cofounded in Elkins Park with his wife..

He has been free on bail since being arrested in October after laboratory testing of the woman’s clothing resulted in a positive match for his DNA, according to court papers.

During the hearing, defense attorney David Jay Glassman told the judge he was attempting to establish the encounter with the student as “uncomfortable but consensual.”

He asked the woman repeatedly whether she tried to push Yanovitsky away or flee the room.

She said that she pulled her body away but that the defendant was “stronger” and pulled her back toward him.

“I didn’t consent to anything in the incident,” she said.

The Inquirer does not identify victims of alleged sex crimes without their permission.

The woman, who was 20 at the time of the incident, testified that Yanovitsky was her private instructor for two years beginning in January 2018, and that he wielded control over her grade. She said that he started to engage in “light touching” beginning in summer 2018 and that she repeatedly told him it made her feel “uncomfortable.” The student said she didn’t tell school officials at the time because she was “scared the situation would get worse.”

She testified the behavior didn’t escalate to fondling until the Feb. 5, 2020, incident. Three days later, she reported the incident to Philadelphia police. Two days after that, she testified, she told Temple officials.

Yanovitsky didn’t address the judge during the hearing. As his accuser testified, he sat stoically at the defense table, a blue surgical mask shielding any expression.

University spokesperson Ray Betzner confirmed Yanovitsky had been an adjunct professor in the Boyer College of Music and Dance but told The Inquirer that school officials immediately canceled his classes and launched an investigation upon learning of the accusation. Yanovitsky “no longer works at Temple,” he said.

Born in Russia, Yanovitsky moved to the United States in the early 1990s and studied at the Juilliard School in New York, according to his online biography. He has performed at the likes of Carnegie Hall in New York, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.

Reached by phone Thursday, his wife, Galina Sakhnovskaya, said their music school, which provides instruction to children, teenagers, and adults, is currently closed “because of coronavirus.” She deferred other questions to his defense attorney.

Assistant District Attorney Asheeka Desai said after the hearing that she was “extremely proud” of the Temple student for coming forward to authorities, saying Yanovitsky “really had a lot of control over her career and her future.”

Glassman pointed out toward the end of the nearly hour-long hearing that the woman returned to take private classes with Yanovitsky after, as she testified, he had repeatedly embraced her and spoke to her using sexualized language. He implied that showed some level of consent and said prosecutors fell “far, far, far short” of establishing criminal conduct.

Pittman, the judge, responded tersely: “I disagree.”

Yanovitsky is scheduled to be formally arraigned April 22.