Frederic Chiu Does Debussy

Frederic Chiu is a pianist who has pushed boundaries in the world of classical music — from performance protocols and recording, to teaching and technology.

He’s also — with his wife Jeanine Esposito — host of the wonderfully eclectic Beechwood Arts salon series, in their warm, welcoming home. Check it out!

Chiu is in the spotlight once again. His latest recording combines state-of-the-art audio and video technology, masterpieces of the Western classical music canon, and contemporary works rooted in the East.

Frederic ChiuTitled “Distant Voices,” it’s the inaugural classical music release from Yamaha Entertainment Group of America.

The recording includes iconic Debussy, and music of the Szechuan-born, French- and Russian-influenced  Gao Ping. There’s both an audio CD and video DVD of Chiu performing a unique combination of favorites, and groundbreaking newer music from the piano repertoire, plus commentary from him about his background and music-making.

Chiu calls Debussy’s music “a test for the artist and instrument both.” The recording artist’s performance was captured on the Yamaha Disklavier, a true acoustic piano that incorporates fiber-optic sensing systems and the most modern technology to record and and reproduce every note with unpralleled precision.

Listeners with a Disklavier piano can replicate the performance on their own instruments.

Which is almost as good as hearing Chiu perform live, in his own Westport living room.

 

Together At The Playhouse Table

In today’s always-connected, over-scheduled world, many family traditions are lost: sharing meals. Going to live performances together. And talking about them afterward.

Which is why the Westport Country Playhouse‘s “Together at the Table Family Dinner” is such a fantastic idea.

Created to make live theater accessible to more families — and introduce young audiences to the Playhouse in a warm, informal atmosphere — the program begins with a 5:30 p.m. communal dinner in the rehearsal space next to the theater.

Actors and directors wander in, for casual conversations about the show everyone is about to see.

The meal is wonderful — and not just because kids, parents and other adults are actually eating and talking together. When the show begins, there’s a palpable connection between the audience and the actors they’ve just met. The strong feeling continues through the entire play.

Sharing a meal before the show.

Sharing a meal before the show.

A recent attendee said, “Sharing a live performance with my kids is thrilling. It’s like taking an imaginative journey together.” The shared experience is far beyond watching TV or a movie together.

On the car ride home, she added, her children could not stop talking about the play. They kept asking when they could come back.

Jim and Libby Liu of Westport have taken their 8- and 6-year-olds to the Playhouse’s children’s productions. This year, they brought them to 2 adult shows: “And a Nightingale Sang” and “Love & Money.”

Libby says the program is a great way to get younger audiences involved in mainstage shows. Her kids loved asking questions of the actors during dinner, before they got into costume.

She appreciates both the early start time (7 p.m.), and the price: $10 per ticket, which includes the pre-show meal.

Playhouse logo

Erin McAllister calls the Playhouse’s program “a rich cultural experience for the community. Without programs like this, the arts would be inaccessible to many individuals and families.”

The next 2 “Together at the Table” events are “Bedroom Farce” (Tuesday, September 1) and “Broken Glass” (Tuesday, October 13). Both are appropriate for ages 14 and up; younger at a parent’s discretion.

There are only 2 rules for “Together at the Table”:

  1. At least one family member must be a student-aged child.
  2. Have fun.

(To purchase “Together at the Table” tickets, call 203-227-4177. For more information, click here.)

Staples High School Expansion Plans Released

The “new” Staples High School is already a decade old. Ten years after opening, the 3-story building still looks fresh.

But the school population has risen. It’s now nearly 1,900 — 100 students over the 1,800 it was planned for. Projections — based on demographic trends, as well as housing starts and the addition of multi-family housing in Westport — show enrollments of 1,900 or so students for at least the next several years.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

With those figures in mind — and current and future advances in areas like science, technology, art, engineering, math, robotics, 3D modeling, social studies and world languages, as well as increased state graduation credit requirements — superintendent of schools Elliott Landon has released a Facility Planning Study.

The 43-page document is based on work by Fuller & D’Angelo (the architects of record for the 2005 addition/renovation), ASW Engineers and CPS Cost Estimators.

The informational guide — conceptual in nature — offers 3 potential building additions. The unanimous recommendation of all parties was a single-level scheme. It provides a 2-story engineering and robotics lab on the southeast corner (near the current horticulture garden); another 2-story conference space opposite it, then more classrooms and auxiliary spaces connected to current corridors and the cafeteria area, toward the gym. This creates a new circulation loop eastward (by the back parking lot) of the current library.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction -- shown in white -- would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction — shown in white — would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria and gym.

The cost estimate totals $21.2 million. State reimbursement could return $2 million to the town.

The plan is of course in the early stages. Public input — plus many rounds of commission meetings, beginning with the Board of Education on Monday night — lie ahead.

Old Mill Art Show: A Resident’s Dissent

Yesterday, “06880” previewed Clark Hanford’s art show. Set for Old Mill Beach this weekend, it drew readers’ praise for its open-air creative funkiness.

But Westport is not Westport without controversy.

A beach-area resident writes:

The so-called “art show” has an impact on the neighborhood, legal and otherwise. It makes the already difficult parking situation horrible for residents, and anyone else wishing to use the beach.

This event is a commercial enterprise. As you can see in the sign, there will be an auction. Old Mill Road, Compo Cove and the beach are zoned residential areas. The parking lot isn’t Jesup Green or Parker Harding Plaza, serving commercial businesses.

A Parks & Rec study indicated there are not enough spaces for residents and fellow Westporters. There will never be enough spaces. Adding in the folks on Hillspoint and in the area who “dump” their cars there, and regular legal usage for enjoying the beach, it is problematic at best.

Is there a need to hold a for- profit event during the summer months? Wouldn’t a time before Memorial Day or after Labor Day be more appropriate (unless of course there is a financial incentive)?

Should someone be compelled to support this art show, park at Compo Beach and walk over. It’s a lovely walk (ask Dan Woog — he does it!).

There is limited parking at Old Mill Beach. An arrow (top right) shows the site of this weekend's art show. (Photo/Google Maps)

There is limited parking at Old Mill Beach. An arrow (top right) shows the site of this weekend’s art show. (Photo/Google Maps)

1st Day Of School!

In honor of the 1st day of the 2015-16 school year, “06880” celebrates the very 1st day of a new school.

Back in 1953, Coleytown Elementary School opened its then-modern doors. Fred Cantor — an indefatigable researcher and (more importantly) 1965 Coleytown El grad — has unearthed a fascinating scrapbook documenting that initial year.

Created by 5th graders Marcia Sorisi, Karen Olson and Jan Pontius, it offers an intriguing look into bygone days.

For example, famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator Stevan Dohanos created a mural for the lobby of the new building his young children attended.

Called “American Heritage,” it showed scenes like the Liberty Bell, flag and “American Indians.” Below, he puts the finishing touches on 1 of the 3 panels.

Coleytown El - Stevan DohanosTelevision was relatively new in 1953. Here’s how the school reacted:

Coleytown El - TV

The librarian — Mrs. Stevenson — said: “Nowadays … if children don’t become readers when they are small, they probably never will.”

Interscholastic sports were big in Westport’s elementary schools (in 1953, the others were Greens Farms, Bedford and Saugatuck). Besides the Coleytown baseball team — in spiffy Major League-type uniforms below — there were reports of the 6th grade girls playing Bedford in kickball, and the boys basketball team meeting Bedford as a fundraiser.

Coleytown El - interscholastic baseball

The 5th graders wrote about everyone getting polio shots — without any kind of anti-vaccine movement — as well as a “Dental Honor Roll.”

Coleytown El - Dental honor roll

The young Coleytown El students did plenty of writing, back in the day. Patricia Ferrone analyzed why she liked the school: “It is very modern. The teachers are very nice.” Also, Mrs. James gave gum chewing days. And there were water fountains, a built-in sink, maps of the world, plate lunches and a health room.Coleytown El - Why I like by Patricia Ferrone

One more tidbit from the scrapbook: the creation of a class newspaper. The goal was to experience “the task which faces newsmen in collecting the news.”

The editor-in-chief was a boy named Gordon Joseloff. Sounds like the experience served him well. Before winning 2 terms as 1st selectman, Joseloff was a CBS  correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. Today, he’s editor and publisher of WestportNow.com.

If you’ve got memories of your 1st year in a new Westport school — or elementary school memories of any kind from here — click “Comments” below. Let’s celebrate the school year ahead with a fun look back!

(Hat tips: Fred Cantor and Carol Borrman)

You Can’t Get There From Here

Elm Street was partially closed today, as part of the ongoing Bedford Square construction project.

Traffic was detoured into the Christ & Holy Trinity Church parking lot.

Elm Street

That made sense — except the only way out of there is Elm Street.

There’s an entrance to the lot on Myrtle Avenue. But it’s clearly marked one-way. You can’t use it to exit the lot.

So perplexed — and none-too-happy — drivers circled through the parking lot, exited back to the open section of Elm Street, and turned onto Main Street.

The same way they’d come.

A Tale Of 2 Restaurants

Westport’s Splash-less summer is nearing an end. The waterside restaurant at Longshore — and its very popular patio bar — closed last winter.

A new tenant — Pearl of Longshore — is leasing space from the town. But renovations are going slowly.

Very slowly.

As in, making the North Avenue/Merritt Parkway bridge project look like warp speed.

The steps to Splash, and the Inn at Longshore.

The steps to Splash.

Today, for example, no one was working.

The target date of December probably won’t be met.

And if the current pace proceeds, we may be looking at a 2nd Splash-less summer next year.

The scene today inside Splash...

The scene today inside Splash, after the entire summer…

...and outdoors.

…and outdoors.

Meanwhile, a full crew has been hard at work in Saugatuck.

They’re transforming the venerable Mansion Clam House into a very good looking Parker Steak House.

A new look for an old building.

A new look for an old building.

Sheetrocking is set for this week. They seem confident they’ll be done in 2 months.

A full crew working at Parker Steak House.

A full crew working at Parker Steak House.

The new interior features a handsome cathedral ceiling.

The new interior features a handsome cathedral ceiling.

When the workers are done at Parker Steak House, perhaps they can head over the river. A new job is waiting.

Down By The Old Mill Art Show

Two of Westport’s identities — arts town and beach town — meet this Saturday and Sunday (August 29-30). Clark Hanford presents his annual Old Mill Beach Art Show.

Westport is also a hedge fund town. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a billionaire to buy some great art at this show.

It’s a wonderful, funky event. There’s a neighborhood feel, but everyone is welcome.

Clark — a 1962 Staples High School graduate — is a very talented artist. (If you’ve ever wandered by his house — the yellow gingerbread-style home bordering the Old Mill path to Compo cove — you’ve probably admired some of his work, in and around his yard. You’ve also seen his old-time electric car, but that’s another “06880” post.)

Clark Hanford advertises his art show, in front of his gingerbread-style house.

Clark Hanford advertises his art show, in front of his gingerbread-style house.

This year, Clark’s added a few others to his show. There’s noted designer (and 1965 Staples grad) Miggs Burroughs; whimsical clockmaker Steve Lunt; Westporter Ade Van Duyn; Compo Cove artist Greg Puhy; Old Mill artist Isaac Sonsino, and Claudia Schattman, whose mosaics decorate (among other things) the old-time parking garage behind Old Mill. (Click here to see her very cool work.)

The works will be spread out on Clark’s lawn, and hung on his front and side gates and fence. Every piece is unique. It’s all for sale — including this great wooden doghouse advertisement Clark created just for the show:

Clark Hanford - Old Mill Art Show

(The Old Mill Beach Art show runs Saturday and Sunday, August 29 and 30, 10 a.m.-5  p.m. The address is 31 Old Mill. Of course, parking is very, very tight.) 

Virtually Oculus

Two months ago, the Westport Library bought an Oculus Rift. They lacked a computer with a graphics card big enough for the virtual reality headset that generates a crazy, immersive virtual world — but that’s the way the library rolls.

The Rift was about to hit the general consumer market. Library staffers knew it would be big. They snagged one of the last 2nd-generation developers’ kits. Then they went to work, figuring out what to do with it.

Nate Allen — a Maker Space volunteer who’s home-schooled in Fairfield — put the appropriate computer pieces together. (I asked him if it took all summer. Nope: 2 hours.)

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

The other day, I took it for a test drive. I’d never donned a virtual reality headset before — I’m not exactly a hardcore gamer — but despite a warning from Alex Giannini, the library’s manager of digital experience, that I might get nauseous, I opted for the Rift’s rollercoaster ride.

I have to say: It’s pretty freakin’ cool. I zoomed up, down and through some crazy Alice in Wonderland-type scenes. But with the Rift, I also looked all around — even over my shoulder — and became immersed in some great virtual reality scenes.

The Rift will be available for everyone 13 and up. But, Alex knows, the core demographic is teenagers.

“That’s great,” he says. “This will get them to the library. They’ll play video games, but they’ll stay to help out. Maybe it will inspire some of them to get into developing games too.”

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Rift will be unveiled Labor Day weekend, at the library’s Blues, Views & BBQ booth. Later this fall it will be used as part of the library’s Teen Gaming Night.

Alex loves the Rift. “It’s so far beyond previous generations of virtual reality, I can’t even describe it,” he says. “We’re on the verge of something huge.”

As usual, the Westport Library leads the way.

Local Playwright Scores At The Fringe

With 200 theater and dance offerings at venues spread throughout the East Village and Lower East Side — the New York International Fringe Festival has something for everyone.

TimeOut New York says:

The wild variety of Fringe offerings includes musicals, experimental pieces, classical revivals and ramshackle new works about small penises, Lena Dunham and pretty much every subject in between. Some may go on to glory (like Fringe Festival alumni “Urinetown” and “Silence! The Musical”), while others will fade into well-deserved obscurity.

One of those shows — perhaps the next “Urinetown”? — is “To Each Their Own.” It was written by Westporter Tracy Knight Narang.

The 5-actor show is about a couple who — after years of infertility — suddenly become pregnant. Soon, however, big moral issues and dark family secrets threaten their marriage.

It’s been called “provocative,” “intriguing” and “beautifully directed.”

To Each Their Own

The 1st 2 performances sold out. The next — and last — 2 are set for this Saturday (August 29, 7 p.m.) and Sunday (August 30, 12 p.m.) at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk Street.

Support your local playwright! Buy tickets here.

(Hat tip: Martha Aasen)