In 2002, Frederic Chiu returned to the US after 12 years in France. A Juilliard-trained concert pianist, he settled in Westport. He loved the town’s support of arts and culture; besides, his wife Jeanine Esposito lived here since 1991. She is both an innovation consultant to Fortune 500 firms and a visual artist.
The couple bought a small house in Green’s Farms. As their children grew, they searched for something larger. It took a while, but finally they found an 1806 house on Weston Road. They loved it, for its bones and because there was space to invite artists and musicians for “salons” — just like in old-time Paris.
Five minutes after seeing it, they “crazily” put in a bid. They added a letter, about their dream of sharing arts there with the community. Soon, the house — once owned by Morris Ketchum — was theirs.
They had not even furnished it, when Frederic invited a touring Argentinian pianist to perform at an “art immersion event.” Argentine friends helped prepare native food. Guests called it an “amazing” night.
Frederic and Jeanine staged a few similar events. Each celebrated art, music, film and food, for no more than 65 guests. No one is an expert in everything, so everyone is open to sharing their experiences.
But each one cost money. So last fall Frederic’s friend — internationally renowned violinist Joshua Bell — played a fundraiser there, in the warm, graceful Weston Road home the couple calls “Beechwood.”
A neighbor — a part-time Westport resident — who had come to every event took the invitations, and pages from the website, and reported Frederic and Jeanine to town officials. The couple spent their fundraising dollars on lawyers.
Planning & Zoning ruled that no permits are needed for private salons. “We’re certainly not running a business,” Frederic notes. But the time-consuming, frustrating and expensive process got them wondering: How could they take something people loved — something that opens up all the senses, includes a mix of young and established artists and performers, and gets people talking to each other, laughing, having a good time — and reach a broader audience?
Around the same time, Frederic played a concert with 100 other pianos — all over the world. It was streamed over the internet. An idea was born: add technology to old-style salons, in a worldwide web of shared intimacy.
A donor offered to provide equipment. The challenges were daunting, but on November 17 Frederic and Jeanine hosted an event in Westport. Linked “satellite salons” took place simultaneously in Boston, New Jersey, Virginia and Beijing. All were small gatherings, with Skyped music, artwork, poetry and a Chinese dancer, plus fresh, local food. (In Westport, attendees ate from Wafu, and drank teas from Arogya.)
Frederic and Jeanine have made Beechwood a site for more than their salons. He’s held intensive weekend workshops there, and the couple has collaborated with the Westport Historical Society and Westport Country Playhouse to host events. Last summer, a “Beechwood Open” brought together young and old for an open stage, open mic, open screen (for films), open walls (for art) and open table. Frederic and Jeanine envision Beechwood as “a meeting ground for all the arts in town.”
Up next: a springtime collaboration of artists, musicians, filmmakers and tech folks. They’ll start at Beechwood, then move out into the community to do more.
It’s all part of Frederic and Jeanine’s wish to make their town a “cultural salon hub.” And not just for Westport, but the world.
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