In its 21 years, Booked for the Evening — the Westport Library’s signature fundraising event — has brought many big names to town.
Tom Brokaw, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and others have enlightened and entertained us, on the cramped main floor.
But now the library’s Transformation Project is almost complete. Stacks of books have been replaced by a Forum — a dramatic event space framed by a state-of-the-art stage and screen.
This year’s Booked for the Evening is the first chance for the public to see the transformed library. Organizers needed an extra-special honoree, someone as compelling as the new space itself.
They did not have to look far. Frederc Chiu — the internationally acclaimed, award-winning virtuoso pianist, collaborator, innovator, entrepreneur and Westporter — will inaugurate the Forum’s stage.
And he’ll do it using a spectacular new piano, with a great back story. But more on that later.
Chiu has performed on 5 continents, in all 50 states, and with orchestras like the National Symphony in Washington DC, the China National Symphony and the BBC Concert Orchestra Symphony. He has collaborated with friends like Joshua Bell.
But he’s also our neighbor.
Chiu’s introduction to Westport came in 1986, when he won the prestigious Young Performers International Competition (now named for Heida Hermanns) here.
In the 1990s he lived in Paris. Whenever he played in New York, he visited his friend Jeanine Esposito here. After they married, Westport — with its arts heritage, and proximity to New York and Europe — seemed like a perfect place to be.
Chiu loved the Westport Library. He researched music and travel. He checked out CDs, DVDs and books. And whatever he could not find, the staff tracked down through interlibrary loans.
Esposito, meanwhile, helped then-director Maxine Bleiweis develop the next phas of the MakerSpace.
Current director Bill Harmer has impressed the couple too. Recently, he announced that the library will be the winter home of Chiu and Esposito’s Beechwood Arts Immersion Salon series.
“Today, libraries are community hubs” Chiu notes. “They’re places to create bonds, where people can communicate. And they’re accessible to all.”
Chiu is excited that the Westport Library is expanding that mission by including the arts in its transformation. Audio and video production have dedicated spaces, next to the impressive new stage.
On Tuesday, June 4, Chiu’s Booked for the Evening performance debuts not only that stage, but also the library’s new Yamaha Disklavier piano.
It’s an astonishing instrument. Besides its marvelous sound, the piano is a technological marvel. It can play 50,000 songs (like a player piano). It also connects with any other Disklavier anywhere in the world.
And with its video capabilities, it allows Chiu to do something he’ll showcase on Tuesday: He can play a duet with himself. He’s chosen Chopin’s only work for 2 pianos.
That’s just one piece of Chiu’s performance. He’ll play with Timo Andres, an award-winning young pianist/composer.
He also brings his interactive production of Prokofiev’s popular “Romeo and Juliet: The Choice” ballet to the stage. At the end, Booked guests vote for either the tragic conclusion, or the composer’s little-known happy ending.
But back to that Yamaha piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and her brother, David Waldman. It honors their mother, Jessica Waldman, who died in January.
The donation has special meaning for Stacy, who helped start Booked for the Evening 21 years ago.
“My mother was passionate about theater and music,” Stacy says. “David and I wanted to give something to the library that really represents her. The piano will be part of the stage. She will live on every day.”
Last week Chiu sat at the piano, in the still-unfinished Forum, and smiled.
“I’m being honored, and I’ll be onstage. But the soloist is always the instrument and the music. I do my best to put them out front. I’m of service to great music, and a great piano.”
Chiu notes that when the piano was invented more than 300 years ago, it “brought music to the masses. It was as much an innovation as the printing press and computer were, for bringing information to the public. Playing it is unlike any other activity people can do.”
No one plays better than Frederic Chiu.
And there is no better choice for Booked for the Evening, to inaugurate the Westport Library’s new age of arts and innovation.
(For more information on the June 4 Booked for the Evening, including tickets, click here.)