Tag Archives: Beechwood Arts & innovation

COVID-19 Roundup: The Gift Of Music; Helping Hands; Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! And what a way to celebrate, with this inspiring story.

Stephen Wall played in the legendary Staples High School band Smoke. After graduating in 1970, then earning a degree from the Hartt School of Music, he’s spent the past 40 years as a professional opera singer, primarily with the Seattle Opera. “La Bohème” would have been his 100th production, but the coronavirus put an end to that.

Stephen — whose wife Ginna is on the front lines, working at the University of Washington hospital — has been teaching Zoom lessons to private voice students during the crisis.

To get out of his basement studio, he took his string bass and a small speaker outside. To his surprise, neighbors out for a walk in his Ballard neighborhood stopped, smiled and chatted (from a distance). “They longed for a connection to the world they knew before,” Stephen says.

Last week, he brought a guitar amplifier outside. He hooked it up to some opera karaoke tracks, and began singing “popular Italian stuff.”

All week long, he sang outside. Friday’s performance of “Nessun Dorma,” from Puccini’s “Turandot,” was particularly memorable.

Now it’s been captured for eternity by Ginna, on YouTube. Listen to Stephen’s resonant voice. Check out the rapt attention of everyone, of all ages. Enjoy the applause at the end. Bellissimo! (Hat tip: Patty Graves and Mary Gai)


Jeremy Sherman graduated from Staples High School in 2013. He’s now in the MD/Ph.D. program at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, and volunteers at their free East Harlem clinic, serving people without health insurance.

More than 10% of their population have tested positive for COVID-19. Most have lost jobs; with little savings, they face food and housing insecurity.

Jeremy’s aunt, Suzanne Sherman Propp, asks “06880” readers to consider helping. Click here for details.

Jeremy Sherman


During the COVID-19 lockdown in China, Gao Ping composed “Bitter Cold Night” for violin and piano. The touching piece honored Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old doctor whose early warning about the virus was denounced by Chinese authorities. Dr. Li soon became one of the first fatalities of the disease.

Gao Ping chose Frederic Chiu — the internationally known pianist, who recently recorded a CD of his music — to premiere the piece.

Chiu — co-founder with his wife Jeanine Esposito of the Beechwood Arts & Innovation series, at their Weston Road home — performs the work this Wednesday (April 15) with his brother Cornelius Chiu, a longtime violinist in the Chicago Symphony.

Wednesday’s performance (6 to 7 p.m. EDT) airs during Beechwood’s Facebook Live event (click here). The hour includes other music, art, special guests and more.


This morning, Senator Richard Blumenthal joined Food for the Front Lines,  delivering several hundred Easter Sunday meals to healthcare workers at Stamford Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport.

Food for the Front Lines was started by Westporter Nicole Straight, as a way to support both the Connecticut restaurant industry and healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds raised go to purchase meals for first responders and medical personnel.

Last month, Food for the Front Lines delivered meals to Westport EMS.


Meanwhile, my daily bike ride around town brought me to Christ & Holy Trinity Church’s well-masked, properly distanced, drive-by Easter Bunny.

Aarti Khosla — the generous owner of Le Rouge Aartisan Chocolates — created 200 Easter baskets. Thanks to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, they were available to all (first come, first served). An Easter miracle!

“06880” blogger meets the Easter Bunny. Safely, of course. (Photo/Kevin Bidgood)


And finally: Whether you celebrate Easter or not, who can resist Judy Garland and Fred Astaire?

Ben Franklin Meets Beechwood

Last week, Beechwood Arts & Innovation held its 1st-ever Ben Franklin Dinner.

Modeled after the Junto — a club Franklin created for “mutual improvement” of the self, the community and society — BFDs draw together a dozen or so guests from a diverse cross-section of cultures and generations, with a mix of professions from the arts, science, business, civics and education.

Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin

Each Ben Franklin Dinner begins with a toast and a bite to eat. After a short artistic or music performance comes dinner. A guided conversation ensues, around that evening’s topic.

One of the attendees at Beechwood Arts was Alicia Cobb. She says:

Last week I attended a dinner with 12 other people. I knew the hosts but most of the others I had never met, or only in passing.

When I arrived I quickly realized I was completely different than everyone. I felt out of place for the first 10 minutes or so. A woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. We talked for 10 minutes, before the facilitator got our attention.

The topic of the dinner discussion was empathy. As you read this, take a moment to define empathy for yourself. What does it mean to you?

We were asked to do this. Every answer was different, but similar. Each person had a different point of view, but we all took the time to really think about them.

After 2 hours of discussion, I realized I wasn’t that different. We all had very diverse backgrounds, but were brought into the room for a reason. That was the whole point.

Attendees at Beechwood's first Ben Franklin Day dinner. Alicia Cobb is in the bottom row, 2nd from right. Hosts Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu are in the middle row, center and far right.

Attendees at Beechwood’s first Ben Franklin Day dinner. Alicia Cobb is in the bottom row, 2nd from right. Hosts Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu are in the middle row, center and far right.

One of these people was a 91-year-old woman with many stories. I was intrigued by her essence; her independence, and how much pride she took in every word she said and every step she made.

I saw myself in this woman. I imagine that if I am blessed enough to make it to 91, I’ll be something like her.

I’m not the social butterfly that most people might think I am. I am sometimes socially awkward, and often struggle meeting new people. This is a challenge I’ve been working to overcome my entire life. Being around that table with this particular group struck a chord in me. I know I will never be the same again.

The point is: You belong. We all belong here or we wouldn’t be here. You may often feel out of place, but you deserve to be here.

beechwood-logoI’ll practice the art of empathy more actively now. I’ll strike up conversations with strangers and go places I’ve never been because I want to, because I need to. The world needs more of this — the ability to be different yet the same. Thank you to our hosts who challenged us in such a way.

Go have conversation with people you think you have nothing in common with. Go places you’ve never been. Find some kind of common ground with someone you are totally opposed to. Practice empathy; put yourself in another person’s shoes and really feel what they are feeling.

You can’t grow in your comfort zone. Get out of there. Let the healing begin.

In 1727 — the year Ben Franklin held his 1st dinner — a copper beech tree on Weston Road  was just a sapling.

Eighty years later, the home that is now Beechwood was built.

Two centuries after that, Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito own and love Beechwood. 

Beechwood House, with its magnificent copper beech tree.

Beechwood House, with its magnificent copper beech tree.

They share it with wonderfully diverse people, through their Beechwood Arts & Innovation program. Now they’ve added Ben Franklin Dinners to it.

Franklin started them decades before we became a country. Today, we need them more than ever.

(Click here to read more about Beechwood Arts’ 1st Ben Franklin Dinner.)

Immersive Synesthesia Experience Set For Sunday

Slowly, steadily, over the past 5 years Beechwood Arts & Innovation has built its “immersion salons” into a Westport institution.

Several times a year, Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito open their lovely Weston Road home — once owned by Morris Ketchum, and featuring a magnificent beech tree. They invite audiences to listen to, watch and learn from an ever-changing cast of artists, dancers, chefs and other creative types.

Beechwood House is a perfect place for salons.

Beechwood House is a perfect place for salons.

But this Sunday’s event (October 30, 2 p.m.) may be the most collaborative, wide-ranging and eclectic of all.

“Synesthesia” — which means feeling one sense by stimulating another — brings together traditional artists, along with technology makers. It’s a true celebration of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

It’s multi-generational too, including young engineers and artists, and students from Cecily Gans’ advanced culinary classes at Staples High School.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, in their Weston Road home.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu

And “Synesthesia” is cross-cultural. Frederic and Jeanine have invited a young refugee from Tanzania; a nationally known Hispanic storyteller, and an African American peace activist/singer.

“Synesthesia” — the word — refers to the crossing of sensory wires. Sounds stimulate colors; numbers stimulate shapes; words stimulate smells.

“Synesthesia” — the salon — will stimulate all who immerse themselves in it.

(For more information or tickets on Sunday’s event, click here.)

Joshua Bell Plays Westport

It’s one of the little things that make Westport special.

Frederic Chiu has known Joshua Bell since they were kids in Indiana. So when Chiu — an internationally renowned pianist — asked the universally acclaimed violinist to help celebrate the 5th anniversary of Beechwood Arts & Innovation, Chiu’s innovative, immersive arts-and-culinary salon, Bell’s answer was “of course!”

Which is how last night, Saugatuck Congregational Church hosted an intimate concert of world-class music.

Joshua Bell, on the Saugatuck Church stage.

Joshua Bell, on the Saugatuck Church stage.

Chiu and  his wife Jeanine Esposito hold most Beechwood events in their handsome 1806 Weston Road home (highlighted by a spectacular 300-year-old copper beach beech tree). But the Bell venue needed a somewhat bigger venue, and Saugatuck Church was happy to help.

Chiu and Bell (on his 1713 Stradivarius) performed Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata and the rousing “Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs)” by Sarasate. They were joined by soprano Larisa Martinez for numbers by Gounod and Puccini. The appreciative audience roared its approval after every piece.

Before they played, WQXR’s Elliott Forrest led a conversation with Bell and Chiu. They talked about their long friendship, the rigors of touring — and the importance of arts education for all.

Bell pointed to the balcony, where a number of young musicians sat. Their seats were sponsored by area residents, whom the violinist praised for their generosity.

Westporters sometimes wonder whether we’ve lost a bit of our arts heritage.

Chiu’s appearance last night with his friend — and their stunning performance — proved we’re still at the top of our game.

Joshua Bell Plays Westport — Again

Joshua Bell is the most famous violinist of our time. Wherever he plays — around the world — he attracts adoring, sold-out audiences.

Despite his grueling recording and performing schedule, Bell often finds time for Westport.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

In 2012 Bell helped launch Beechwood Arts and Innovation, the Westport non-profit known for its creative, eclectic Arts Immersion Salons. Music, art, film, performance, food and technology — all come together in a stunning 1806 home owned by Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito.

Bell — a longtime friend of Chiu, Beechwood’s co-founder and himself an internationally acclaimed pianist — kicked off the 1st year by donating an unforgettable concert of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

He was joined by Chiu, actor James Naughton of Weston, and 13-year-old theater student Rachel Rival. Afterwards, chef Raul Restrepo of the former River Café served an equally memorable dinner.

Several years earlier, Bell appeared with Chiu — with whom he has played for 35 years — at the sold-out Malloy lecture for the Westport Library. A few days later they performed at the Westport Country Playhouse with Audra McDonald, Glenn Close and Tony Bennett, honoring Westporter Joanne Woodward.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Next month, Bell returns to town. On Thursday, August 25 (8 p.m., United Methodist Church) — in the midst of his own vacation — he’ll give a “high 5” to Beechwood Arts & Innovation, for their 5th-year fundraiser. Chiu once again joins him on piano.

The event includes a VIP Meet-and-Greet, a conversation where they reminisce about their early days as aspiring musicians (with WQXR’s Elliot Forrest), and a celebration party at Beechwood Arts, across the street from the church.

Beechwood logoThough every seat at a fundraiser is important, Beechwood is reserving 40 seats for patrons to sponsor young music students from underserved communities. Local music non-profits Spread Music Now, Turnaround Arts, Intake, Neighborhood Studios and KEYS are helping fill those seats.

Students will sit close to the stage, and talk to Bell and Chiu during intermission. Their parents can share in the event — and all will leave with a CD.

“In our youth, both Joshua and I were deeply inspired seeing master musicians play live,” Chiu says. “Those experiences left impressions that lasted a lifetime.

“This inspires both of us to work with students. And it’s why at Beechwood we regularly include students alongside masters of their craft, in all of our events across music, art, film and performance.”

Bell and Chiu have been friends since meeting at music competitions in their native Indiana. They’ve toured together for nearly 40 years, in the U.S., Europe and South America.

Their friendship will be on display August 25. So will their world-class talents, their deep love of the arts, and their wonderful generosity to all.

(Tickets must be reserved in advance. For tickets or more information, click here or call 203-226-9462.)

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played "Four Seasons." On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played “Four Seasons.” On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.