Tag Archives: Beechwood Arts & innovation

Beechwood Arts: Turning The Page To Chapter 3

There are many chapters in Beechwood’s storied history.

The 3-acre property on Weston Road includes a handsome 1806 house, carriage house, and stunning 400-year-old beech tree.’

For the past 12 years it’s been the home of world renowned pianist Frederic Chiu and his wife, equally talented artist Jeanine Esposito. For nearly as long, they’ve shared it with the community.

Beechwood House — with its magnificent copper beech tree — is the site of fascinating salons.

The couple created and curated Beechwood Arts & Innovation. Originally a way to showcase music in a sunny, circular room, the non-profit soon evolved into a multi-generational, ever-changing, truly innovative salon.

Violinist Joshua Bell, artists in every medium, chefs — and an eclectic cast of culturally curious area residents — gathered every 3 or 4 months. They listened, observed, ate, asked questions, debated, and gained new perspectives on our universe.

Food was an artful part of the Beechwood experience.

Chapter 1 of Beechwood Arts & Innovation was its workshops, Chiu and Esposito say. They created a destination, a physical community where could join together and connect, over a shared discipline.

Chapter 2 involved greater collaboration, across arts genres, and an outreach to even more diverse artists and audiences. When COVID struck, and intimate gatherings grew difficult, Beechwood pivoted to interactive livestreams and “Salons Around the World,” happening simultaneously in a variety of venues.

A piano performance was  just part of one salon.

Now — at the same time Esposito and Chiu are planning their 100th Beechwood event October 30 — they’re preparing for Beechwood’s Chapter 3.

Soon, the magnificent property will be on the market. The 216-year-old home they’ve spent the past 2 years renovating will be sold. They’ll stay in the area. though — and shepherd Beechwood into Chapter 3.

The end of the pandemic is only part of the reason for the latest evolution. In recent months, Chiu’s touring and piano competition judging schedule has increased dramatically.

He’s on the road constantly. And when he’s not touring, he’s teaching. He began during COVID; now he’s doing it in the classroom, away from Westport.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, at their Beechwood home.

Yet there are still concerns about large gatherings in small spaces, especially as the weather forces more people indoors. Summertime “Beechwood Open” series — conducted outdoors — are impractical most of the year.

The summer 2021 gathering was a great success. Ongoing extensive renovations made this year’s Open impractical, however.

Esposito and Chiu had originally planned small repairs. “It’s an 1806 house though,” she notes. “One thing always leads to another.”

The immediate next “other” for Beechwood is October 30 (2 to 6 p.m., 52 Weston Road). Guests can wander around, at their leisure. There will be  performances under the tree and in the music room — and an open piano and stage.

In addition, 21 artists will offer tiny paintings, commemorating secrets from the property’s long history.

A scavenger hunt will enable attendees to see parts of the house they’ve never been in. A tag sale — with items grouped by collections (and vintage outfits, hats, jewelry, scarves and bags) — will help Chiu and Esposito downsize.

Plans are not finalized for all of Chapter 3. It will, however, involve collaboration with institutions like the Westport Library, MoCA, SHU Community Theater and other partners. Small dinners will continue, with guest musicians and artists.

And a name has already been chosen: “The Hive.”

“Beehives are totally collaborative,” Esposito says.

“And buzzing with activity,”” Chiu adds.

(Guests at the October 30 event should park at the United Methodist Church on Weston Road, across the street from Beechwood. There is no charge, but pre-registration is requested; click here.) 

(“06880” regularly covers Westport’s arts scene. Please click here to contribute to this hyper-local blog.)

Roundup: Michael Bolton, Lynyrd Sykynrd …

And the winner of “American Song Contest” on NBC is …

… not Michael Bolton.

Connecticut’s (and Westport’s) contestant finished 7th Monday night. After 8 weeks, the title went to AleXa of Oklahoma.

But our guy made the semifinals — the top 10 out of 55, in our national version of Eurovision. And our neighbor is still #1 in our hearts. Click here for the full story.  (Hat tip: Mark Mathias)

Screenshot from the “American Song Contest” website.

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The schedule for paving (and closing) Riverside Avenue from Charles Street to Railroad Place has changed again.

It’s now tomorrow and Friday (May 12 and 13), from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re dropping off or picking up at the New York-bound platform, take note!

Road paving here soon.

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There are agendas. And then there are agendas.

Here’s what the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee will discuss tomorrow, beginning at 8:30 a.m. (click here for the Zoom link).

I. Opening Remarks – Chair
A. Overall Meeting Goals
I. Approval of Minutes (4/2022 Meeting)
II. Strategic Priority Review
A. Parking Lots Reinvention
1. Downtown Lots Design Master Plan
a) June kickoff meeting with core steering team
b) Planning for public engagement and project timeline
2. Baldwin Lot – completion targeted for end of June
B. Pedestrian Access
1. Streetscape Improvements
a) Bench installs
b) Additional cans for high traffic locations
Strategic Priorities (cont)
Pedestrian Access (cont.)
2. Main Street Improvements
a) Status (bump out and re-pavement)
C. Sustainability
1. Solarization
a) Initial meetings with consultant
2. Alternative Transportation
a) Bird proposal
(1) background
D. Maintenance
1. Special Services District
a) Last Ordinance Draft
b) Cost development – RFQ

If you can’t make the 8:30 start, perhaps you can watch during dinner.

Main Street magic (Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

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The Staples High School boys lacrosse program is adding 4 honorees to their Hall of Fame.

Bill Rexford (Class of 1986), Ryan Kubie (’96), Paul McNulty (Staples ’64, head coach 2009-18) and the 16-0, undefeated regular season 2010 team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game against New Canaan. The contest begins at 3 p.m. The Wreckers are currently ranked #2 in the state.

Rexford and Kubie starred in the early days of Staples lacrosse. The ’10 team made history.

McNulty, meanwhile, was one of the keys to the growth of Staples lacrosse into the powerhouse it is today.

He took over a program that had had 3 coaches in 4 years. Within a year, he coached that ’10 squad to its undefeated record. The Wreckers reached 2 state championship games during his tenure.

McNulty returned to his alma mater — where he starred with Laddie Lawrence on the track team — after a hugely successful career coaching Wilton High lacrosse: 3 state championships, 2 state runners-up, and 20 All-Americans, among other achievements.

McNulty is a member of both the US Lacrosse and FCIAC Halls of Fame, and has earned numerous other honors. During his 50-plus-year career, he also coached football, soccer, tennis and track, starting at a segregated Black school in Jacksonville, Florida.

Fun fact: He was a student teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Florida with Coach Leonard Skinner, who was notorious for sending home boys with long hair. A few of them wanted to form a band, and did not want to get their hair cut.

So they quit school, formed that band, and named it after their coach: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Paul McNulty

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The Cottage of Westport has named a new chef de cuisine: Danny Oddo.

He was previously executive sous chef at The Simone in New York City. He also worked for Marc Murphy’s restaurant group, which included Landmarc in Tribeca, and was part of the opening team at the Paloma in the Hotel Hendricks.

“Growing up in New Jersey, my love of cooking stemmed from visiting local farms and spending time in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother,” Oddo says.

“I am inspired to have the opportunity to work with Chef Brian Lewis and his entire team to bring my experience and background to our guests, and to work with local farmers and purveyors to offer new flavors, textures and colors on our menu.”

Danny Oddo

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Its name is simple: Circle of Friends.

Its mission is clear: pairing local teens with special needs youngsters. They spend at least one weekend a month together, doing what friends do: bake cookies. Play games. Go bowling.

It’s a wonderful, low-key organization, loved by all who participate in it.

Their annual fundraiser and volunteer recognition is Sunday, May 22 (5:30 p.m., Beth Israel Synagogue, Norwalk). It’s always a warm, welcoming night. This year, special awards (courtesy of Senator Richard Blumenthal) will be presented to teens from Westport, Weston and surrounding towns. Despite the isolating effects of COVID, they’ve provided home visits and programs to their friends.

The evening promises good food, inspiring speeches, prizes and more. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Beechwood Arts’ final event of “UpsideDown at The Westport Library” is this Friday (May 13, 7 p.m.).

There’s a reception for 15 artists (with wine and refreshments). Their art will be projected on the 19-foot screen, and they’ll share stories of reinvention and inspiration over the past couple of years, when “the world turned upside down.”

Click here to register for the free event.

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The Westport Library middle school summer program includes math, literacy and STEAM activities. Each week the immersive experience covers a different topic, over 2 days.

Mondays center around a blend of inquiry, design, research, writing and the arts. The Tuesday class builds on the work from Monday, focusing on math, science and revision, testing and technology, with students creating a physical representation of their learning.

Students work together to solve challenging problems that are authentic, curriculum-based, and interdisciplinary. Click here for details.

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Rach’s Hope is a special organization, with a special mission: It helps families address the many challenges of a child’s critical illness.

Named for Rachel Doran — a 2018 the Staples High School National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Players costume designer, and founder of her own pajama company — the annual fundraiser is special too: a “PJ Gala.”

This year’s event raised nearly $40,000. Donations are still being accepted. Click here to learn more.

Enjoying the Rach’s Hope gala.

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In today’s “Westport … Naturally,” Canada goose parents teach their offspring to use the designated crosswalk.

(Photo/Les Dinkin)

Nice! Now if they could only teach it (and themselves) to not poop all over the beach …

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And finally … based on the Paul McNulty story above, you’d have to be brain dead not to know what today’s featured band is, right?

Roundup: Power Outages, Coleytown Portable, Optimum Bill …

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Eversource continues to restore power to the 1,450-plus customers who lost it in last night’s rain-and-wind storm.

The worst affected area was Hillspoint Road south of the I-95 bridge, down to Soundview Road. 550 customers were affected.

We’re lucky. Most trees still don’t have full leaves. If this happened a few weeks later, the damage could be much worse.

Downed tree, on Hillandale Road. (Photo/Bob
Weingarten)

We’re also lucky that this is spring break for public schools. Easton Road is closed west of North Avenue, with a number of trees down. That would have played havoc with this morning’s bus rides to our 4 North Avenue schools.

Easton Road scene. (Photo/Jeff Mitchell)

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It’s not quite the “Teardown of the Day.”

But work has begun to replace a 1,114-square foot Coleytown Elementary School portable classroom with a more modern, efficient and bigger (2,713 square feet) one.

The classroom — used most recently at Fairfield’s Holland Hill Elementary School — will solve a space crunch, due to increasing enrollment at CES.

Preparing for a new portable classroom at Coleytown Elementary School. (Photo/Jeff Mitchell)

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Matt Murray jut got his Optimum bill. Tucked inside were new “Terms of Service & Information.”

They seemed long. Really long.

Matt spread them out in his kitchen. Then he took out a tape measure.

He was right. Unfolded, they’re 35 inches long.

That’s twice the length of a newborn baby.

Optimum’s “Terms of Service & Information.” (Photo/Matt Murray)

But don’t try to read them all. They’re in a type size Matt estimates at “less than 5-point.”

On the upside, there’s a Spanish-language version on back.

“I get the feeling Optimum really cares about its customers,” Matt says, tongue firmly planted in cheeck. “I can’t figure out why people say such bad things about our cable service provider.”

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The past 2 years have turned the world upside down.

Now Beechwood Arts — the intimate, immersive arts-and-more salon — is back. They’re celebrating the resilience of the human spirt — especially the artistic innovation and reinvention that’s occurred during these upside-down times.

Beechwood’s spring season is called “Upside Down.” Both are hosted by the Westport Library, produced by their superb Verso Studios staff.

On Friday, May 6 (7 p.m.): Dan Tepfer’s #BachUpside Down. He’s performed this innovative project worldwide. He’ll then join internationally famed pianist — and Beechwood co-founder — Frederic Chiu onstage, for a lively conversation.

The following Friday (May 13, 7 p.m.), “GatherRound UpsideDown Art & Story Share” brings the community together. Art will be projected o the Library’s large screen, as artists tell their stories. The first “GatherRound” drew over 200 people.

Click here to register for Dan Tepfer’s #BachUpsideDown. Click here to register for “Gather Round Upside Down Art & Story Share.” For more information, click here.

Note about the logo below: In some Yogic traditions the Tree of Life is turned upside down. The tree exposes its essence — that which grounds it and gives it life. That reflects how this period has caused many artists to tap into their essence, discovering what truly grounds them.

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Jillian Elder — of “Finding Westport” fame — has rolled out new designs.

She’s got new tank tops, t-shirts, hoodies and mugs, all saying “203 Westport.” Click here to see, and order.

She’s also got a rainbow-colored Pride line, with more to come soon. Click here to see, and order.

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Jeff Bullwinkel grew up in Westport. He and his wife spend most of their time in Amsterdam. But they were back this weekend — just in time to enjoy the magnificent cherry trees on their South Compo Road property.

Jeff shares their beauty, as today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Jeff Bullwinkel)

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Every 33 years, 3 of the world’s most popular religions celebrate very important holidays at the same time.

This is one of those rare years. The Christian celebration of Holy Week, Jewish observation of Passover, and Muslim month of Ramadan all coincided this past weekend.

Happy Easter! Chag Sameach! Ramadan Mubarak!

Roundup: Joey’s By The Shore, Private Ryan, Grateful Dead …

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Joey’s by the Shore opened its new location — the former Elvira’s, across from Old Mill Beach, last spring.

The pandemic was in full swing. So for the past year, customers ordered through the app only. They waited outside for orders.

In one more sign that COVID is easing, Joey’s’ doors are now open. Neighbor Don Bergmann (below) was thrilled to finally go inside.

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1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

“On behalf of the Town of Westport, I want to reiterate that acts of discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in our community. Over the past year, as a country, we witnessed the murder of George Floyd, terrifying attacks against the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and countless other acts of hatred and discrimination. And in recent days, we have seen acts of anti-Semitism strikingly close to us in New York City.

Let there be no doubt, anti-Semitism has no place in our community. We respect our Jewish neighbors and visitors. Westport is an inclusive community that embraces diversity and has always celebrated all cultures and religious beliefs. We must continue to respect everyone regardless of their race, creed or ethnic origin. I encourage all in the community to reaffirm these values during this challenging period.

I stand with our friends and neighbors who feel threatened by these terrible activities. Make no mistake, Westport is focused on protecting all residents and visitors. We have stepped up security in and around our synagogues and temples and will do everything necessary to keep our community safe and free from discrimination and hate.

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Just in time for Memorial Day, the Remarkable Theater has added a very appropriate new movie to its schedule.

“Saving Private Ryan” screens on Sunday (May 30, 8 p.m.). There’s a special holiday price of $25 per car. But of course the classic World War II film is priceless.

Click here for tickets, and the rest of this week’s slate.

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Congratulations to the Staples High School girls track team. They won the FCIAC championship yesterday.

Individual winners for coach Jesse McCray’s team include Ava Harvey (long jump, 16′ 9.5″; triple jump, 34′ 3/4″) and Tatum Havemann (800 meters, 2:17.56, personal record), and Isabelle Blend (pole vault, 8′).

The 4×400 meter relay team of Francine Stevens, Olivia Bollo, Hannah Murphy and Samantha Dewitt blazed to a school record 4:01.52, winning gold.

The 4×100 meter relay squad (Molly Liles, Bollo, Murphy, Laura Spheeris) also set a school record, placing 2nd in 50.13.

The 4×800 meter team (Leigh Foran, Josie Dolan, Nicole Holmes, Lyah Muktavaram) took silver in 9:48.98. Also second: Francine Stevens (100, 12.41; 200, 25.05) and Dewitt (400, 59.68, personal record).

Francine Stevens won her 100 meter heat. (Photo/Barry Guiduli)

FCIAC champions! (Photo/Cari Moore)

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Beechwood Arts’ 2nd of 3 “Classical Smackdown Concerts is set for Thursday (May 27, 7 p.m.). Pianist Frederic Chiu will perform Bach vs. Glass — and an international audience will vote for their favorite.

Frederic’s first of 3 Classical Smackdown Concerts “Heart & Soul” was very exciting with interesting results from the first ever Global Smackdown Vote! The audience was truly global with people from Australia, China, Europe and all over the US!

Click here for details, and tickets.

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Westport Business Networking International (BNI) will sponsor a “Discover Your Well Being Expo” on June 16 (6 to 9 p.m., Salon Paul Michael, Westport).

The free event includes informational booths from a chiropractor, personal trainer, functional medicine specialist, organizer, clean crafted wine distributor, counseling service, plus beverages, hors d’oeuvres and interactive demonstrations.

BNI is a networking group of business professionals. They seek one new members in each of these categories: interior designer, home inspector, developer, heating and air conditioning contractor, chef, and attorneys who practice estate and elder law.

Email salonpaulmichael@gmail.com to register. Walk-ins are welcome too. For more information on BNI, click here.

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Terrapin is an aptly named Grateful Dead cover band. They’ve built a devoted area following.

And next month they’ll play a special, private, 100-person outdoor show, at Wakeman Town Farm. Fine food and themed beverages by Marcia Selden Catering are available for pre-purchase.

The June 26 event is a benefit for CLASP Homes, the great non-profit that helps people with disabilities. Click here for tickets.

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo comes from Grayson Braun. She writes:

“This little guy has been hanging around our yard — probably because we are one of the few houses in our immediate area without a dog. He has enjoyed our grass, and the occasional hosta leaf.”

(Photo/Grayson Braun)

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And finally … I can’t believe I missed Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday yesterday. (I also can’t believe he is 80.)

I could link to dozens of his songs that have impacted my life. I could make an entire list of those with I’m-still-discovering-more-there lyrics (“Memphis Blues Again,” “Queen Jane Approximately,” “Desolation Row”), those with political power (“The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Hurricane”), and those whose studio musicians are vastly underrated (“Like a Rolling Stone,” “Jokerman,” “Changing of the Guards”).

But I’ll narrow today’s selection down to 4 that, to me, define Bob Dylan. What are yours?

 

Roundup: Art Show, Beechwood, Private Benjamin …

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Here’s news to put a spring in your step:

Staples High School’s Jazz Combo earned 1st place at the 2021 National Jazz Festival this weekend. They competed in Small Ensemble Division 1 Live Performance.

Leading the quintet were seniors Lucas Lieberman (piano) and Abe Rubin (bass). The other members are sophomores: Noah Jahnel (tenor saxophone), Delaney McGee (trumpet), and Witt Lindau (drums).

Lucas was named the Superior Musician for the division, while Delaney and Witt were selected as 2 of the 3 Outstanding Musicians.

The Staples High School Jazz Ensemble participated in the Large Ensemble Division 1 Live Performance competition. Though they did not place, the adjudicators called the ensemble a “swingin’ band” and “one of the better bands that we’ve heard, in a tough division.” Congratulations to director Phil Giampietro, and all the musicians!

Click here to hear the Jazz Combo. Click here for the Jazz Ensemble.

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Westport’s back-to-normal journey continued yesterday, with a pair of just-like-old-times events.

The Westport Woman’s Club held its annual-except-for-last-year art show. Paintings, photos, ceramics — all by local artists — were admired (and bought) by a large, joyful bunch of happy-to-be-back art lovers.

Miggs Burroughs and Nina Bentley were among the artists exhibiting at yesterday’s Westport Woman’s Club show.

And  Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito opened Beechwood — their Weston Road home, where they host regular arts salons (and more) — to the public, for the first time in a year.

The grounds were spectacular. Especially the centerpiece: an ancient copper beech tree, which gives the property and the arts series its name.

The Beechwood copper birch tree. (Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

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COVID stopped many things this year — but not the National Charity League.

Yesterday, Staples High School’s chapter of the mother/daughter community service organization honored 5 pairs — each of whom did more than 30 hours annually — with a “car caravan.”

It ended with a ceremonial “tea” at Ned Dimes Marina, for all 16 seniors.

National Charity League seniors, at Ned Dimes Marina. Back row (from left): Lauren Spheeris, Milei Wyatt, Grace Maloney, Tatiana Bicalho, Daphne Baker, Hannah Murphy, Kaytlyn Carnahan, Callie Rourke, Kyla Race. Front row: Maya Sampath, Abby Ragland, Isabelle Gerard, Hayley Buckman, Elana Lundbye, Sarah Corneck, Chloe Chaple..

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Just added to the Remarkable Theater’s schedule: “Private Benjamin.” It’s this Thursday (May 27, 8 p.m.). The parking lot opens at 7 p.m., for tailgating.

Click here for tickets, and more shows.

“Private Benjamin”

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Boston College’s “Spoon River Revival” has won the Outstanding Creative Ensemble Award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Four cast members — including Staples High School Class of 2020 graduate Nick Rossi — were chosen to participate in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition. The award provides recognition, honor and financial assistance to outstanding student performers for the further pursuit of education. Click here for the full story.

Emily (Sophie Rossman) and George (Nick Rossi) at the soda shop, in Staples Players’ production of “Our Town.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo comes from downtown, via Frank Rosen:

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

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And finally … on this day in 1624, Peter Minuit bought Manhattan for the Dutch, from the Lenape Native Americans.

It is commonly believed the price was $24 worth of trinkets. It was actually “60 guilders worth of trade” — approximately $1,143 in 2020 dollars.

So today’s featured artist and song are no-brainers:

 

 

 

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.