Tag Archives: “Booked for the Evening”

Booked For Frederic Chiu

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project has been a daring adventure.

For nearly 2 years, officials masterminded a top-to-bottom (literally) metamorphosis of an already great institution. In less than 3 weeks they’ll cut the ribbon, opening it officially to the world.

Last night, a couple of hundred folks got a sneak peek.

The opening reception, prior to Frederic Chiu’s performance.

Library officials took the bold step of scheduling — as their first event in the new space — their signature fundraiser of the year.

Booked For The Evening is a night of fine food, socializing, and honoring a noted member of the literary or arts world. Expectations are high.

The library had never tested its innovations before a live audience. High-tech video and sound systems; a beautiful Yamaha Disklavier piano that can play itself; the vaunted grandstand seating — all rolling out for the first time ever.

Frederic Chiu accompanies himself on two pianos. To find out how, read on.

It was one of the best Booked evenings ever.

The stunning reception area; the new performing arts space; the flow, the ambiance, the energy — it was all there, just as the hundreds of men and women who had worked for so long on the project hoped (and prayed).

Westport LIbrary director Bill Harmer and Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly, enjoy the event.

Frederic Chiu — the world-renowned pianist and longtime Westporter — gave an inspired performance.

In keeping with the theme of the night — and the Transformation Project’s emphasis on creativity — there were wonderful touches.

The audience voted to see an alternative (happy) ending to Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” ballet, performed by dancers Marlon Grigsby and Harlee Trautman, as Chiu inaugurated the new piano.

Chiu then played a movement from Philip Glass’s “4 Movements for 2 Pianos,” with his protégé Timo Andres.

WSHU classical music host Kate Remington served as “Booked for the Evening” MC.

There were video — and live — tributes to the honoree.

Then, the finale: Chopin’s “Rondo in C Major, Opus 7 for 2 Pianos.” Chiu did something he’s never done, in his long career: He accompanied himself. The magic came courtesy of the Yamaha; one part was recorded weeks ago.

It was a warm, varied and community-minded evening. It flowed easily, and flawlessly.

Grandstand seating proved popular — and grand.

This morning, everyone who was there is talking about Frederic Chiu — and the newly transformed Westport Library.

It will be booked — by proud, pleased patrons — for decades to come.

(The ribbon-cutting and opening ceremonies for the new library are Sunday, June 23. Festivities begin at 11 a.m., and last until 4 p.m.)

Frederic Chiu: star of the show. (All photos/Dan Woog)

Frederic Chiu: Booked By The Library To Innovate

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.

Frederic Chiu (Photo/Chris Craymer)

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.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, at home. That’s where they host their eclectic Beechwood Arts Immersive Salons.

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.

Here’s looking at Chiu: The pianist stands in the Forum, while a video of him playing plays on the high-def screen behind the stage.

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.”

Frederic Chiu, at the beautiful new Yamaha Dislavier piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and David Waldman, in honor of their mother Jessica. (Photos/Dan Woog)

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.)

Justin Paul Wows “Booked” Crowd

During its first 19 years, the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” fundraising event has included many A-list names.

Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Alan Alda imparted wisdom to sold-out crowds.

Patti Smith and Nile Rodgers entertained them.

But “Booked” has never seen — or heard — anyone quite like the 20th honoree.

Justin Paul — the Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award-winning, white-hot songwriting star and proud Westport native — kicked the Library’s signature evening into the stratosphere last night.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate thrilled, inspired and paid homage to a crowd of 500 at Rolling Hills Country Club. (The library was unavailable, due to its ongoing Transformation project.)

Weaving together 2 themes — the importance of libraries (especially Westport’s), and his hometown’s longtime embrace of arts education — Paul was visibly moved by his “Booked” honor.

The Westport Library, he said, “nurtured my love of learning, and enhanced my understanding of the world. It’s a hopeful and beautiful place.”

Justin Paul entertained and inspired last night’s “Booked for the Evening” crowd.

Teachers like Ben Frimmer showed the “left out” middle schooler who he could really be. At Staples, Alice Lipson, David Roth and others helped him find his voice, and his life’s work.

He also cited influences from Long Lots Elementary School, Music Theatre of Connecticut, and Chris Coogan.

Of course, he’s still quite young. After videos of his life, and tributes from the likes of Hugh Jackman filled the screen, Paul joked about watching “the retrospective of a 33-year-old. Not a lot of people have their grandmother at their lifetime achievement award.”

Paul acknowledged that not everyone grows up in a town like Westport. He urged the audience to pay attention — and provide resources — to youngsters in the many places that do not provide the opportunities, and access to the arts, that his hometown does.

He then launched into 3 of his best-loved, and most meaningful, compositions: “For Forever” from “Dear Evan Hansen,” “City of Stars” (“La La Land”), and “This Is Me” (“The Greatest Showman”).

Paul — who, with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek writes beautiful, hopeful music for stage and screen — is admired by countless fans, young and old, around the globe.

But he’s a special hero to Staples students. Two generations — recent college graduates and current performing stars Mia Gentile, Tyler Jent and Michelle Pauker, along with today’s Orphenians — joined Paul on stage.

The mood was joyful. But the “Booked for the Evening” star wore the biggest smile of all.

Justin Paul at the piano, with fellow Staples graduates and current student stars.

BONUS REELMark Platt, the producer of “La La Land,” was one of the many big names appearing on video. He made a special announcement: He’s funding a new recording studio, now under construction at the Westport Library.

It will be named for Justin Paul.

Alan Alda Booked In Westport

The largest crowd in the 19-year history of the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” fundraiser listened, laughed and learned with Alan Alda last night.

After video clips from many admirers — including former Westporter Marlo Thomas, and the Chilean doctor who saved his life in 2003 — the actor/singer/director/activist/humorist/humanist (as introduced by Westport actress/singer Cynthia Gibb) took the stage.

Speaking without notes — but with tons of energy, his trademark smile and a clear love for his subjects — Alda wove together his ideas about communication, empathy, science and wonder.

A small portion of the large crowd that enjoyed Alan Alda last night at the Westport Library.

There was plenty of audience participation — even a couple of opportunities to test out his theories on active listening.

The final episode of M*A*S*H — which Alda co-wrote — drew a record audience. It still stands.

More than 3 decades later, the record library crowd understood why.

At a pre-event reception, Alan Alda jokes with Larry and Martha Aasen.

Lynsey Addario’s “Booked For The Evening”: The Back Story

The Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” fundraiser is always special. Previous honorees have included Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Oscar Hijuelos, Adam Gopnik, Will Shortz and Patti Smith.

This year, though, is especially special. On Saturday, May 9 (7:30 p.m.), the library welcomes Lynsey Addario. She’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner, internationally known role model — and a Westporter.

Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario

Lynsey’s accomplishments are — well, special. Working for the New York TimesNational Geographic and Time, she has documented life and oppression under Taliban rule in Afghanistan; conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Darfur and Congo, and humanitarian and human rights issues across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

Now, Lynsey is a noted author. It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War is an insighful, inspiring memoir. It’s also been optioned as a big-time film. Steven Spielberg will direct it, with Jennifer Lawrence playing Lynsey.

None of which may have been possible without our special Westport Library.

The other day, I asked Lynsey if she recalled her early library days.

Boy, did she.

Her parents came to Westport in the 1960s to open a salon, Phillips. They had finished hairdressing school in New Haven, and were attracted to Westport’s thriving, creative atmosphere. Artists and authors seemed to be everywhere.

As a Coleytown Elementary School student, Lynsey remembers making field trips to the “old” library. In that building, on the Post Road and Parker Harding Plaza — where Starbucks and Freshii are now — she learned how to use the card catalog, and search for books.

The "old" library, where a young Lynsey Addario learned a lot.

The “old” library, where a young Lynsey Addario learned a lot.

The “new” library — the one next to the Levitt Pavilion — opened when Lynsey was at Staples. She was discovering photography, and used the library to learn more about the field.

Today, most of Lynsey’s research is done via the internet. But she knows how important libraries are.

At the University of Wisconsin, she spent “countless” nights researching papers and utilizing resources.

“I have always seen libraries as sanctuaries,” Lynsey says. “Now, I work primarily in war zones. Basic resources like food, water, electricity and shelter are a priority. Libraries would be the greatest luxury in these places. They are a sad casualty of the realities of war.”

Lynsey Addario photographed this young girl, who died delivering twins. The Sierra Leonean wanted to earn a degree, but at 14 was forced into marriage. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

Lynsey Addario photographed this young girl, who died delivering twins. The Sierra Leonean wanted to earn a degree, but at 14 was forced into marriage. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

The Westport Library is many things, to many people. We all use it in different, and varied, ways. But all of us find — and learn — something there.

On May 9, we can learn a little bit from Lynsey Addario — who learned more than a little bit in our own across-the-street library, a very brief lifetime ago.

(For more information on “Booked for the Evening” — including tickets — click here.)

Nile Rodgers Works The Westport Crowd

Sure, Nile Rodgers’ “Booked for the Evening” honor was last week.

But the video was just posted on the Westport Library’s website. If you weren’t there — even if you were — it’s worth watching.

The musician/producer/composer/arranger/Chic co-founder is as talented a speaker as he is a musician/producer/etc.

Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers

He describes buying a house in Westport in 1979, after receiving a multi-million-dollar royalty check for “We Are Family” (to avoid New York taxes, among other things).

He hung out at clubs like Backstage and the Brook. Donna Summer and Ashford & Simpson lived here. “It was really, really fun,” Nile says. “I thought, ‘the suburbs are amazing!'”

He talks about being treated at Silver Hill, which earned applause from the large crowd. He’s been sober for nearly 20 years, which got an even bigger hand.

Nile went to Toquet Hall with Madonna (to see if kids were dancing to their music).

But one of the coolest days was a book signing at the Westport Library. They ran out of books — and scurried to Barnes & Noble to replenish the supply.

Click below for the full 13-minute speech. Nile Rodgers makes all of us in Westport feel like family.