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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Though 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.
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.
Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, in their Weston Road home.
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.”
Beechwood House is a perfect place for salons.
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?
A piano performance is just part of one salon.
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.
Guests chat with others far away, at satellite salons. The iPads are placed on mannequins, for a more “personal” feel.
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.
Sculpture — indoors and outside — is an important part of Beechwood salons…
…and so too is great food and good conversation.
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