When Franco-American pianist François Chouchan opens his Le Salon De Musiques series at La Jolla Woman’s Club on Sunday, September 26, he will transplant a proven concept and start from scratch.
For someone who felt alienated and alone as a concert pianist in France, then moved to the United States and recreated himself, it’s almost a second rebirth.
His hit, stage-less chamber music concerts – held in Los Angeles for nearly 11 years – have been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID has also confined Chouchan, his partner, John, and his 2-year-old son, Adrian, to their home.
“It’s hard to walk in LA,” said Chouchan, 60, who moved here in June. “We started to visit and fell in love with La Jolla. I asked around to see where I could move my streak.
“La Jolla Woman’s Club has wood on the inside, good acoustics and good resonance. It should be perfect. We will have Girard Gourmet for the catering, which is fantastic.
The atmosphere of the Salon de Musiques is inspired by Marie-Antoinette’s meetings in 18th century Versailles. A handful of chamber musicians perform, surrounded by a semicircle of spectators.
After each performance, French champagne is poured while the musicians stay for a question-and-answer period.
“Every musician can talk about his life and his instruments,” Chouchan said. “People stay seated during questions and answers. Then we have a buffet, seated around large tables. People socialize and talk with the musicians.
“People love to sit around tables, talk and eat. Because of COVID, we are asking people to get vaccinated and provide proof of it. During the performance, they will keep masks. The buffet will be served outside, so people will be more comfortable removing their masks for it.
At least 10 Angelenos bought tickets for the La Jolla series, so Chouchan organized a shuttle to take them back and forth.
Solana Beach resident Jeanette Stevens, a board member of La Jolla Music Society, regularly traveled by train to Los Angeles to attend the show’s concerts.
“I’m delighted to have Francois here at La Jolla,” said Stevens, who has purchased Le Salon subscriptions for herself and her friends.
“François created a wonderful environment with a close bond between the musicians and the audience. Musicologists tell us about pieces of music. The concerts are incredibly intimate and beautifully performed.
The man who organizes these social and friendly musical occasions is a far cry from what Chouchan was in France. He started playing the piano at 5 and entered the conservatory at 11, where he spent 18 years.
His main memory of France is to be alone, to practice and to play.
“I was in a bad situation – being Jewish, gay and alone at my piano,” Chouchan recalls. “And then I met an extraordinary woman, Elsa Cayat, my therapist for over 15 years.
“Elsa helped me rebuild and move to America, build my streak and rebuild myself. We had weekly sessions when I visited my family in France.
In January 2015, Cayat – also a columnist for the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – died in a terrorist attack in the publishing offices.
“I was to have my session with her the day after she died,” Chouchan said. “I was devastated. She was more than my therapist; she was my friend and saved my life. I am who I am today because of her.
The Chouchan concert series is dedicated to Cayat. After his disappointments with the pandemic in LA, Chouchan recreates Le Salon – and himself – in La Jolla.
Selecting the programs for the nine concerts, Chouchan mixes beloved composers like Bach, Beethoven and Schubert – whose pieces are presented at the opening of the series next Sunday – with composers whose music is rarely performed.
For example, the November 14 concert will feature pieces by the German-Polish brothers Xaver and Philipp Scharwenka, as well as Robert Schumann. Chouchan will be the pianist for the evening.
“Francois is such a wonderful pianist,” said Stevens. “He’s so in touch with the intention of the composers.”
While most of this season’s musicians are from Los Angeles, Chouchan is eager to connect with the thriving chamber music community here. Its purpose, in general, is to foster connections.
“This concept of having people sharing music, food, emotions and friendship is who I really am,” he explained. “People are not on this planet to be alone. In the living room, they can listen to beautiful music, discover new worlds and meet new people.
Season 2021-22 The Music Show
When: 4 p.m. Sundays: Sep 26, Nov 14, Dec 5, Jan 9, Feb 6, March 6, April 10, May 15, June 12
Or: La Jolla Woman’s Club, 7791 Draper Ave., La Jolla
Tickets: The September 26 concert is sold out. $ 45 to $ 95, single ticket; $ 684, season pass
Telephone: (310) 498-0257
In line: lesalondemusiques.com
Wood is a freelance writer.