For Le Salon de Musiques, a new beginning in La Jolla
French-American pianist Francois Chouchan opens his Le Salon De Musiques series at La Jolla Woman’s Club next Sunday
When French-American pianist Francois Chouchan opens his Le Salon De Musiques series at La Jolla Woman’s Club on Sunday, Sept. 26, he will be both transplanting a tried-and-true concept and starting anew.
For someone who felt alienated and alone as a concert pianist in France, then moved to the U.S. and recreated himself, this is almost a second rebirth.
His successful, stage-free chamber-music concerts — held in Los Angeles for almost 11 years — were upended by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID also confined Chouchan, his partner, John, and 2-year-old son, Adrian, to their home.
“It’s difficult to walk in L.A.,” said Chouchan, 60, who moved here in June. “We began to visit and fell in love with La Jolla. I asked around to see where I could relocate my series.
“La Jolla Woman’s Club has wood inside, good acoustics and resonance. It should be perfect. We will have Girard Gourmet do the catering, which is fantastic.”
The atmosphere of Le Salon de Musiques is inspired by Marie Antoinette’s gatherings in 18th century Versailles. A handful of chamber musicians perform, surrounded by a half circle of audience members.
After every performance, French Champagne is poured while the musicians stay for a question-and-answer period.
“Each musician can talk about their lives and their instruments,” Chouchan said. “People remain seated during the Q&A. Then we have a buffet, sitting around big tables. People socialize and talk with the musicians.
“People love to stay around the tables and talk and eat. Because of COVID, we ask people to be vaccinated and show proof of it. During the performance, they’ll keep masks on. The buffet will be served outside, so people will be more comfortable to remove their masks for that.”
At least 10 Angelenos have bought tickets for the La Jolla series, so Chouchan arranged a shuttle bus to take them back and forth.
Solana Beach resident Jeanette Stevens, a La Jolla Music Society Board member, regularly traveled back and forth by train to Los Angeles to attend Le Salon concerts.
“I’m delighted to have Francois here in La Jolla,” said Stevens, who has purchased Le Salon subscriptions for herself and friends.
“Francois created a wonderful environment with a close connection between musicians and audience. Musicologists tell us about the pieces of music. The concerts are incredibly intimate and beautifully performed.”
The man who arranges these social, friendship-producing musical occasions is a far cry from who Chouchan was in France. He began piano at 5 and entered a conservatory at 11, where he spent 18 years.
His main memory of France is being alone, practicing and performing.
“I was in a bad situation — being Jewish, gay and by myself at my piano,” Chouchan recalled. “And then I met an amazing woman, Elsa Cayat, my therapist for more than 15 years.
“Elsa helped me rebuild myself and move to the U.S., building my series and rebuilding myself. We’d have 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 at the publication’s offices.
“I was supposed to have my session with her the day after she was killed,” 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.”
Chouchan’s concert series is dedicated to Cayat. After his pandemic-related disappointments in L.A., Chouchan is recreating Le Salon — and himself — in La Jolla.
In selecting the programs for the nine concerts, Chouchan mixes such beloved composers as Bach, Beethoven and Schubert — whose pieces are featured at next Sunday’s series opener — with composers whose music is seldom performed.
For example, the Nov. 14 concert will include pieces by Polish-German brothers Xaver and Philipp Scharwenka, as well as Robert Schumann. Chouchan will be the pianist for the evening.
“Francois is such a marvelous pianist,” Stevens said. “He’s so in touch with composers’ intention.”
While most of this season’s musicians are from Los Angeles, Chouchan is looking forward to making connections with the thriving chamber-music community here. His goal, in general, is fostering connections.
“This concept of having people share music, food, emotions and friendship is what I’m really about,” he explained. “People are not on this planet to stay by themselves. In the salon, they can listen to beautiful music, discover new worlds and meet new people.”
2021-22 Le Salon de Musiques season
When: 4 p.m. Sundays: Sept. 26, Nov. 14, Dec. 5, Jan. 9, Feb. 6, March 6, April 10, May 15, June 12
Where: La Jolla Woman’s Club, 7791 Draper Ave., La Jolla
Tickets: Sept. 26 concert is sold out. $45-$95, single ticket; $684, season subscription
Phone: (310) 498-0257
Wood is a freelance writer.
Sign up for the Encinitas Advocate newsletter
Top stories from Encinitas every Friday for free.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Encinitas Advocate.