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With first season over, Francois Chouchan looks ahead to Year 2 of Le Salon de Musiques series in La Jolla

Le Salon de Musiques
Le Salon de Musiques founder Francois Chouchan (second from left) is pictured at the November concert of his series in La Jolla. Nuvi Mehta (right) moderates most of the post-concert Q&A sessions with the audience and musicians.
(Courtesy of Le Salon de Musiques)

Professional pianist Francois Chouchan is pleased to call La Jolla home.

He and his partner, John — both transplants from Los Angeles — bought a place to live here. They and their 3-year-old son, Adrian, delight in walking nearly everywhere around their new coastal neighborhood.

“We hardly ever drive anymore,” Chouchan said. “When we were in L.A., we felt confined. We love it here.”

Now looking ahead to the 2022-23 season of his chamber music series, Le Salon de Musiques, Chouchan hopes to build on the momentum of the first local season, which he launched in September at the La Jolla Woman’s Club.

Business Spotlight: Performing is “an act of love,” according to Francois Chouchan, who is moving his classical music enterprise, Le Salon de Musiques, to La Jolla later this year, hoping to share his passion with a new audience.

Le Salon, inspired by Marie Antoinette’s gatherings in 18th-century Versailles, is a monthly series on Sundays that has an intimate atmosphere in which the audiences are close to the performing musicians. Included in the ticket price is high tea and French champagne in the adjacent garden, where guests and artists socialize after each concert.

“At a regular piano concert, you sit far away from the orchestra,” Chouchan said. “You listen to the music, then everyone leaves. When you can be close to the musicians and the instruments, the feeling you have is so different and amazing.”

The 2021-22 season, which ended June 12, had its ups and downs — as did most performing arts efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 150-person capacity was not met often, but Chouchan said he hopes subscriptions and single ticket sales will increase this year.

Le Salon de Musiques’ upcoming second season will offer nine concerts from Oct. 9 to next June 25. As he did last year, the French-born Chouchan will dedicate the season to Elsa Cayat, his longtime therapist and friend who was killed in a 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. Previously isolated as a Jewish, gay pianist, Chouchan credits Cayat for saving his sanity and his life.

Hidden gems

Like the past year’s series, each upcoming concert will include a post-performance Q&A session in which audience members can interact with the musicians. Nuvi Mehta, a guest speaker at many San Diego musical events, emceed six of the nine concerts last season and will assume the role again next season.

“There seems to be an interest in asking questions of the musicians,” Mehta said. “I thought that after several concerts the questions would die out, but I was quite wrong about that. It’s one of the fascinating aspects to this series.”

"Being able to do this series again is so special," says pianist and Le Salon de Musiques founder Francois Chouchan.
(Hojoon Kim)

Both Mehta and Chouchan mentioned other factors that set Le Salon apart, including showcasing string and piano arrangements of orchestral works. But the most distinctive aspect is the mix of music by lesser-known composers such as Dora Pejačević and brothers Xaver and Philipp Scharwenka with pieces by Schubert, Beethoven and other mainstays.

Chouchan spends many hours reading manuscripts, listening to music and contacting publishers to get the scores. The new season boasts four U.S. premieres and one San Diego premiere.

“Francois’ programming is unique,” Mehta said. “These are composers who didn’t have springboards into the future as the other well-known composers had. We’re realizing some of them wrote magnificent music.”

Chouchan agreed, saying: “The big question mark is why gems like this stay hidden for centuries. It’s crazy! Our musicians perform these pieces for the first time and are so happy to have new repertoire.”

Le Salon de Musiques originated more than a decade ago in Los Angeles, using an open space on the fifth floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, part of the L.A. Music Center.

A pandemic-caused bankruptcy at the Music Center’s catering company caused a shakeup that meant Le Salon de Musiques had to find a new home. Chouchan wanted to reach another audience and set his sights on La Jolla.

Most of the musicians who performed in La Jolla played often in the original series in L.A.

Chouchan will perform twice in the new season. The Jan. 8 concert will feature him and acclaimed baritone Matthew Worth performing Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

“Before each concert, I go in on Sunday morning early and I stay all day to organize everything,” Chouchan said. “Just being with the musicians and sharing unique moments like that is a miracle. Being able to do this series again is so special.”

2022-23 Le Salon de Musiques season

When: 4 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 9, Nov. 13, Dec. 11, Jan. 8, Feb. 5, March 5, April 16, May 21 and June 25

Where: La Jolla Woman’s Club, 7791 Draper Ave.

Cost: $45-$95 (single tickets); $684 (season subscription). Both include high tea and champagne.

Information: (310) 498-0257, lesalondemusiques.com

— La Jolla Light staff writer Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report.