Chopin and champagne: as elegant as it gets

Jim Haslam with Caraline Demirjian. She came to Knoxville from New York to visit her husband, Aram Demirjian, the music director of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

For a few idyllic hours on this past rainy Sunday, a couple dozen music lovers were transported from West Knoxville to a lovely salon in mid-19th century Paris by virtue of music, dainty nibbles and flowing champagne served in fine crystal flutes.

The occasion was one of the most elegant of the Knoxville Symphony League‘s popular  “Elegant Dining” series of fundraisers. The actual location was Dr. Frank and Anna Gray’s beautiful home on Lyons View Pike. But, gazing out the window at the Tennessee River, you easily could have imagined it to be the Seine, flowing through “the City of Light.”

The Grays generously offered their residence — and their Steinway D Concert Grand piano — to an afternoon of music by composer Frederic Chopin performed by the Knoxville Symphony’s principal pianist, Emi Kagawa. Dr. Gray, himself an accomplished musician, also took a few turns at the keyboard.

“This is the kind of setting for which Chopin composed his music,” Gray explained as everyone settled into chairs in the music room and living room. “Chopin and his friends, who included fellow composer Franz Liszt, spent a lot of time performing and attending performances by others in Parisian salons. This was a major form of entertainment at that time.”

Dr. Frank and Anna Gray welcomed everyone to their “salon” on Sunday.

Chopin, born in and most frequently associated with Poland, moved to Paris in 1831 at the age of 21 and never returned to Poland, although his homeland continued to have major influences on his music. In Paris, he socialized with other artists and had a longtime relationship with the writer George Sand. This was the heyday of salon society, gatherings of literary and artistic types who entertained and amused one another.

Our salon on Sunday was divided into three sets of short performances. Between the sets, delectable bites prepared by Chef David Pinckney of Cherokee Country Club were passed and glasses were refilled. Guests were encouraged to select a different seat for each set and to mingle with different people each time.

The afternoon was a  triumph and a delight. It was particularly appropriate because Anna Gray was one of the original co-founders of the “Elegant Dining” series when it began some 40 years ago. Whereas seats at the “Elegant Dining” events normally are purchased in pairs by various symphony fans, in this case, Knoxville Symphony board member Natalie Haslam purchased all 20 seats the day they went on sale! “I invited people who love music and whom I thought should know one another!” Haslam explained.

Bravo!

From left, Jim Haslam, Aram Demirjian, Sarah Stowers, Anna Gray and Natalie Haslam.

Mingling in the living room.

Knoxville Symphony Development Director Mary Sue Greiner helped out with serving duties.

Escargot in puff pastry cups, anyone? (How French can you get?)

From left, Terry and Rachel Ford with Joni and Jeff Pappas. Rachel is executive director of the Knoxville Symphony; Jeff is head of the University of Tennessee School of Music.

Frank Gray telling a little about Chopin’s life and how much of his music was performed at French salons.

Emi Kagawa has performed extensively in the United States, Canada, Italy and Japan.

Emi Kagawa is a native of Osaka, Japan, and is a graduate of The Juilliard School.

More food between sets! Alan Carmichael loved the deviled eggs topped with caviar.

Caraline and Aram Demirjian.

Anne Sprouse, left, and Anna Gray.

From left, Dr. Hugh Hyatt, Susan Weatherford, Debby Hyatt and Jason Overall. Jason is music director at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Knoxville.

From left, Sarah Stowers, Dr. George Doebler and Patsy Boyce.

My favorite edible offering: crab salad.

Emi Kagawa and Frank Gray together. “I like your pedal work!” she told him. (High praise!)

Emi and Patsy Boyce.

It was a wonderful listening environment.

Frank introduced Chef David Pinckney to warm applause.

Everyone retired to the dining room for more petite hors d’oeuvres.

Like these. (Those little beef tenderlons on toast in the center of the photo were amazing.)

And, then, dessert.

And more dessert!

Jim Haslam with Chef Pinckney.

These branches of quince were taken from the Grays’ garden and forced into bloom. A welcome sign of spring, don’t you think?

We said goodbye to Steve and Patsy Boyce on the way out. The owner of Rush’s Music, he also is a well-known local tenor.

Final note: There still are a handful of seats left at some of the remaining Elegant Dining events. Here’s a link to the list.

Another final note I couldn’t resist: When Chopin died in 1849 at age 39, his body was buried in Paris. But his heart was buried in a church in Warsaw!

 

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