Making the Connection

Vera Wilson

Vera Wilson

Long ago, if you lived in Paris, and loved art, and were lucky in friends, you might be invited to the salon of a wealthy, discerning patroness, and hear Chopin or Liszt perform their latest works. You would drink champagne and discuss what you’d heard with other art lovers. You would make a personal connection with the artist, and the whole experience would be heady, and marvelous. You would be a fan for life.

Salons flourished in Europe up to the early 1900′s, and provided an ideal outlet for contemporary art, for artists, and for connoisseurs. Nowadays, we learn about new artists in concert halls, on television, radio, U-tube and even in movie theaters. But the salon is not dead! One woman who understands this is Vera Wilson, who founded a remarkable organization called Astral Artists eighteen years ago.

I met Vera recently at a salon given by my friends Charlie and Sue Davidson for the rising young pianist Di Wu. Vera is an elegant visionary who served in the past as assistant to Eugene Ormandy. Once her three children were on their way to independence, she decided to start Astral in order to help young artists find an audience. Her devotion and energy have launched many a world-class career.

“It’s not a competition,” she told me. “Young artists apply and audition, but they need more than sheer talent to be accepted. We present them in concerts at various venues in Philadelphia, from concert halls to hospitals, and in private homes too. But the career consultation is the most important thing we do for them. While we help them, it’s important for them to work with us in developing their careers.”

An Astral artist who has been extremely successful in developing her career is Di Wu, who in the past year has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and given her New York debut recital at Alice Tully Hall. At the Davidson home that evening, evoking a great range of color from their Steinway, she gave a dazzling recital of Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann (Davidsbuendler Taenze) and Ravel (Miroirs.) She ended with a thunderous performance of Franz Liszt’s concert paraphrase of Gounod’s Waltz from Faust.

Just as charming were Di’s comments about the works, describing Robert and Clara’s intense love for each other, her noshing and mingling with the audience in the kitchen at intermission, and her restaurant recommendations for a couple who were traveling to New York City the next day.

We were in a Pennsylvania living room that evening, not a Parisian salon of the 19th century, but we made a personal connection with the artist. And that, in any time or language, is what it’s all about.

Pianist Di Wu with Charlie Davidson

Pianist Di Wu with host Charlie Davidson

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