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History of Art Salons

By Andrea Clearfield

I started the Salon in Philadelphia in 1986 as a way of carrying on the European Salon tradition of music in the home, to foster collaboration among artists and to build a joyful community around the arts. I have had 1 Salon a month in my home for 27 years. During that time, there have been over 6000 performers and over 16,000 audience members coming through my living room. The Salon in Philadelphia continues to thrive and since mine turned 25, I have been hired by patrons and organizations around the country to help them start their own Salon series including ones in Aspen, Wynnewood, PA and Rye, NY. John and Aldalucia Zerio found me on the Internet, and we struck up a conversation about their dream to have a Salon in this beautiful space. As the curator, I tailor the Salons to the vision of the host. John wanted something that could tie into the aesthetic of the Japanese garden, along with storytelling, classical chamber music and Native American traditional music. They wanted their space to be a place for the transformation of the human spirit – and the Salon was a perfect fit. 

A bit of Salon history: The salon is a gathering in the home. The history of Salons can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greek Symposia and the Roman offshoot, the Banquet, where the host would invite guests to engage in intellectual discourse and debate. These literary Salons flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries in Italy and France and came to be known by the room in which they were held. The word “SALON”, came from the Italian word Sala (grand reception hall of the Italian mansions), Salone (Italian living room) and Salon (the French parlour). These literary Salons encouraged scintillating discussions among philosophers, theologians, scientists, writers.

In the 19th Century, the Salons of Europe started to include more artists and musicians. Some of the musicians performing included the composer pianists Debussy, Chopin, Liszt, Bellini and Rossini. Paris in the mid 1800’s was the intellectual and artistic capital of the world. The Parisian Salon became a microcosm of that “new world”, a social gathering place for the most talented artists, musicians, scientists and writers of the day. New works were premiered, events were held to benefit an assortment of causes, anniversaries of famous composers were celebrated. There were musical activities of all sorts; four-handed or two piano music making, piano accompaniment to storytelling, games, improvisations, chamber music, poetry and even musical duels. The salon “was on a par with the opera house and the concert hall as a crucial venue for the history of music.”

When I started my Salons in 1986, I conceived of them as having a contemporary spin – not only do they feature chamber music, but a wide array of musical styles as you will hear today. I like to think of the Salon as a journey, an adventure of the ears, heart and spirit. I invite you to listen deeply, stay open and receptive and enjoy this precious gift (in our busy world) of receiving, of taking it all in. Observe what resonates with you, what stirs your soul. Afterwards there will be an opportunity to speak with the performers about their work and enjoy some delicious food and drink.

I believe that the world connects through the global language of art. The Salon, essentially, is a celebration of the human spirit and how we all can create nourishing, vital and personal connection by sharing that artistic spirit in community. So, at this time, please turn off your cell phones and pagers. Let the journey begin!

Andrea Clearfield is an award-winning composer of music for opera, orchestra, chorus, chamber ensemble, dance and multimedia collaborations. Her music is performed widely in the U.S. and abroad.