FELICIA Borisow's concert series is more like a party than an evening at the Kennedy Center. Instead of bringing young musicians to an impersonal concert hall, "the Felicia club" brings them into prominent Washington homes. During the past nine years the club has increased its membership (which now exceeds 90 members) and number of performances. This year's series has had seven concerts; next year they're planning nine. The concerts switch off among four members' homes.
"You know you're going to see your friends at the concert," said Carol Rose Duane, one of two vice presidents, at the most recent gathering of the Monday Night Musicales.
Borisow, who founded the nonprofit organization, is a longtime Washingtonian and musician. "They call it the Felicia Club," the Polish-born woman proclaims proudly as she darts about her Van Ness apartment, which is filled with portraits, photographs and little objets d'art that reconstruct the past. Her piano stands near a window overlooking four big pools ("it's as good as Atlantic City here!"). As it gets closer to 8 p.m., Borisow rushes to prepare cheese and crackers for the post-concert reception. The buzzer rings, signaling Borisow that her ride has arrived to take her to the Bethesda home of attorney Thomas Schwab and his wife, Lois, where Malaysian pianist Dennis Lee will perform. For the first time in the club's history, the Monday Night Musicales has scheduled a Tuesday night performance, because Lee was scheduled to perform Monday night at Dumbarton Oaks.
Rows of bridge chairs transform the Schwabs' living room into a temporary concert hall. People ("we have doctors, psychologists, psychoanalysts, lawyers," says Borisow) begin to arrive about 7:30 for the 8 p.m. recital, some with snacks for the traditional reception afterward, including brownies, homemade bread, cookies, poundcake, cheese and crackers. A few women wear long gowns and mink stoles; others dress more casually in tailored suits and pearls. Another added attraction is the setting. "Let's go this way, dear," says one member, sotto voce, maneuvering her husband into the dining room. "I want to see the whole house--they have a pool and a tennis court."
"You do it because everyone has such a wonderful time. It's a two-way street--we get a lot out of doing it," says Lois Schwab about opening up her home to the club.
People mill about, exchanging pleasantries and chatting about what they've been up to since the last concert, how their squash games are coming. Then a hush falls over the group as Borisow, barely five feet tall, addresses the crowd. After a brief speech, she introduces the pianist. He bows and takes his position behind the grand piano. The program is lovely and varied, including Schubert, Debussy and Chopin. "He's a poet at the piano," Borisow says after the concert. "He makes the piano talk!" When he hits the final chord the audience applauds enthusiastically. When he returns for an encore, the crowd becomes quiet. Two notes into the piece, Borisow whispers approvingly, "Brahms!"
After the performance, the pianist talks about the club: "It's a very good outlet for young artists--the main thing is to have a chance to play," Lee said, "whether it's in a great concert hall or a home." The club pays performers $500 to $800 per appearance.
Borisow's appreciation for the problems young musicians face evolved from her experiences as a young musician. She was born in Warsaw and moved to Berlin as a child. Borisow entered the Sternsches Conservatorium and studied piano, making her debut when she was 18. Later she came to the United States, where her career was eclipsed by such contemporaries as Paderewski, Rubenstein and Horowitz. She continued to perform and teach piano, and over the years she dreamed of starting a music club, one that would resemble the famous salons of 18th-century Europe. After the death of her husband she began to organize the club.
At the end of the evening Borisow is still racing around, making sure everyone has had a good time. "Well, my worries are over for a little while, anyway," she says. "Next month we're having Vladmir Levtov, a Russian pianist . . ."