Last Thursday night over at the Steinway Hall on West 57th Street across the street from Carnegie Hall, Byron Janis, the internationally renowned concert pianist, was feted with a birthday party (he was 73) and the unveiling of his official Steinway commissioned portrait by Igor Babailov. About a hundred people filled the two story entrance gallery of the hall, including Mr. Janis’ beautiful wife Maria Cooper Janis, as well as Chuck Scarborough, Maurice Sonnenberg, actress Patricia Neal and a man who is the great-great-grandnephew of Frederic Chopin. There were cocktails, and then the unveiling of the portrait.
The portraitist, Mr. Babailov, who was born in Russia in 1965, painted his first portrait at four and began his formal art education at nine. He’s a very young looking forty, and standing up on the platform next to the shrouded picture, he looked more like our idea of a security man protecting the art than its creator. You can learn more about his work by visiting his web site: www.babailov.com.
Maestro Janis, who is regarded as one of the greatest living interpreters of Chopin, made his professional debut at age 20 at Carnegie Hall, and has been a significant artistic presence in the world ever since. In a social situation, he appears to be very retiring man, almost painfully quiet, very soft-spoken, and while not ill-at-ease, quite diffident in bearing.
Mr. Janis being presented with Maria Cooper and Byron Janis
his birthday cake
Nevertheless, there were lots of speeches praising him and his work. Meanwhile Maria, who is the only child of the late screen actor Gary Cooper, was carrying around a vid-cam, recording the evening. There were several photographers, besides JH and the Digital, recording the event.
Byron Janis and Dr. James Watson,
Discoverer of the DNA The great-great-grandnephew
of Frederic Chopin and wife
After the unveiling, Mr. Janis sat down, amidst the standing crowd, at the Steinway grand placed in the middle of the room, and played two Chopin pieces for us. Moments like that, are for me, the essence of why New York life is beyond compare. It was, basically, a birthday party for a man – in this case one of the virtuoso classical pianists living in the world today – and we got to listen to him play for a roomful of friends.
Byron Janis playing a Steinway at his birthday celebration last Thursday night.
8:00 PM. Photo: JH