In Westchester, summer means Walter’s Hot Dogs. It means dining alfresco at any place that will give you a view of the Hudson River. And it means the Caramoor International Music Festival, which rolls into Katonah starting on June 25. We spoke with Michael Barrett, the CEO and general director of Caramoor, to find out what’s ahead.
What do you have in mind when you set out to put together the festival?
I’m a musician myself, so it’s based on my own background and my own tastes, which are very broad. Leonard Bernstein was my teacher and my mentor, and I was his assistant for several years, so a lot of my musical taste is shaped by his influence on me. He had a deep love for all kinds of music. I also want to create things that are unique to Caramoor. For example, our program of Pulitzer Prize finalists [July 22 and 31] is only happening here.
The festival features a wide range of music—symphonic music, roots music, a jazz festival, and even music from Africa and Brazil. Why do you think it’s better to have such a broad focus?
Our biggest theater is seventeen hundred seats. I don’t think we can fill seventeen hundred seats over and over for the exact same kind of music. People are like me—they don’t just listen to one kind of music. I encourage people to mix up their tastes a little. If you like chamber music, go see Gabriel Kahane and Alisa Weilerstein [July 29]. You’ll understand it, but it’ll push your envelope a little. If you like jazz, see our Sonidos Latinos program. It’s easy to stretch just a little bit.
Why did you choose the HMS Pinafore to be your opening-night attraction?
Gilbert and Sullivan has never been done here at Caramoor. It’ll be a Caramoor first. Our opening gala and dinner will be nautically themed.
You’re conducting the “Pops, Patriots, and Fireworks” performance on July 3. Why did you choose to lead that one?
I don’t consider myself a Pops guy, but what I like is to make what looks like a Pops program, but actually has much more meat on its bones. Like last year, we did the 1812 Overture, which is done all the time on the Fourth of July. To mix it up, I added a Theremin. At these things, you can expect to hear Sousa and maybe Gershwin—but you don’t expect to hear a Theremin. This year, Charles Yang is going to play the ‘Yankee Doodle’ variations on the electric violin. It doesn’t even look like a violin, it looks like a stick with strings on it. He is amazing. So I like Pops concerts when I can add something unexpected.
You also have a performance of West African music—with Oumou Sangaré—on July 23. What made you want to branch out into that part of the world?
Africa is a giant continent with so many countries. There is so much culture there, and so many different kinds of music. Africa is looming out there as this huge musical horizon for us. It’s such a rich place that we’re gradually looking at. And Oumou Sangaré is so gifted. She makes us want to go find others like her out there and share them with our audience.
Which performances are ideal for kids?
We have ten or eleven family programs. Our ‘Dancing at Dusk’ programs are more informal, and parents can come and picnic and the kids can jump around and dance—they’ll also learn about music. There are also performances where you can come and, for a nominal fee, you can sit out on the lawn and hear the performance broadcast through speakers. You can bring the kids and they don’t have to sit quietly inside the theater.
This is the third year you’ve also done a festival in the fall. Do you approach that one differently?
The only difference is when it takes place. The fall is so beautiful here. The leaves start to change. The oppressive heat from the summer is gone. It’s the perfect time.
For more information about the Caramoor International Music Festival, call (914) 232-5035 or visit caramoor.org.
Caption: Fireworks at Caramoor
photo by Gabe Palacio