Friday, June 26, 2009

Caramoor's Michael Barrett

2009 Caramoor International Music Festival
June 27—August 5, 2009
Katonah, NY

Caramoor General Director, Michael Barrett, on the podium
Caramoor's Venetian Theater (photo: Gabe Palacio)
For 64 years, Caramoor—located 45 minutes north of Manhattan in Katonah, New York—has been the idyllic scene of the largest outdoor summer music festival in the tri-state area. Classical, jazz, opera, family concerts—it’s all there, each summer, with big names and wonderful music-making galore, starting with its Opening Night concert, on Saturday, June 27, as Susan Graham sings Mozart and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s performs Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Now entering his sixth season as general director of the Caramoor International Music Festival, Michael Barrett not only oversees the festival, but also conducts (twice this summer: July 4 and 25). He spoke recently about this summer’s events and a new wrinkle this year—a fall festival the first weekend of October.

Kevin Filipski: This summer, your opening night concert features mezzo Susan Graham singing Mozart. Can you think of anyone better to start off your festival?
Michael Barrett: Susan has really got it—she’s at the very peak of her talent right now, and it’s a great pleasure to hear an artist with such stunning vocal equipment singing Mozart, which is something you won’t be hearing too often.

KF: Are there are any particular concerts you’re looking forward to?
MB: I think every concert is special, and I feel like I’ve taken special pains over all of them. Some might appear more glamorous, but they all have a deep place in my heart. I don’t think we have a sleeper this year: we have so much variety that I think it’s more a matter of musical taste. We’re trying to reach a number of different audiences, for example, our Latin music program (Sonidos Latinos) is very strong this year, with Paquito d’Rivera (July 19), Tiempo Libre (June 28), and this amazing pianist, Jorge Luis Prats (July 16), who is a recent expatriate from Cuba. I met him nine years ago in Havana, and that’s when I learned what an amazing pianist he is. He finally got out of Cuba and he’s available to us, and I hope that the concert halls in New York—and everywhere else—pick up on his unbelievable artistry. Also, our jazz lineup is very strong: two full days (August 1-2), with Dianne Reeves, Randy Weston, Luciana Souza and Chuchito Valdés. It’s quite a line-up.

KF: Will Crutchfield’s annual opera program, Bel Canto at Caramoor, is one of your biggest successes. What’s on tap for this summer?
MB: This year, we have a biggie: Rossini’s Semiramide (July 31) almost never gets done live because it’s just too hard to get the right cast together. But I think Will has found the right cast, which took several years to get them all at the right time. Angela Meade is really coming into her own as a major star. Add Viveca Genaux and Lawrence Brownlee—that’s a pretty exciting cast. That’s not an opera you’ve heard in New York in decades. Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (July 18) has been heard often, of course, but Will always brings a fresh look to these scores, and Lawrence Brownlee is in that as well, along with Georgia Jarman, who has come up through the ranks and is now an international star in her own right.

KF: You’re also conducting twice this summer: the July 4 “Pops, Patriots and Fireworks” concerts, and the July 25 Family Concert. What can you tell me about them?
MB: Of course, the July 4 program is very exciting—it’s the first time we’re having fireworks here at Caramoor, and there’s a wonderful concert of American music, including Alan Menken songs from the Disney movies Aladdin and Pocahontas—it’s definitely a going to be a family atmosphere. We’re also grilling, so you can come and get your hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and chicken and have a picnic. It will be a short concert with no intermission, and around 9:15, when it’s getting dark, we’ll stroll out to the lawn for the fireworks. And the Family Concert three weeks later is going to be fun: I’ve invited two extraordinary artists, Michelle Ellsworth and Stephen Goldstein, to perform Satie’s Sports and Divertissements, which is a short, silly, fun piece that’s a good curtain raiser for Prokofiev’s classic Peter and the Wolf.

KF: Talk about the new Fall Festival this October?
MB: We really wanted to try to extend and enjoy the fall season up here and make Caramoor more available for anyone who wants to enjoy it, and we had the good luck of luring the NY Philharmonic with their brand new music director, Alan Gilbert, and pianist Emanuel Ax for a concert on October 2. The next day, we have an all-day family event, with three concerts at different locations, which should be fun when the days are getting short and the leaves are turning. Then we have Chick Corea in a solo recital that same night, and on October 3 a recital by Sumi Jo, the amazing soprano, in the music room.

KF: Most people probably only think of Caramoor as a place to go hear great music for two months during the summer—and now into the fall. How do you see Caramoor’s mission?
MB: Although the music is certainly important at Caramoor, and important in terms of what services we give to the community and the people who visit Caramoor, there are many other things. For example, our afternoon teas are available as a service for those who might want to enjoy the house and the grounds as they were in the early days. It is simply an extraordinary community resource—and I would say that it’s a little nicer than your local library or neighborhood rec center. Caramoor is a beautiful place of peace, of tranquility, and of great art.

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