Guest Author - Karen Joyce Williams
Caramoor! The exotic lilt of the word against the folds of the tongue even suggests history, grandeur, even mystery... but does it suggest the concert stage? In a grand Italianate style both indoors and out, Caramoor is the legacy estate turned performing arts center created by Walter and Lucie Rosen in the late 1920s and 1930s as their dream mansion in Katonah, New York. Their love of music, Renaissance and Italianate surroundings were the foundation for the historic 81-acre estate to become a mecca for classical (and other genres, too!) music performances in an extraordinary setting.
The Caramoor estate is really a collection of seven historic buildings and two main landscaped gardens and a large tented theater space. The year round concerts are open to the public and take place in the gardens and other venues on the grounds. The concert calendar is known mainly for its classical repetoire, but is gaining in reputation for its annual jazz festival and it young musicians mentoring programs.
In the main house, called the Rosen House, concerts are held in a variety of rooms, according to both audience and performance size. The largest of the rooms is the Music Room, the family's original living room/performance space after they began reconstructing their newly-purchased estate in the 1930's. This room is the centerpiece of Cararmoor's music festivities. Surrounded by 16th century Florentine artwork, tapestries and terracotta reliefs, the Music Room is a sumptuous feast for the eyes as well as the ears during concert time.
Our first visit to Caramoor was in the scorching heat of the summer. We were cooled by sipping cool drinks from the Main House in the Butterfly Garden, one of the outdoor spaces devoted to natural flora and fauna of the mountainous Upper Hudson Valley region. Another garden, the Sunken Garden, originates with the first owner of the estate, Caroline Moore Hoyt. Caramoor is a contraction of her name and was kept on by the Rosens. We brought our two young boys to a performance of "Peter and the Wolf" in The Venetian Theater and they were entranced. Prokofiev in surround sound! Most of the larger concerts occur in the Venetian Theater, a large venue added in the 1950s to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the estate.
While visitors first come to Caramoor for its music festivals, theater and its more than 70 performances each year, they usually return to discover the other treasures of the estate. Caramoor is also home to the Burgundian Library with its hand-painted biblical scenes on a vaulted ceiling of a riveting cerulean, and is open for appreciative eyes. You might even have a light picnic in the Sunken Garden under the cedars, planted there to imitate a bucolic Italian landscape. From the rare eight-paneled Chinese jade folding screen in the dining room to the Spanish Courtyard at the center of the house, anyone with a needful eye for beauty and relaxed elegance will find something to satisfy.
Registered in the National Register of Historic Places for Westchester County, Caramoor is only 43 miles from New York City and can be reached via car or train (Amtrak). Its status as an art museum for Italian Renaissance art pieces and as a performing arts center has allowed it to become a favorite cultural destination for day travelers throughout New York State.