Caramoor’s New Artistic VP Aims to Cultivate a Curious Audience
By Steve Smith
Originally appeared in the 2018 Summer Season Program Book
A fresh breeze blowing through stately trees and elegant gardens has always been a special highlight of any visit to Caramoor, and with the arrival this year of the 73rd summer season, that breeze will be especially refreshing, bearing all manner of new sounds to complement its unparalleled ambience. One of New York’s most cherished destinations for music, Caramoor is expanding its purview this year, embracing a broader spectrum of sounds and styles than ever before, while maintaining the high standards founders Lucie and Walter Rosen established in 1946.
This season, it’s impossible to miss a scintillating buzz of transformation at hand. Alongside mainstays like Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Audra McDonald, and Susan Graham are newcomers with boldface names and global reputations: the Kronos Quartet, Sō Percussion, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Isabel Leonard, Angélique Kidjo, and more. Also evident is a radiant constellation of living composers: both iconic creators such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Luther Adams, and a gifted younger generation represented by Matthew Aucoin, Julia Adolphe, Missy Mazzoli, Judd Greenstein, and Andy Akiho — all prominent names with burgeoning careers.
The guiding hand behind these bold initiatives belongs to one of the musical world’s most respected executives, Kathy Schuman, who began in December 2016 as Caramoor’s first Vice President, Artistic Programming and Executive Producer — a new position, one meant to redefine the Caramoor experience by broadening and diversifying its musical offerings.
“Hearing a concert at Caramoor is something very special,” Schuman says. “When you’re sitting in this incredible setting, with greenery all around and birds chirping; those things combine to elevate the whole experience.”
She comes to her new role with a wealth of experience, including a 15-year term as artistic administrator of Carnegie Hall, during which time she helped program its three venues and oversaw the commissioning of some 200 new works. More recently, Schuman served as VP and Artistic Director of G. Schirmer/AMP, where she worked with an unrivaled roster of distinguished composers and promising newcomers.
“With the creation of this new role, we were looking for someone to imagine new programming as distinctive and appealing as the unique setting,” says Jeff Haydon, Caramoor CEO. “Kathy’s wide-ranging tastes are well-suited to the task, and we are excited about the creative and bold ways she has tackled this challenge.”
Assessing the historic strengths of Caramoor’s programming as well as the gaps, Schuman identified three musical strands she wanted to develop straightaway: new music, early music, and world music. “Those happen to be things that I’m extremely passionate about.”
Acknowledging a cautious reserve toward contemporary music among some audience members, Schuman enlisted artists and composers who not only are among the most gifted and successful in their fields, but also are some of new music’s most charismatic and persuasive advocates. The Kronos Quartet and Sō Percussion, to name just two examples, are ensembles with diverse repertoires and a proven knack for audience building.
To further integrate contemporary music into Caramoor’s Summer Season, Schuman encouraged the Jasper String Quartet, Caramoor’s Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence from 2009 to 2011, to feature recent works by Missy Mazzoli and Ted Hearne heard on the group’s critically acclaimed 2017 album, Unbound. The Verona Quartet, the current Stiefel Quartet-in- Residence, will give the world premiere of a new quartet by Julia Adolphe, whose music has been played by the New York Philharmonic in recent seasons.
Schuman was also eager to include a new work on an orchestral program. Upon engaging celebrated maestro Ludovic Morlot — another persuasive advocate for the music of our time — to conduct the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, she suggested he include Evidence by Matthew Aucoin. A polymath composer and performer, Aucoin has been likened by some to a young Leonard Bernstein. Having heard the world premiere in Los Angeles in 2016, she feels this work, Aucoin’s only purely orchestral piece to date, will go over well at Caramoor.
“Presenting a new work that I think will resonate with our audience, such as Matt’s piece, is very important to me,” she says. “They may not love everything I choose, but I think people are curious and will be open to trying something new.” With that in mind, Schuman arranged for a performance of Inuksuit, an otherworldly, ritualistic piece by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams.
Scored for 9 to 99 percussionists and designed to be performed outdoors, Inuksuit has been entrusted to the sure hands of Doug Perkins, who has guided sitespecific accounts of the work across the United States and abroad.
At Caramoor, Perkins will lead an ensemble of 60-plus musicians scattered throughout the estate, part of a day of discovery that will include panel discussions, sound art, and family activities, all free of charge. “I want to take full advantage of our beautiful gardens by including more site-specific outdoor work,” Schuman explains, “and on this day I hope to encourage those who haven’t been to Caramoor to come and explore.”
Long an enthusiast of Baroque and early music, Schuman chose Nicholas McGegan and his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, one of America’s most cherished period-instrument ensembles, to present Handel’s Atalanta as Caramoor’s mainstage opera this summer.
Caramoor audiences are already familiar with McGegan’s infectious energy from previous visits with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and this will be an opportunity to experience that joyful spirit with his own ensemble. (In another tantalizing offering, the vivacious young company On-Site Opera transplants Mozart’s delightful and seldom-heard The Secret Gardener directly into Caramoor’s lush gardens themselves.) Apollo’s Fire, another highly regarded and engaging American period-instrument ensemble, will also make their Caramoor debut this summer in a program of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Uccellini.
To kick off a new focus on world music, Schuman could not have chosen a more effective ambassador than Angélique Kidjo, the extraordinary Beninese singer-songwriter, actress, and activist who Schuman heard first in London during the 1990s. This compelling artist is equally at home singing Philip Glass’s music with an orchestra or collaborating with artists as varied as Bono, Josh Groban, and Dianne Reeves.
What Schuman hopes to cultivate with these new strands of programming is an audience eager to embrace the new and unexpected.
“I’ve encountered hundreds and hundreds of artists over the years, and am at concerts several nights a week. If I hear something really special, I’m going to try to bring it to Caramoor, even if it’s new and different and we’ve never done anything like it before,” she continues. “And I’ll try to let everyone know why it’s special, so they’ll get excited too. As a programmer, I aim to be a little bit ahead of the audience, rather than a half step behind. It’s riskier … but it’s a lot more fun.”
Steve Smith is Director of Publications for National Sawdust, a performing-arts space in Brooklyn. He has written for The New York Times, and served as an editor for The Boston Globe and Time Out New York.