Behind the Scenes with Wes Mason (baritone) and Jiyang Chen (piano)

What does the Music Room feel like before the lights come up? What’s it like to spend a night at Caramoor? How do artists fill their time between rehearsals?Holiday Musicale vocalist Wes Mason and pianist Jiyang Chen received a crash-course in all things Caramoor during their back-to-back performances this past December. Recognizing an opportunity to make the estate their artistic playground for a few days, the two carted their cameras (Chen takes photographs when he’s not tickling the ivories), iPhones, and creative brains out into the crisp winter weather between sets. Then they let us pick their brains…

Tell us about your experience in singing for the small crowd in the Music Room.


Mason warms up in the vacant Music Room; photo by Chen.

Mason warms up in the vacant Music Room; photo by Chen.

Chen: I’ve got to say, the Music Room was one of the most beautiful and unique rooms I’ve ever played in! The crowds were fantastic and attentive and I was particularly happy to see them all participate in the Holiday Musicale sing-alongs. The Steinway concert grand was a joy to play on, and once my fingers started to get used to the instrument I could feel it start to breathe and phrase with Wes’ gorgeous singing. The Music Room acoustics were heavenly and the entire house had such a feeling of character and warmth.



An upstairs hallway in the Rosen House; photo by Mason.

An upstairs hallway in the Rosen House; photo by Mason.

Mason: The space is just incredible. Easily one of my favorite venues I’ve had the pleasure of performing in. When I first walked into the Music Room I just stood there, eyes wide. The audiences were great. I wish we had twenty more performances, honestly, because every time we got on stage our set grew and we were free to experiment with dynamics and colors in a variety of ways. One can only hope to work in a room with acoustics and decor like the space in the Rosen House.



What’s it like to stay on Caramoor’s campus? What’s Caramoor like during the holidays?


The artists arrive at the Katonah train station; photo by Chen.

The artists arrive at the Katonah station; photo by Chen.

Mason: When we stepped off the train in Katonah, NY and the sound of traffic and anxiety of a bazillion people running around was nowhere to be found, I knew we were in for a great few days of music-making and reflection. The campus is a breath of fresh air, truly. I have a special place in my heart for the beauty of New York State, especially north of Manhattan. Open fields and trees, crisp winter air, and a calmness are ever-present. I live for the outdoors, so Caramoor is right up my alley.




First snowfall at Caramoor; photo by Chen.

Chen: Coming from Manhattan, just being out in the fresh air and nature gave me such a feeling of liberation and relief. As a musician, it’s so important to be able to reconnect with nature, clear our minds, and recharge, as sometimes the chaos and stress of the city isn’t ideal for creativity. I really liked the woodsy feeling of the campus and I really want to make another trip in the Spring to see the garden once the trees and flowers start to bloom. (Deal! Jiyang Chen will perform a solo recital in the Spanish Courtyard of the Rosen House on Wednesday, June 17.)



Where did you find yourself between rehearsals? How did you fill your time?


The antique Lord & Burnham greenhouse; photo by Chen.

Mason: Lots of reading! I’ve recently fallen in love with comics and graphic novels, in addition to my science fiction favorites. I’m making my way through Garth Ennis’ The Boys, Brian Vaughan’s Y: the Last Man, and Stinger by Robert McCammon. I am also into vinyl records, so was over the moon to discover this huge collection of Jazz and Classical albums by the piano in the artists’ housing, the Gifford Residence. Jiyang had never experienced the dynamic range and warmth of analog recording, so I was more than happy to tear through the collection (…though, we need to work some rock albums in there–there was no Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, or Yes!). What a joy last week was. I hope very much to return.


Mason warms up in the Gifford Residence; photo by Chen.

Mason warms up in the Gifford Residence; photo by Chen.

Chen: I did a lot of walking around and spent time looking at the different types of plants in the greenhouse. I did a fair amount of practice, and Wes introduced me to the turn-table and the great collection of vinyl records in the artists’ housing, the Gifford Residence (my first time listening!). My Caramoor trip was one of the most pleasant and unique concert experiences I’ve had and I’m grateful to the staff, especially Ellie Gisler (Manager of Artistic Planning) and Tim Coffey (Artistic Coordinator) for making us feel so welcomed.


You can see more of the duo’s photographs here


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