Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts—a Hidden Gem in Northern Westchester
Mary Prenon | May 9, 2022
KATONAH—Sequestered on 80 acres in the Katonah countryside in northern Westchester County, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts is an unassuming, yet incredibly beautiful destination for live music performances of all genres. Featuring a Spanish courtyard, Venetian theater, sunken gardens, a Renaissance-infused music room and meandering pathways to explore, Caramoor also offers educational and mentoring programs for young musicians.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this not-for-profit organization has been captivating audiences with live instrumentals and vocals for decades, and this month, opens its 77th summer season.
In fact, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma will kick off the venue’s 2022 summer season on Saturday, June 18 with The Knights in the Venetian theater. Caramoor President Ed Lewis said this year’s programming will reflect one of the most diverse selections of musical presentations ever. “Our goal is to make Caramoor accessible to a larger community and offer a broader representation of artists with a vast array of backgrounds and cultures,” he said. “In fact, I think that people will actually be able to see themselves in the new cover of our 2022 Summer Season catalog.”
Moving beyond the typical “Bach and Beethoven type of performances,” Caramoor’s summer season includes a Juneteenth celebration with internationally-acclaimed recording artist Jeremiah Abiah, the Las Cafeteras Afro-Mexican band, an American Roots festival, a Night at the Opera, a Jazz Festival and Soundscapes dance and sound artists.
Also coming this summer are “Talkbacks” with Helga Davis of WNYC Radio, featuring conversations with musical artists following their performances, as well as “Music and Meditation” in the Sunken Garden on select Saturday mornings. Caramoor’s popular “Afternoon Teas” will also return on either Fridays or Sundays, along with tours of the Rosen House.
This legendary enclave traces its history to 1929 when it was built by Walter and Lucie Bigelow Rosen, as a private retreat for music and the arts. Born in Berlin, Germany, in 1875, Walter Rosen was a successful attorney and banker who was devoted to the arts. His wife, Lucie Bigelow Rosen, born in New York City, enjoyed fashion, dance, visual arts and music. The couple met in 1914 and were married just six weeks later.
The Rosens had one son, Walter Bigelow Rosen and one daughter, Ann Rosen-Stern, who served for many years on the Board of Trustees at Caramoor. It was Walter Rosen’s friend, Charles Hoyt, who first introduced the Rosens to the property. Hoyt’s mother, Caroline Moore Hoyt, sold them her Katonah estate, which was named for her, “Caramoor.” From 1929 to 1939, Rosen designed and built the stucco villa now known as the Rosen House.
In 1945, the Rosens bequeathed the Caramoor estate as a center for music and art in memory of their son, who had died the previous year. In the 1950s, the Spanish Courtyard became the setting for outdoor concerts and in 1958, they opened the Venetian Theater. The historic Rosen House opened to the public in 1971.
“Caramoor has everything I love— nature, music and historic buildings. It’s a place where history, music and the arts converge,” said Lewis, who now admits he hadn’t heard of the venue prior to being appointed president. While serving as Vice Chancellor for Advancement at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he received an e-mail from an executive search firm about the opening at Caramoor. “When I saw it, I couldn’t resist,” he admitted. “In addition to the rich history, music and arts, it’s also a place of beauty to relax and walk the gardens.” Lewis joined Caramoor as President and CEO in May, 2021.
His extensive career in the arts included a prior position as Senior Director of Development at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. Lewis is also a professional musician. As a violist, he has performed with the Dallas Opera Orchestra, the Dallas Chamber Orchestra, Santa Fe Pro Muscia, the Toledo Symphony, Spoleto Festival Orchestra and Aspen Chamber Symphony.
He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University and a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan. Lewis also completed his Doctoral Program post-graduate studies at the University of Maryland School of Music.
One of his goals is continuing to leverage Caramoor’s outdoor spaces for more community day events, and to increase its membership beyond the current 900 people. “Most members are from northern Westchester, Putnam and Fairfield counites, but we are starting to attract more form New York City,” he noted. “It’s such a special place that offers unique settings.”
The Venetian Theater holds close to 1,500 people and is also available to rent for private events. The Sunken Garden, renovated in 2019, is often rented out for weddings or private events and can seat up to 300. The Spanish Courtyard, with a 500-seat capacity, is another favorite spot for private events.
Caramoor’s funding is currently about 60% from corporate and private donations, 20% from institutional grants and the remainder from event ticket sales. Its staff of 30 employees swells to more than 80 in the summer.
“We also work with Westchester County Tourism & Film to promote our events,” added Lewis. Information on upcoming shows and ticket sales are available through its website at www.caramoor.org.
The summer season finale will feature the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in the Venetian Theater on August 7. However, Caramoor will continue to offer a few smaller concerts on the lawn through August 19.
Currently living in Chappaqua, Lewis, his partner, Scott Palmer, and their cat Sandy, also divide their time at their coastal Maine home.
“But we’re always busy planning programming and we’re already looking ahead to 2023 and beyond,” he said. “It’s all about connecting with the audiences in intimate settings.”