I hope you’ve been to a concert at Caramoor, the beautiful Renaissance inspired estate in Katonah, NY. If you haven’t, you should make plans for this summer. Even if you have you may still have missed out on seeing the art-filled house and stunning grounds.
We took the pleasant half-hour drive on a recent afternoon to this center for music and the arts. A tour of the house and gardens followed by a traditional English tea was the plan. The day was idyllic.
Caramoor was the weekend estate of Lucie and Walter Rosen. They began to build here in 1928, renovating an established horse farm. Avid collectors of European art, antiques, and architectural elements, the Rosens crammed their house with treasures from France, Italy, and Spain. Oh, and a few marvelous Asian artifacts, too. They lived a life filled with art, music, and culture!
The house is organized around a cloister, the Spanish Courtyard, that is now a music venue. Narrow stuccoed halls flow from one spectacular room to the next. The Rosens collected at a time when you could import entire rooms to be reconstructed and lived in – just like you see at the Metropolitan Museum. An intact French interior painted with murals served as guest quarters. Mr. Rosen’s library, with a brilliant blue painted ceiling, was imported from Burgundy. A very rare lacquer cabinet room with Asian decorations is just off the Music Room. His bedroom was rebuilt intact from an Italian ship, while hers centered around the elaborate gilded bed of Pope Urban VIII.
The Music Room, a large space with a stage built especially for performances, is also home to a Renaissance portrait by Lucas Cranach, Della Robbia terracottas, a stunning wood-paneled ceiling, and plenty more attention-grabbing art and antiques. Off one to one side is the family sitting room with an ornate fireplace, and gorgeous Renaissance furnishings that, frankly, don’t look that comfortable.
The gardens, equally impressive, were originally designed to emphasize the diverse range of floral scents and laid out with specific areas of interest. Plantings are organized to provide continuous bloom all season long. The azaleas are spectacular out in early spring. The roses will be flowering soon, and hydrangeas will be adding their color to the summer mix. The gardens are open all summer long (no admission). Bring a picnic and plan to stay!
We gathered by an extensive bed of bearded iris and peonies. The tour moved on to the Tapestry Hedge, a curtain of evergreens in varying colors and textures that form a backdrop for classical sculptures. Next, the Italian Pavilion with its classical tile floor shaded by an acoustically resonant roof, sandwiched between a tented event space and the butterfly garden.
We walked the cedar-lined path through the woods from an antique Tempietto (gazebo) to the Medieval Mound and the Sunken Garden. The Mound, based on 15th century designs, is sometimes used for concerts. The Sunken Garden below predates the Rosens and is what originally attracted them to the property. Next time, I’m bringing a book and hanging out in this peaceful space.
On the way to tea, we passed through the tented Venetian Theater, the largest concert space at Caramoor. Hungry, a little weary, and dazzled by our tour, afternoon tea was just the thing.
Tables were set at the main house for each group that had reserved (You must! They sell out.) in a shady open-sided room overlooking the Spanish Courtyard. Vintage china was elegantly set on brocade tablecloths along with cream, sugar, jam, and butter.
The main attraction was an elegant three-tier display of tea sandwiches, sweets, and, of course, scones. Cheddar and chutney, curried chicken, salmon and cucumber, paté on toast, and roast beef with blue cheese were the tempting savories – all beautifully presented and very tasty. The top tier was reserved for the sweets: thumbprint cookies, chocolate-dipped strawberries, a fruit tart and a custard tart, plus the obligatory scones. These currant scones, moist and yummy, were the perfect vehicle for the roasted-garlic butter and apricot jam.
Helpful servers came around offering tea – Earl Gray, English Breakfast or green. I had three cups, way more than I’ve had in the last three years, but somehow it tasted just right in this setting. The food – delicious; the weather – just right; the atmosphere – perfect. With the tile roofs and stucco walls, the sunny skies and gentle breeze, we might have been at an exclusive estate in Florence.
We bumped into Merceds Santos-Miller, Director of the Rosen House. She encouraged us to come back for some music this summer. The season runs from June 17 to July 30 with a full program touching on a broad range of music. Naturally there is orchestral and chamber music along with opera and recitals. Artists include The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, The Argus Quartet, and pianist Daniil Trifonov.
There’s also an all day celebration of American Roots Music featuring Rhiannon Giddens and a Jazz Festival with headliner McCoy Tyner. Emmylou Harris and Sutton Foster will both present an evening of music. Traditional dance from Japan, Mexico and Russia will be presented. There’ll even be a night of classic jazz by The Hot 9.
I think you get the idea – there’s something for everyone. With three music venues plus garden performances, Caramoor is a happening arts scene all summer long. And the afternoon teas continue through the season. Make your plans soon!