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Music Spotlight: The colorful world of organist Cameron Carpenter

The performer, known for his technique and his attire, talks about his influences. He's headed to Disney Hall in April.

March 08, 2013
  • Cameron Carpenter attends the Cinema for Peace Gala ceremony at the Konzerthaus Am Gendarmenmarkt during Day 5 of the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival on Feb. 13, 2012, in Berlin.
Cameron Carpenter attends the Cinema for Peace Gala ceremony at the Konzerthaus… (Pascal Le Segretain, Getty…)

Cameron Carpenter, whom Times music critic Mark Swed has called "technically the most accomplished organist I've ever witnessed," will be playing the organ at Walt Disney Concert Hall at four concerts in April as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Brooklyn Festival.

Carpenter, the first organist in residence at the Berlin Philharmonie, has become a rock star of the pipe organ with his combination of virtuoso technique, colorful outfits and his habit of not announcing his program before his appearances.

The musician talked about his upcoming appearance by phone from Berlin.

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Why don't you announce your programs in advance?

I would consider it a trademark at this point. I don't find the idea of an announcement of a program anywhere remotely as interesting or artist-centric as a program that might be created for the place in which it is happening. I am already trying to challenge myself into really new directions.... I don't think there is a lot of point in listing a program.

Who are your artistic models?

There are a lot of figures in fashion who are important to me in the way they took something and shaped it, something that was thought to be staid and thought to have run its course. The obvious name is Chanel and then later Lagerfeld. But also someone like Alexander McQueen and Nicolas Ghesquière.

What artists excite you?

When I hear the word "artists," I immediately think of Michael Newberry, the Los Angeles painter. He is someone who excites me totally. Then of course, I have to mention the graphic novelist Chris Ware who has contributed several titles to my composition. Of course, [composer] Terry Riley and [director] Peter Sellars, who is somebody at this point I consider an intense mentor.

What is the last performance you went to that took your breath away?

The simple fact is that I almost go to no live performances because I know so much about live performance from the standpoint of the person on the stage. I would say that the last performance was Sydney Skybetter, the dancer and choreographer in New York and his company, Skybetter & Associates. Dance is an extremely important form to me as a former dancer.

--Susan King


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