“Rebel” Organist Cameron Carpenter Performs With the National Symphony Orchestra

The millennial musician is just as comfortable clanging out 'Singin'' in the Rain' as he is the overture to 'Candide.'
“Rebel” Organist Cameron Carpenter Performs With the National Symphony Orchestra
Photograph by Heiko Laschitzki.

Cameron Carpenter doesn’t look—or act—like a traditional organist. Though he plays an instrument most associate with liturgy and silk lapels, the 34-year-old wears a loose mohawk and shoes encrusted with Swarovski crystals. To critics, he’s a rebel degrading an ancient tradition. To fans, he’s a genre-shaking musician who’s just as comfortable clanging out “Singin’ in the Rain” as he is the overture to Candide.

Drawn to the mental rigors of classical music as a performer, Carpenter prefers David Bowie or the Doors as a listener. On the bill at his last concert? Not a world-renowned conductor but German punk godmother Nina Hagen. “The organist has been taught for the better part of a century that personality should be suppressed,” Carpenter says. “But the fact remains that audiences are interested in identity, not in instruments.”

Carpenter usually tours with his own digital organ, but for this performance he’ll play Barber’s Toccata Festiva on the Kennedy Center’s 5,000-pipe Rubenstein Family Organ. Expect some improvisation from those sparkling feet. December 3-5; $15 to $89.

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This article appears in our December 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

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