December 14, 2023
Garrett Keast as a Cultural Ambassador in Berlin
Kiran West

Tagesspiegel - Sound bridge across the Atlantic

By Frederik Hanssen - 11/27/2022

Founding the Berlin Academy of American Music, U.S. conductor Garrett Keast aims to make the music of his homeland better known in Berlin.

A startup is what Garrett Keast calls this professional chamber orchestra. In the midst of the 2021 pandemic, the Berliner-by-choice has founded the Berlin Academy of American Music or (BAAM). "I'm American, born in Houston, I studied in New York," the conductor tells us, “but the music from my homeland hasn’t been the focus of my career for a while now."

Although he has been repeatedly engaged to conduct this repertoire—including a Bernstein gala with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin—it wasn't until lockdowns, when he could only ponder the scores (instead of performing them live ), that he realized how little people in Germany know about the historical as well as current musical life in the United States, that is, apart from a few well known standards like Gershwin's "Rhapsody in blue".

The concert

Garrett Keast will conduct the Berlin Academy of American Music on December 3. The concert will take place at the Siemensvilla in Lankwitz, Calandrellistraße 7.

The program includes works by Igor Stravinsky, Ursula Mamlok, Jonathan Dawe and Caroline Shaw. More info at

While the influence of American culture in the young Federal Republic was enormous in pop music, as well as in painting and literature, U.S. composers of “classical music” were never able to establish themselves in the repertoires of German orchestras and opera houses. This has remained the case to this day, despite that the scene there is just as diverse as in Europe.

Thus, for cultural ambassadors like Garrett Keast, who has lived in Prenzlauer Berg with his wife and two sons for 11 years, there is plenty to do, especially since it is particularly important to many American composers to write accessible music, works that speak directly to the audience.

A recording project made BAAM possible: "Transatlantic" is the name of the formation's debut album, which presents works by American composers, but also by Igor Stravinsky, who lived in the U.S. from 1940 until his death. "Our ensemble is as international as the other Berlin orchestras," Keast tells us. "That's why Aaron Copland's 'Appalachian Spring,' a classic in my home country, was new to almost all of the participants - and they were enthusiastic about the work."

Music designed to speak directly to the audience

On December 3, BAAM's next live performance will feature the world premiere of Jonathan Dawe's Violin Concerto and Stravinsky's "Danses Concertantes," as well as "Entr'acte," a piece by 41-year-old Caroline Shaw that is currently getting a lot of play in the United States. Additionally, the concert will include a work by Ursula Mamlok: born in Berlin in 1923, she fled with her Jewish family to Ecuador in 1938 and went to the U.S. as a 17-year-old to study and stayed. Only after the death of her husband did Ursula Mamlok move back to Berlin, where she died in 2016. The Berlin Academy of American Music will present her "Concerto for String Orchestra.

The location in which BAAM will perform also has an eventful history—the Correns country house in Lichterfelde, built in the 1910s. In 1925, the 80-room property on Calandrellistrasse became the property of Werner Ferdinand von Siemens, a classical music enthusiast, who had a private concert hall built there that is still regularly used as a recording studio to this day because of its excellent acoustics.

From 1941 to 1976, the Ibero-American Institute was housed in the villa, and the music archive of the German National Library was also housed here until twelve years ago. Concerts hardly ever take place since an investor purchased the house and grounds in 2010. Current tenants are the BSP Business School Berlin Potsdam and the MSB Medical School Berlin. However, because a musician from BAAM knows the owner, Garrett Keast can now conduct in the Siemens Villa on December 3.

The question—whether or not this is all very daring - the orchestra, the demanding program, the almost forgotten concert venue far from the City Centre - Garrett Keast parries with genuine American optimism. "Berlin audiences are so adventurous after all!"

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