BY JESSICA CABE
Special to the Post and Courier
For the third consecutive year, Pittsburgh's Chatham Baroque will take Piccolo Spoleto audiences back to Bach and beyond.
The three-member ensemble, founded in 1990, has developed a considerable reputation in American early-music circles. The international early-music movement of recent decades, inspired by scholarly research and a sense of adventure, typically presents musicians playing period instruments - in the case of the baroque, instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries. That adds a level of intrigue, according to Patricia Halverson, a founding member who plays viola da gamba. But Chatham Baroque doesn't stop there.
"A lot of people feel that classical music is on its way out, but this is a new way of looking at repertoire that has been played," she said. "It's almost like a new investigation of this repertoire. There's a lot of improvisation; there's a lot of flexibility."
In addition to Halverson, the group consists of Andrew Fouts on baroque violin and Scott Pauley on baroque guitar and theorbo (a deep-sounding, long-necked lute).
Chatham Baroque's programming spans from high baroque classics by Bach and Vivaldi to more casual songs. Halverson said the group chose pieces for Piccolo that are different from those they typically program. She said they want to reach as wide an audience as possible by playing music that is both accessible and fresh.
"That's typically what we do when we go to Piccolo Spoleto," Halverson said. "We try to provide variety."
"Sol y Sombra," a concert on May 30, offers a particularly lively take on the baroque style, featuring music that blends Spanish baroque with music of the indigenous people of Latin America.
"We've actually been doing that repertoire for a long time, and we have a couple of CDs of that music," Halverson said. "I think for a lot of potential audiences, there's this idea of, 'Oh, I'm not sure if I like baroque music.' 'Sol y Sombra' is very different from a program of Bach or high baroque composers, but it's really fun and laid back."
Steve Rosenberg, coordinator of the Piccolo Spoleto Early Music Series, said that what drives him to bring Chatham Baroque back time and again is the group's expertise and its ability to perform repertoire that entertains.
"They're playing on original instruments," Rosenberg said. "They're really dynamic, it's energetic, yet they all have Ph.Ds in musicology. They do this as specialists in early music, not just musicians playing pretty well."
Chatham Baroque is performing six concerts in six days, each at 3 p.m. at the Huguenot Church. Tickets are $21.
On Sunday, the group performed "Bach and Before," playing selections from their latest album of the same name. Today they will perform "The Virtuosic Violin," a program focused on violin-driven masterpieces. On Tuesday, Chatham Baroque will be joined by baroque violinist Erika Cutler for "The Grand Tour," performing music from all over Europe. On Wednesday, the group will perform "The Genius of Bach," including his Chaconne for solo violin. On Thursday, Cutler and percussionist Danny Mallon will join the trio for "Mediterranean Nights," highlighting Spanish dances and Italian sonatas. And on Friday, Brazilian countertenor Jose Lemos will join the group for "Sol y Sombra."
Halverson said Piccolo Spoleto offers a certain excitement that only festivals can bring, and they're glad to be back.
"It's a challenge to do six programs in a row," she said. "It's actually pretty tiring. But it's really fun."
Jessica Cabe is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.