Chatham Baroque modernizes classical

In today’s world, classical musicians must conceptualize new and interesting ways to present their craft if they are to stay afloat in the industry. One group in Pittsburgh is doing just that: Chatham Baroque, a string trio that performs on instruments from the Baroque era, is performing this Thursday at the Downtown restaurant Olive or Twist.

Classical music, generally performed on a stage by musicians in tuxedos, is widely known for its inaccessibility. Musicians are held on a pedestal figuratively and literally, confusing music — ancient and modern — is given no explanation, and audience members are expected to sit quietly for 90 minutes or more.

With their performance this week and others like it, Chatham Baroque seeks to correct these problems. The trio will be at the same level and only a few feet from onlookers. They will talk between pieces, discussing their music as they go. The program will be a 60-minute summation of a longer program they will perform on Saturday and Sunday called “La Suave Melodia,” which features works by Italian Baroque composers Francesco Veracini, Giovanni Foscarini, and Giuseppe Tartini, among others.

Patrons are encouraged to sip drinks and munch hors d’oeuvres throughout. Chatting will not be looked down upon, and audience members will not be asked to silence their cell phones.

“One thing that seems to keep potential patrons away from concerts is a fear of the unknown,” said Marc Giosi, executive director of Chatham Baroque. “It’s sort of an obscure thing to ask of people, that they come out to a presentation of Western art music, sit alone in an auditorium in fancy clothes, and enjoy this shared experience. This is an effort to bridge that, to give people a chance to relax and just enjoy the music.”

Le Poisson Rouge, an art cabaret in New York City, influenced Chatham Baroque to collaborate with Olive or Twist. The club, which is known for housing contemporary classical performances, seeks to reframe the art form by pulling classical music out of the concert hall.

Chatham Baroque is an underrated gem of Pittsburgh. Better known outside of Pittsburgh than in it, the ensemble maintains an extensive national and international touring schedule. Founded in 1990, the group has recorded seven CDs to date. They host a successful concert series in Pittsburgh, put on a series for children called “Peanut Butter & Jam Sessions,” and play a program called “Music All Over the Place,” in which they take their classical music into unsuspecting venues in hopes of infesting new ears with their passion.

The trio’s highest voice is Andrew Fouts on Baroque violin. Patricia Halverson is the trio’s viola da gamba player, and Scott Pauley plays both theorbo and Baroque guitar. For those who haven’t heard of these musicians, a search for any of these names will reveal impressive background information and discography.

The group’s performance at Olive or Twist is only the second of its kind for Chatham Baroque. The first took place in February and featured harpist Paula Fagerberg on the Italian triple harp. There will doubtless be many more innovative and exciting performances to come.