Chatham Baroque and Renaissance & Baroque to merge

May 18, 2018 -- benaiah
APR 27, 2018 | 7:00 AM

Let’s skip the obligatory “if it ain’t Baroque don’t fix it” pun and get right to it: Pittsburgh’s two largest early music organizations are merging.

Chatham Baroque, Pittsburgh’s acclaimed historical performance ensemble, will absorb the second oldest early music presenting organization in the U.S., Renaissance & Baroque. A presenting organization brings in musicians or ensemble to perform concerts instead of employing its own ensemble.

Chatham Baroque has been managing R&B’s current concert season since December, when the latter’s executive director stepped down. The two organizations have shared office space since 2016 and regularly promote each other’s events.

“If you aren’t worried about what’s going on under the hood, there’s really going to be no change at all,” says longtime R&B board member Richard Stern.

Renaissance & Baroque will conclude its 49th season Saturday with a performance by cornetto player Bruce Dickey, soprano Hana Blazikova and other guest artists in Synod Hall in Oakland. Chatham Baroque’s season wrapped in mid-April.

Both organizations use historically informed performance techniques; HIP is a practice in which period instruments and techniques are used to play the music as it would have sounded when it was composed.

This involves using historical instruments such as the viola da gamba and the theorbo and playing on gut strings on violins and other stringed instruments.

Aesthetically, HIP places a premium on elegance and refinement, as harmonies in the Renaissance (1400-1600) and Baroque (1600-1750) eras were more consonant, simpler, than even those of the Classical era. Using gut strings — typically made from sheep or goat intestine — causes an instrument’s sound to decay faster, which gives the music a feeling of consistent oscillation, of swelling and subsiding. Historical performance has flourished in the U.S. particularly in the past decade.

“This seemed like an inevitable outcome for the next evolution of the two organizations,” said Andrew Fouts, baroque violinist and artistic director of Chatham Baroque. “We intend to honor their past and their organizational mission.”

According to Donna Goyak, Chatham Baroque’s executive director, Renaissance & Baroque received an anonymous donation to explore the possibility of a merger a few months ago. The law firm K&L Gates took on the legal responsibilities inherent in the merger pro bono.

Chatham Baroque’s 2018-19 season will feature a Renaissance & Baroque 50th season series of five or six concerts featuring some of the top talent in the early music world. For now, the two organizations’ websites will remain separate, and ticket prices will not change much. Listeners will be able to subscribe to Chatham’s main series or the R&B series or both.

Founded in 1990, Chatham Baroque programs five weekends of concerts on its main series in addition to touring the U.S. and performing outreach concerts around the city. The ensemble’s fiscal budget this year is $415,000, and roughly 450 listeners attend each concert weekend.

Renaissance & Baroque was founded in 1969 and this year operated with a budget of about $135,000. The season is made up of roughly five concerts a year that attract about 400 listeners each.

“By anyone’s standards, this merger is happening very quickly,” Ms. Goyak said. “We’ll be stronger together. Having different series and revenue streams like this will allow us to make course corrections throughout the year.”

Jeremy Reynolds: or 412-263-1634; twitter: @Reynolds_PG. Mr. Reynolds' work at the Post-Gazette is supported by a grant from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Getty Foundation and the Rubin Institute.