Chatham trio takes baroque to bistro
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As if things weren't hectic enough for the members of Chatham Baroque, precariously perched near a staircase and crammed near tables at Palate Bistro, cool air started to pour out of a nearby vent.
"Uh, oh," said violinist Andrew Fouts, who knows the effect climate shifts have on baroque instruments. "I'll just turn this upward."
Redirecting air flow is all in a day's work for the newest member of the renowned period music trio. Well, not exactly. More like, all in a continuing experiment for the group. For the second season in a row, it is mixing off-beat venues with its regular gigs in Oakland and Shadyside.
"We want to break down stereotypical associations of baroque music," said Executive Director Joshua Foster. And they also want to see if people will be more willing to hear ancient music with fresh food on their plates. The group's latest foray was Palate in the Cultural District. It's a swank restaurant with excellent French cuisine and M.C. Esher-like tiers for seating. The group's first set found them a bit cramped in a corner and near a noisy bar, but they didn't let that keep them from regaling patrons with music by Bach, Biber and other baroque composers.
It all made for an unusual debut for Fouts, a young Californian trained at the Eastman School of Music and at Indiana University. He is succeeding Julie Andrijeski, a 12-year member of the trio. It's not an easy thing to replace a longtime member of a group, especially when you represent 33 percent of it. But to do so with silverware hitting plates and a martini shaker adding icy rhythm is a tall task.
This was not the place to judge Fouts' timbre or the group's ensemble, but his fearlessness was not hidden. Two movements from an unaccompanied Bach Sonata (BWV 1005) displayed the violinist's concentration and a violin-heavy Biber's Sonata No. 5 showcased his elan. That Fouts is new generation period performer is evident. Leaning into dissonance in the Biber, he is looking to express the excitement and passion of baroque music over its learnedness. Not that he didn't have substance (evident in the Bach), but, at first blush, the joy of music-making comes first in his playing.
The eyes of Patricia Halverson (viola da gamba) and Scott Pauley (theorbo and lute) were glued to Fouts, not just because of the noise, but to further the process of getting to know him and his tendencies. It's fascinating to watch chemistry being created, as smiles were frequently exchanged.
For the modest group of patrons, the experience was more than just eating and listening. The intimate space put one as close to these instruments as kings and courtiers used to be. While a glass of wine or beer in hand can make music sweeter, it remains to be seen if the stress put on the instruments, musicians and staff will make Chatham Baroque's "Wandering Minstrels" series make sense long-term. It travels to St. James Parish, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and The Andy Warhol Museum this season. But if Fouts can handle this "stage" with the aplomb he showed (also acting as emcee), then the future is bright for the trio.
The program, sans food and drink, repeats 8 tonight at Synod Hall, Oakland, and 2:30 p.m. tomorrow at Calvary Episcopal Church, Shadyside.