For Chatham Baroque’s latest program, what’s old is new.
The ensemble’s core trio host three guests for “Les Nations: Music from the Age of Louis XIV and XV,” featuring the works of 18th-century French composers, with the opening night on February 25 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Upper St. Clair.
Prior to “The Nations” concerts, including the following two days at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside, the musicians develop their own instrumentation arrangements based on the original scores.
“In rehearsal, part of our time will be spent orchestrating how we want the music to sound, so we can get as much variety as possible,” said Patricia Halverson, founding member of Chatham Baroque. “There really is no right answer. We’re just looking for, well, what do we think is the best combination at the end of February 2022? There are many options that can work.
She forms the ensemble with fellow artistic directors Andrew Fouts and Scott Pauley, with the mission of presenting early music playing on the instruments in use at the time. With them in “Les Nations”, Caroline Giassi, baroque oboe; Stephen Schultz, baroque flute; and Justin Wallace, harpsichord.
The program is named after a long composition by François Couperin (1688-1733) comprising sonatas and dance suites, first published in 1726.
“We’re sort of modernizing it, in that it’s up to us which moves we play. Couperin writes these pieces, but he doesn’t specify this one for flute or this one for violin,” Schultz said of the instrumentation. “So we have a lot of flexibility in how we interpret it, and that’s what appeals to me about playing this particular program, besides the fact that French Baroque music is really beautiful and sounds good to the flute.”
He joins Giassi and Fouts, who plays the baroque violin, to take the parts of higher register instruments. Pauley’s theorbo, a long-necked lute, gave him the opportunity to play basso continuo, a musical form of chords in combination with the bass line.
For “Les Nations”, Halverson plays a seven-string bass viol, which has an extra string of lower register than his primary period instrument, the viola da gamba. Wallace’s harpsichord also provides the general low tone.
On the program, his keyboard is featured in a selection of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Pieces de Harpsichord in Concert”.
“It’s very virtuoso for the harpsichord, and also for the other players. It’s super tough,” said Halverson.
Her affiliation with Chatham Baroque dates back to the formation of the ensemble in 1990, and she, Fouts and Pauley have been members together for nearly 15 years. Following a hiatus in live performances due to COVID-19, they resumed concerts in the fall.
“Les Nations” also includes a sonata for flute and violin by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755). For Schultz, this means playing what is alternately called a traverse or traverse.
“It’s basically a kind of stick with holes in it,” he said. “And so it’s hard to make a good sound on it, but it’s so much better, because that’s the sound and the feel of the music that the composers wanted. They were writing specifically for the wooden flute, so they knew what she could and could not do.
Schultz has played the instrument since he was a teenager and studied it at the Royal Conservatory of Music in the Netherlands. For the past 20 years he has been an instructor at Carnegie Mellon University.
He and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour have recorded two albums, including their interpretation of Couperin’s “Concerts Royaux” released in August. They collaborated on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sonatas for flute and harpsichord” in 2018.
And Schultz is interested in newer music. In fact, he teaches a Carnegie Mellon course on the Beatles.
“It’s quite popular. It ranges from 100 to 200 students,” he said. “And it’s really fun. They’re mostly non-music majors, so I’m not talking too technically about the songs. But I’m kind of giving a historical overview of the 60s and the recording process that the Beatles went through.
He is a regular performer with Chatham Baroque, presented together by the Renaissance and Baroque Society of Pittsburgh in 2011 and Chamber Music Pittsburgh in 2013, as well as Chatham Baroque’s own series in 2017.
“It’s really fun to play with Chatham Baroque,” he said. “Not only are they the only original band in town, they’re great too. So every time they invite me to play with them, I get really, really excited.
“The Nations: Music from the Age of Louis XIV and XV” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Upper St. Clair, and 8 p.m. Feb. 26 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Calvary Church Episcopal, 315 Shady Ave, Shadyside. Proof of vaccination and compliance with COVID safety protocols are required. For more information, visit www.chathambaroque.org/2021-2022-season.