Chatham Baroque Is a Successful Arts Business Model

Article excerpt

In December 2010, the 20-year-old Chatham Baroque ensemble made its Heinz Hall debut on a program devised by Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director Manfred Honeck. The conductor wanted to precede performances of Giuseppe Verdi's "Requiem" with spiritual music from the Italian baroque tradition that Verdi knew well.

"It was a symbolic thing for our organization to have that sense of arrival by playing at Heinz Hall and being presented by the Pittsburgh Symphony," Chatham Baroque violinist Andrew Fouts says. "What really struck me was that we got so many comments after that weekend. We do a lot of concerts, but the fact that the symphony plays in such a large hall meant we reached so many people who just loved our instruments and thought they sounded fabulous."

Chatham Baroque has been a mission-driven ensemble from its beginning. It champions early music performed on period instruments - - baroque violin and viola da gamba rather than modern violin or cello, for example.

The ensemble has a long-standing relationship with Pittsburgh Opera, with which it has performed a half-dozen baroque operas by Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli and George Frideric Handel.

"I love them," says Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera's general director. "I was thrilled when I got to Pittsburgh to learn about them, because they make it possible for me to have the company explore baroque repertoire with real depth and professionalism."

Pittsburgh Opera singers learn a lot from the Chatham Baroque musicians, Hahn says.

"They are completely nondoctrinaire, very in the moment, fascinated to play around the singers and meet them where they are in the rehearsal process," he says. "I will always search out future ways to work with them because they are such good partners."

Unique business model

If survival is success in the arts -- as Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble founder and composer David Stock likes to say -- then Chatham Baroque has succeeded with what might be a unique business model for chamber-music ensembles. Its musicians receive an annual salary and health benefits.

"I worked at Chamber Music America before joining this group," executive director Marc Giosi says. Chamber Music America is a national association of professional chamber-music groups, which is based in New York City. "I've been scratching my head to think of another chamber-music group, let alone early-music group, that has this structure behind it -- aside from a string quartet in residence at a university."

Chatham Baroque's budget for 2011-12 is $323,000. It has four full-time employees -- three musicians and the executive director. Each musician's salary is $37,500. The current lineup includes Fouts, Patricia Halverson on viola da gamba and Scott Pauley on fretted instruments

"We have a diverse revenue stream. We're not overly reliant on any one financial pillar," Giosi says. The Heinz Foundations and the Pittsburgh Foundation have supported Chatham Baroque from its first year.

Income earned from performances will account for about 20 percent of the budget this season. Public contributions, from corporations, foundations and government, will contribute 42 percent of the budget. Personal contributions, including from board members, will account for 18 percent. Development events, such as the annual 12th Night Gala, will add 11 percent.

The business model makes a world of difference for Fouts. "It allows me to really focus on projects and directions that speak to me a lot," he says. "Freelance musicians find themselves doing work that may help pay the rent but doesn't speak either to their training or aspirations. I certainly did before Chatham Baroque."

The musicians are involved in all aspects of Chatham Baroque's operations, and work together to plan seasons and projects, but might split up for library research and score preparation. …