Mission & history
The mission of Portland Baroque Orchestra is to produce intimate and historically-informed interpretations of music composed before 1840 for a wide audience, and to provide broad access and educate the community about the composers and historic context of this music through world-class professional performances, outreach, and dialogue.
Period instruments in the hands of our players make the music come alive. Built at the time Bach and Handel were composing, or built today by contemporary craftsmen to historical designs, baroque period instruments include 17th-century versions of modern orchestral equivalents (violins, cellos, oboes) as well as lutes, viols, harpsichords, sackbuts, and other instruments you won’t hear at the symphony. The music of the era sparkles on these instruments. This fresh and lively historic soundscape makes the PBO experience unlike any other.
Emerging in the early 1980s as a grassroots cooperative of musicians, the Portland Baroque Orchestra has matured into a polished, professional organization within the ranks of the best period orchestras in North America and Europe. Succeeding PBO’s regular guest director and artistic advisor Ton Koopman, Monica Huggett has been the group’s artistic director for twenty years. She is considered one of the premier baroque violinists, and was appointed the inaugural artistic director of the Juilliard School’s Institute for Historical Performance in 2008.
The core of PBO’s main-stage performances is a Portland subscription series of five productions (with the largest subscription audience for period instrument performances in the Pacific Northwest) plus the region’s only annual performances of Handel’s Messiah on period instruments. In addition, PBO collaborates with local and regional peers for touring and contracted performances that, in some years, account for 25% of its performing activity. PBO has served as period ensemble-in-residence of the Oregon Bach Festival, traveling statewide on behalf of the Festival. PBO has also collaborated with Portland Opera for staged productions of Cavalli’s La Calisto in 2009 and Handel’s Rinaldo in 2013. PBO is part of the Northwest Baroque Masterworks Project, working with Early Music Vancouver (British Columbia) and Pacific MusicWorks (Seattle) to produce and present productions of each organization throughout the greater region.
Dedicated to equitable access to the arts, PBO produces Young People’s Concerts for families and youth groups and regularly brings outreach performances to high-needs schools. PBO was one of the founding organizers of Portland’s innovative Arts for All ticketing program to provide $5 tickets for low income individuals, and is a regular partner with BRAVO Youth Orchestras, the first El Sistema affiliated program in Oregon.
In 2013-14, PBO produced a studio recording of ten concertos by J.S. Bach for violin and oboe, featuring oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz. The first of two discs was released in November, 2014 on the AVIE label, and the second in summer of 2015. In 2011, PBO collaborated with Montreal’s Les Voix Baroques and Portland’s Cappella Romana to produce and record Bach’s St. John Passion. The studio recording of that production, made after critically acclaimed performances in Portland, Eugene, Seattle, and Vancouver (British Columbia), was released by AVIE in 2012.