Raritan River Music Festival Spans Centuries

By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts

Michael Newman and Laura Oltman founded the Raritan Music Festival 25 years ago.

Guitar duo Michael Newman and Laura Oltman founded the Raritan River Music Festival 25 years ago. Since then, they’ve brought an eclectic mix of classical music to Hunterdon County every May. This year, to mark the festival’s anniversary, as well as the 300th anniversary of Hunterdon County and the 350th anniversary of the state of New Jersey, the festival is presenting a series of concerts featuring music from 1714, 1814, 1914 and 2014.

The series ends in 2014, but it began in the year 1714. Chatham Baroque played music from the time of the colonies in the historic Prallsville Mills in Stockton, New Jersey on May 4. The earliest parts of the mill date back to the 1700s, not too long after independence. Although music by Corelli, Kapsperger, Scarlatti and Couperin might not have been played or listened to in an industrial grist mill back then, the members of Chatham Baroque appreciate the setting.

“It’s a great historical space,” says Scott Pauley, who plays theorbo, archlute and baroque guitar with Chatham Baroque. “It’s a pretty spot right by the river and kind of a rustic atmosphere. Plus, we always like playing in wood buildings because it helps the sound of our instruments, they like a ‘live’ wood acoustic. So we really enjoy it here.”


Scott Pauley of Chatham Baroque describes one of his early stringed instruments, the archlute. He is joined by viola da gamba, harpsichord and baroque violins for a performance of music by Corelli.

Chatham Baroque is a Pittsburgh-based ensemble that has become a Raritan River Music Festival regular. “We wanted a group that specializes in early music,” says Festival co-founder Laura Oltman.

Often, different instruments are played; for instance, Patricia Halverson of Chatham Baroque plays a six-string instrument called the viola da gamba. It’s similar to a cello but has frets and is bowed differently. Oltman points out that other groups play the same music on modern instruments, but that it has a different sound when played on antique instruments. “And then we’re putting the concert on in a building from 1711. It’s just a great experience to hear it in that context,” she said.

Scott Pauley, Patricia Halverson, and Andrew Fouts of Chatham Baroque, which has become a regular act at the Raritan River Music Festival.

Flutist Laura Gilbert and “Fabulous Friends” continue the march through the centuries Saturday, May 17 with “Chart Stoppers of 1914” at the Stanton Reformed Church. The final concert, music from 2014, takes place at the Clinton Presbyterian Church on May 24. Festival founders, the Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo, will perform newly commissioned works by contemporary composers including Paul Moravec, August Read Thomas and others. They’ll be accompanied by ETHEL, described as “a string quartet like no other.”

A full story on the Raritan River Music Festival, including music from Chatham Baroque and from Guitar Duo Newman & Oltman, will appear on a special NJ350 edition of State of the Arts NJ on June 29. A podcast featuring more music from Chatham Baroque can be heard at

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 p.m. and Thursdays at 11:30 p.m. She is also one of the producers of It Happened Here: New Jersey.