Apollos Fire

Apollo’s Fire

Sun, June 24, 2018, 4:00pm


Hailed as “one of the pre-eminent period-instrument ensembles” (The Independent, London), Apollo’s Fire was founded in 1992 by award-winning harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell, who envisioned an ensemble dedicated to the baroque ideal that music should evoke the various Affekts or passions in listeners. Based in Cleveland, the ensemble has released 25 commercial CDs, tours internationally, and makes its Carnegie Hall debut in 2018. “First rate … rendered with consummate skill and artistry …” (The New York Times)

“Apollo’s Fire under the direction of Sorrell has put Cleveland firmly on the period-performance map.” — The New Yorker

Apollo’s Fire
Jeannette Sorrell, Artistic Director


Uccellini Aria sopra “La Bergamasca” (arr. J. Sorrell)
Handel Selections from Water MusicBach Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor, BWV 1060
Vivaldi Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor, RV 531
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
Handel Il pastor fido: Terpsicore, HWV 8b: Chaconne
Vivaldi Trio Sonata in D Minor, RV 63 (Variations on “La Folia”) (arr. J. Sorrell)

3:00pm Pre-concert conversation with Jeannette Sorrell and members of Apollo’s Fire.
Complimentary Garden Listening Tickets for Members at the Family Level and above

Apollo's Fire

Apollo’s Fire

Artist Website Watch

Named for the classical god of music and the sun, Apollo’s Fire was founded in 1992 by the award-winning young harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell. Sorrell envisioned an ensemble dedicated to the baroque ideal that music should evoke the various Affekts or passions in the listeners. Apollo’s Fire is a collection of creative artists who share Sorrell’s passion for drama and rhetoric.

Hailed as “one of the pre-eminent period-instrument ensembles” (The Independent, London), Apollo’s Fire made its London debut in 2010 in a sold-out concert at Wigmore Hall, with a BBC broadcast. Subsequent European tours took place in 2011, 2014, and 2015. European performances include sold-out concerts at the BBC Proms in London (with live broadcast across Europe), the Aldeburgh Festival (UK), Madrid’s Royal Theatre, Bordeaux’s Grand Théàtre de l’Opéra, and major venues in Lisbon, Metz (France), and Bregenz (Austria), as well as concerts on the Birmingham International Series (UK) and the Tuscan Landscapes Festival (Italy).

Named for the classical god of music and the sun, Apollo’s Fire was founded in 1992 by the award-winning young harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell.

AF’s London 2014 concert was praised as “an evening of superlative music-making…the group combines European stylishness with American entrepreneurialism” (The Telegraph, UK). This concert was chosen byThe Telegraph as one of the “Best 5 Classical Concerts of 2014.”

North American tour engagements include sold-out concerts at the Tanglewood Festival (2015 and 2017), the Ravinia Festival, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY (2013, 2014, and 2015), the Boston Early Music Festival series, and the Library of Congress, as well as concerts at the Aspen Music Festival, and major venues in Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The ensemble has performed two major U.S. tours of the Monteverdi Vespers (2010 and 2014) and a 9-concert tour of the Brandenburg Concertos in 2013. Apollo’s Fire is signed to Columbia Artists Management for exclusive representation in North and South America, and is managed in the U.K. by Intermusica (London).

Upcoming engagements include the ensemble’s Carnegie Hall debut in March 2018. That concert sold out 7 months in advance, on the day the tickets went on sale.

At home in Cleveland, Apollo’s Fire enjoys sold-out performances at its subscription series, which has drawn national attention for creative programming. Apollo’s Fire has released 25 commercial CDs and currently records for the British label AVIE. Since the ensemble’s introduction into the European CD market in 2010, the recordings have won rave reviews in the London press: “a swaggering version, brilliantly played” (The Times) and “the Midwest’s best-kept musical secret is finally reaching British ears” (The Independent). Seven of the ensemble’s CD releases have become best-sellers on the classical Billboard chart: the Monteverdi Vespers, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos & Harpsichord Concertos, a disc of Handel arias with soprano Amanda Forsythe titled The Power of Love (Billboard Classical #3, 2015), and Jeannette Sorrell’s four crossover programs: Come to the River — An Early American Gathering (Billboard Classical #9, 2011); Sacrum Mysterium — A Celtic Christmas Vespers (Billboard Classical #11, 2012); Sugarloaf Mountain — An Appalachian Gathering (Billboard Classical #5, 2015); and Sephardic Journey — Wanderings of the Spanish Jews (Billboard World Music Chart #2 and Billboard Classical #5, Feb. 2016).


Jeanette Sorrell

Jeannette Sorrell, Artistic Director, Conductor & Harpsichordist

“Under the inspired leadership of Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo’s Fire has become one of the pre-eminent period-instrument ensembles, causing one to hear baroque material anew.”  — The Independent, London

Jeannette Sorrell is recognized internationally as one of today’s most creative early-music conductors. She has been credited by the U.K.’s BBC Music Magazine for forging “a vibrant, life-affirming approach to the re-making of early music … a seductive vision of musical authenticity.”

Hailed as “one of the world’s finest Baroque specialists” (St. Louis Dispatch), Sorrell was one of the youngest students ever accepted to the prestigious conducting courses of the Aspen and the Tanglewood music festivals. She studied conducting under Robert Spano, Roger Norrington, and Leonard Bernstein, and harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam. She won both First Prize and the Audience Choice Award in the 1991 Spivey International Harpsichord Competition, competing against over 70 harpsichordists from Europe, Israel, the U.S., and the Soviet Union.

Sorrell founded Apollo’s Fire in 1992. Since then, she and the ensemble have built one of the largest audiences of any baroque orchestra in North America. She has led AF in sold-out concerts at London’s BBC Proms and London’s Wigmore Hall, Madrid’s Royal Theatre (Teatro Real), the Grand Théâtre de l’Opéra in Bordeaux, the Aldeburgh Festival (UK), the Tanglewood Festival, Boston’s Early Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, the Library of Congress, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), among others.

As a guest conductor, Sorrell has worked with many of the leading American symphony orchestras and is represented by Columbia Artists Management. Recent engagements include the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center (Handel’s Messiah). Her 2013 debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as conductor and soloist in the complete Brandenburg Concertos was met with standing ovations every night, and hailed as “an especially joyous occasion” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). The same occurred with her recent debut with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, where the Twin Cities Pioneer Press wrote, “Other masters of the [baroque] style have been paying visits, but none has summoned up as much energy, enthusiasm and excitement from the orchestra as Sorrell.” She has also appeared as conductor or conductor/soloist with the New World Symphony (Miami), the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, Utah Symphony, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis with the St. Louis Symphony, Handel & Haydn Society (Boston), the Grand Teton Music Festival, and has appeared with the Cleveland Orchestra as guest keyboard artist. In 2014 Ms. Sorrell filled in for British conductor Richard Egarr on 5 days’ notice, leading the complete Brandenburg Concertos and playing the harpsichord solo in Brandenburg no. 5, for the closing concert of the Houston Early Music Festival.

Sorrell and Apollo’s Fire have released 25 commercial CDs, of which seven have been bestsellers on the Billboard classical chart. Her recordings include the complete Brandenburg Concerti and harpsichord concerti of Bach (with Sorrell as harpsichord soloist and director), which was praised by the London Times as “a swaggering version … brilliantly played by Sorrell.” She has also released four discs of Mozart, and was hailed as “a near-perfect Mozartian” by Fanfare Record Magazine. Other recordings include Handel’s Messiah, the Monteverdi Vespers, and four creative crossover projects: Come to the River — An Early American Gathering (Billboard Classical #9, 2011); Sacrum Mysterium — A Celtic Christmas Vespers (Billboard Classical #11, 2012); Sugarloaf Mountain — An Appalachian Gathering (Billboard Classical #5, 2015); and Sephardic Journey — Wanderings of the Spanish Jews (Billboard World Music Chart #2 and Billboard Classical #5, Feb. 2016).

Sorrell has attracted national attention and awards for creative programming. She holds an Artist Diploma from Oberlin Conservatory, and honorary doctorate from Case Western University, two special awards from the National Endowment for the Arts for her work on early American music, and an award from the American Musicological Society, and two different awards from the Cleveland Arts Prize. Passionate about guiding the next generation of performers, Ms. Sorrell has led many baroque projects for students at Oberlin Conservatory and is a frequent guest coach at the Cleveland Institute of Music. She is the architect of AF’s highly successful Young Artist Apprentice Program, which has produced the majority of the leading young baroque professionals in the country today.

About the Music.

Summertime with Bach & Friends

As Cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach had a difficult life. In charge of the music for all of the town’s principal churches, his duties included composing new cantatas virtually every week, engaging and rehearsing musicians to perform the cantatas (a difficulty due to the shortage of “freelance” musicians), and teaching the boys of the Thomasschule every day. Such a workload would no doubt have been joyously stimulating to a man of Bach’s genius, were it not for the hostile work environment. From 1720 onward, Bach’s relationship with the Leipzig Town Council became a constant litany of arguments and criticism.

Against this backdrop of conflict, it is not surprising that Bach enjoyed letting his hair down inthe summertime at the pleasantCoffee Garden owned by Gottfried Zimmermann, one of Leipzig’s most successful entrepreneurs. Zimmerman sponsored casual weekly concerts in the Coffee-Garden, as well as in his indoor coffeehouse during winter. Beginning in 1729, Bach became the leader of these coffee-concerts along with his informal student orchestra from the University of Leipzig, known as the Collegium Musicum. He set to work creating concertos that could be played by himself, his sons, and his friends at the coffeehouse.

Most of Bach’s concertos had already been composed during his previous employment as Capellmeister of the orchestra of the Prince of C.then, but many of them needed to be adapted for use with the coffeehouse orchestra which had different strengths and weaknesses than the smaller but more virtuosic C.then ensemble, for whom he had written his earlier concertos. In 1729, he began recycling and transcribing these concertos so that they could be played by the available musicians in Leipzig. He used the coffee-concerts to feature his sons as performers, and to feature repertoire by the composers he most liked and admired — including Vivaldi, Handel, and Telemann. Interestingly, Bach began focusing more of his compositional energy on concertos for the coffeehouse orchestra then on his church cantatas. Perhaps the Collegium was just more fun?

Bach’s virtuoso Brandenburg Concertos had been written in the earlier C.then period. The Margrave of Brandenburg, to whom Bach dedicated the set of six Brandenburg Concertos, will forever live in infamy because he never had the pieces performed or sent Bach a thank-you note. However, it is actually not surprising that he didn’t arrange for a performance; he didn’t have an orchestra of the caliber to play such virtuoso concertos. In any case, the concertos were undoubtedly performed by the Collegium Musicum under Bach’s direction at the coffee-concerts.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 requires from the harpsichordist a level of speed in the scalar passages that far exceeds anything else in the repertoire. One has to train for this piece the same way one trains for an athletic event. Also, the unusual role of the harpsichord in this Concerto — starting off playing basso continuo(easy), then playing solo melodies in dialogue with the flute and violin (moderately difficult), then getting carried away into virtuoso scales (very difficult), and finally leaving the others in the dust as one contemplates the universe in a huge solo cadenza (mountaintop experience) — makes this piece a unique emotional experience each time one plays it.

Bach made a thorough practice of studying the works of composers he admired. Part of his method for absorbing another composer’s style was to transcribe the pieces for other instruments. The composer whose works he most often transcribed was Antonio Vivaldi. There is no surviving record of any meeting between Bach and Vivaldi, but Bach’s admiration for Vivaldi must have been very great. He arranged at least seven of Vivaldi’s violin concertos into keyboard pieces. These arrangements bear the name of J.S. Bach on the manuscripts, with no mention of Vivaldi, and thus they carry BWV numbers in the catalogue of Bach’s works. The unsuspecting listener therefore would not realize they are Vivaldi’s compositions if not informed.

Vivaldi was considerably more famous than Bach during the first half of his career. As music master at the prestigious Piet. in Venice, a special school for orphaned girls and illegitimate daughters of the nobility, with an extraordinary emphasis on music, Vivaldi attained great honor throughout Europe. Tourists from as far as England flocked to Venice to attend the concerts of the “red-headed priest” and his girls.

Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos was probably premiered by two teenage cellists at the orphanage. It is a wonderful example of Vivaldi’s driving rock-n-roll rhythm, as the cellists engage in a duel that is alternately playful and fiery. I see the first movement as a dramatic and rhetorical dialogue between the two soloists and the orchestra. The beautiful middle movement is a poetic reverie with haunting and exotic harmonies. This mood then explodes at the arrival of the wild third movement, which pits the two soloists against each other in a fiery race to the finish.

Bach had a life-long admiration for George Frideric Handel, and tried to meet him at least twice. The two composers were born in the same year, only about 80 miles apart. We know that Bach owned copies of at least three works by Handel. Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel wrote that Handel was one of the composers his father most admired. However, Bach came from a clan of Lutheran church musicians, whereas Handel grew up listening to the music of the aristocracy, since his father was a court surgeon. Each wore the lifelong stamp of his origins.

Handel’s Chaconne from Terpsicore is a set of variations in French style over the traditional repeated chord pattern of the baroque chaconne. He composed it originally as part of Parnasso in Festa, an allegorical piece about Apollo summoning the Muses to demonstrate their arts at a “Festival on Parnassus.” I imagine different muses entering the stage, and we change the mood of the piece as each Caramoor Summer 2018 XXIX muse appears. Later, Handel recycled this lovely Chaconne for use in his Terpsicore suite, named for the Greek music of the dance.

We open and close the program with two traditional “jam session” tunes that originated at the end of the Renaissance, but still exerted plenty of influence on Bach and Vivaldi’s generation. The Bergamasca is a sunny dance that perfectly sets the tone for a casual summer concert. Our version is adapted from a trio sonata by Marco Uccellini, which I turned into a kind of concerto grosso. At the end of our program comes the great Follia or folia tune and dance, which served as inspiration for Vivaldi as well as several other baroque composers (Corelli, Marias, Geminiani, and C.P.E. Bach.) Scholars believe that the dance originated in Portugal, where young girls would engage in the “folly” or “madness” of a wild dance around the fire. The follia is a triple-meter ground bass, beginning in a haughty sarabande-like rhythm, and traditionally growing faster and faster toward the end. The tune is full of the dramatic tension of courtship and seduction. Vivaldi’s version of La Folia, which I believe is the finest of them all, was originially a triosonata; I arranged it as a concerto grosso so that all of us could join in the fray.

In his coffee-garden concerts, Bach showed a warm sense of collegiality and respect for his more successful colleagues, Vivaldi, Handel and Telemann. If he felt any envy of their success, we have no sign of it. His generous spirit and the sense of communal gathering at these informal summer concerts make an inspiring model for music-making today.

— Jeannette Sorrell