Jeanette Sorrell © Roger Mastroianni
Jeanette Sorrell
© Roger Mastroianni
As part of Baroque Month, Bachtrack has been quizzing leading Baroque ensembles around the globe about the challenges of running a period instrument ensemble and how to build new audiences for their work. We also ask for some Baroque recommendations to introduce new listeners and which lesser-known composer they think deserves greater notice.

Apollo’s Fire was founded in 1992 by the award-winning young harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell. She envisioned an ensemble dedicated to the Baroque ideal of Affekt – evoking the various passions or emotions in the listeners. She kindly offered us the following responses to our questions.

1. What is one of the main challenges of running a period ensemble today?

Apollo's Fire was born in the shadow of the great Cleveland Orchestra. Cleveland is not a large city, so the sources for fundraising and financial support are limited. Therefore we have had to make our way largely through earned income.

Jeannette Sorrell: This is a challenge, but it's a challenge I welcome. From the beginning, the financial pressure has made it easy for the musicians and I to believe fervently that every concert must be outstanding. And so, we pour our hearts into every concert - because we want those people to come back next time, so that we can keep doing what we love doing. And they have come back. Our audience, including subscribers, has continued to grow every year - despite the national trend to the contrary. So I think it's a healthy kind of pressure.

2. How do you bring in new audiences?

Instead of "dumbing down" down the music, Apollo's Fire strives to provide a window into the music through historical and political context, theatrical elements, dance and dramatic use of the performing space. Jeannette Sorrell's approach to programming is thematic and contextual. She has also hand-picked the musicians for their expressive qualities on stage, so new audiences are always delighted with the sense of animation and interaction between the players.

Apollo's Fire has a creative and adventurous approach to venues, performing in many different and non-traditional places throughout the greater Cleveland area. For example, Apollo’s Fire drew 1000 people to the amphitheatre of Cain Park in Cleveland for a summer performance of Sorrell's early American program, "Come to the River." In addition to its core Baroque repertoire, the group has also brought in new audiences through creative crossover programs such as "Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers." Both of these programs are Billboard Classical bestsellers in the U.S.

Apollo's Fire © Roger Mastroianni
Apollo's Fire
© Roger Mastroianni

3. What piece would you recommend to introduce listeners to Baroque music?

Jeannette Sorrell: It's a toss-up between Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 in D major and Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. Those are the pieces that hooked me when I was in high school. Both of them are full of sparkle and dance. Listening to those pieces made me want to become a baroque musician.

4. Which lesser-known Baroque composer would you like to hear performed more often and why?

Jeannette Sorrell: I think that Michael Praetorius and Johann Christoph Bach (J.S. Bach's uncle) are both great composers on the highest level. Their music has the same quality of inevitability - every note is perfectly written - as "the big three" (Monteverdi, Purcell and J.S. Bach). In Apollo's Fire, we've performed many times a major Christmas program - a Christmas Vespers - that I put together from various pieces by Praetorius. The year we premièred the program, I was terrified that no one would come. Praetorius was definitely not a household name in Cleveland. But everyone turned up, and they have kept returning for that program for in four subsequent revivals. The music is wonderfully accessible while also being very deep.

Apollo's Fire © Roger Mastroianni
Apollo's Fire
© Roger Mastroianni

5. What is your musical guilty pleasure? (For example, “when I’m not performing/listening to Heinrich Biber, I’m actually listening to Justin Bieber?”)

Jeannette Sorrell:I don't feel guilty about it, but my non-Baroque listening is traditional Celtic folk music and American roots music. In the summertime, there's a "folk wing" of Apollo's Fire that performs this music in an historically-informed aesthetic. It's one of the funnest things we do throughout the year. It really started from my wish to play in a rustic barn in the summertime. And then I felt that we needed rustic repertoire, in order to fit the rustic venue. It's gradually become an important part of life for those of us in this folk wing. We just recorded our third CD of folk music.

6. Which section of the ensemble is first to the bar?

Do you mean the pub?  That would be the brass players, of course!  But the lute players are close behind!

7. What are your top 5 Baroque works?

Bach Brandenburg Concertos - here the Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 in D major BWV 1050 I. Allegro:

J.S. Bach's St John Passion:

J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion:

Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610:

Monteverdi L'Orfeo

 

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 of Affekt – evoking the various passions or emotions in the listeners. The artists deeply share Sorrell’s passion for drama and rhetoric.

Since its introduction into the European CD market with AVIE Records in 2010, Apollo’s Fire has been hailed as “European stylishness and American entrepreneurialism” (The Telegraph, London). The ensemble has toured three times to Europe, playing sold-out concerts in London (Wigmore Hall,) Madrid (Royal Theatre), Bordeaux, Lisbon, Metz, and in Austria.

Apollo’s Fire has also toured throughout North America, including the Aspen Music Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival, the Library of Congress and major venues in Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as an 11-concert tour of the Monteverdi Vespers and a 9-concert tour of the Brandenburg Concertos. At home in Cleveland, Apollo’s Fire enjoys sold-out performances at its subscription series, which has drawn national attention for creative programming. This year they sold over 13,000 tickets in the Cleveland area.