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December 12, 2012 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire continues holiday offerings with Handel's Messiah
by Donald Rosenberg

"Music Director Jeannette Sorrell... succeeded in drawing the audience into another world. While the performance Friday was sold out, the Apollo's Fire forces... approached the piece as if they were telling the story for the first time. Sorrell shaped the score with an alert ear for expressive and dramatic nuance. Apollo's Singers again explored a magnificent spectrum of shadings. From the lightest of touches to the majestic proclamations, the ensemble provided lucidity and fervor."

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December 8, 2012 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire revives wondrous 'Celtic Christmas' program
by Donald Rosenberg

Apollo's Fire... has shown a welcome knack for crisscrossing between periods and genres. Nowhere is this more evident than in its smashing holiday presentation known as "Sacrum Mysterium," or "Sacred Mystery – A Celtic Christmas." Music director Jeannette Sorrell devised the program last year with Sylvain Bergeron, artistic director of Ensemble La Nef of Montreal, and it's back this season in a version that confirms the brilliance and poignancy of the concept. At Friday's concert, Sorrell joined... the orchestra's crackerjack chorus, in a performance at turns mellifluous, cozy and raucous. How can such qualities share the same stage? Sorrell and Bergeron created a narrative that weaves together ancient art and folk traditions with a keen blend of reverence and rousing personality. The sound of a distant bagpipe introduces the evening, with the chorus and soprano Meredith Hall processing down the central aisle. What follows is a mesmerizing array of seasonal delights, which Sorrell and company perform with a special mix of sophistication and zest. The orchestra's superb CD and DVD of the program have just been released by Avie Records. It likely will keep listeners glued to their speakers or earbuds for decades to come. But seeing "Sacred Mystery" is an altogether different and wondrous experience...

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November 4, 2012 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire and guests exult in "Baroque blues"
by Donald Rosenberg

How didactic can you get? You program music with bass lines that recur while upper voices play variations on a theme. Sounds like an evening of extreme tedium.

Or not. Somehow, there wasn’t a moment during the program Apollo’s Fire presented Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church when the mind or ears wandered from the delectable music and enchanting performances. The program was titled – big breath – “Passacaglia: Laments, Madrigals & Dances from Monteverdi & Charpentier.” While that’s a bit intimidating, it confirms how much study music director Jeannette Sorrell puts into a program before transforming it into something deeply communicative and, yes, entertaining.

Sorrell, always quick to make connections between music of distant eras, imagined the program as a night at a blues café in 1610.... She started things off with an ensemble of three male singers, violins, viola, theorbos, guitar, cello and percussion in the ancient jazz-land of “O Felix Jucunditas,” a jaunty work by Samuel Bockshorn, better known as Capricornus. During Diego Ortiz’s “Passamezzo Moderno,” Andrijeski returned to stage as charismatic Baroque dancer, clicking her heels to Rex Benincasa’s vibrant castanets.

Throughout the night, the Apollo’s Fire musicians had a grand time playing old-time blues with their guests – soprano Snaidas, tenor haute-contre Karim Sulayman, tenor Oliver Mercer and baritone Jeffrey Strauss. Snaidas was an expressive marvel in Monteverdi’s “Lamento Della Ninfa” and coquettish delight in Barbara Strozzi’s “L’Amante Secreto.” Sulayman and Mercer, both distinctive in vocal timbre, brought florid grace and fireworks to their performances, while Strauss lavished attention on the sorrowful emotions in Strozzi’s “L’Eraclito Amoroso.”

After a while, a listener could forget about the “passacaglia” theme and simply revel in refined and buoyant music-making. What’s not to love about a Baroque jam session that ends with Sorrell and colleagues dancing in the aisles to a madrigal by Monteverdi? Apollo’s Fire knows how to be very cool.

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October 27, 2012 - The Kansas City Metropolis
Apollo's Fire and Zimmermann's Coffee
by Tom Marks

Apollo’s Fire brought to Kansas City the taste of delightful German Kaffee Saturday night with their concert, “A Night at Zimmermann’s Café” for the Friends of Chamber Music. The program was comprised of music inspired by the eighteenth-century Leipziger Gottfried Zimmermann and his famous coffee house. Throughout the concert, an air of tasteful historicism, free from pedantry, circulated amid the theater as artistic director and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell enlightened listeners between pieces to the broader cultural context of the music’s role and its essential place among coffee-house musicians. With works by Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi, the Cleveland-based ensemble brought the baroque’s characteristic contrasts of formal niceties and the heated passions to the stage, effectively reconstructing the intimate Kaffeehaus in the Folly Theater.

The program began with a concerto by one of Zimmerman’s most famous patrons, J. S. Bach. The Concerto for Two Violins in D minor opened the night and was headed by Oliver Brault and Johanna Novom. The overall approach to Bach’s double concerto was fresh and exciting.

Opening the concert’s second half was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050. The concertino included Jeanette Sorrell on harpsichord, Oliver Brault on violin, and Kathie Stewart on the transverse flute. The small group had great chemistry together and an intuitive sense of ensemble. The highest praise should be given to Sorrell for her execution of the extended cadenza near the end of the first movement. Sorrell played with impeccable precision, all the while maintaining full control of the cadenza’s momentum. Most impressive was Sorrell’s intentional exploitation of the numerous cadence points in the cadenza where, when coupled with the section’s relentless rhythm, draw the ear toward an expected conclusion only to be thrown into more and more tumultuous churning.

The night closed with an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Variations on “La Follia,” originally scored for two violins and continuo, but transcribed by Sorrell for orchestra in concerto grosso setting. The impressive showpiece left the audience buzzing (without the influence of caffeine) and brought them to their feet at the concert’s conclusion. The ensemble’s overall ability to simply have fun while making good music, paired with their stellar technical abilities, contributed to an excellent concert—one which was fuelled by historical research but never managed to neglect the basic human elements inherent in the music.

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October 13, 2012 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire opens season with three Brandenburgs of Bach
by Donald Rosenberg

Audiences have come to expect surprises from Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, which is one reason the ensemble is so popular. Music director Jeannette Sorrell’s programs are inventive and instructive.... So it was delightful to see a stage occupied only by natural-horn players at the start of the concert Friday at Fairmount Prebysterian Church opening Apollo’s Fire’s 21st season. Paul Avril and Todd Williams, standing on opposite sides of the platform, raised their bells and performed fanfares that sounded like alfresco calls to arms. Then Sorrell and her merry Apollonians rushed on to offer an evening of music by Bach. Sorrell and company brought lively shaping and imaginative nuances to each piece. The playing was at all times alert to detail, articulation and harmonic potential. In the second Brandenburg, Sorrell welcomed Josh Cohen to tackle the treacherous trumpet part. Cohen did brave work in the stratosphere, hitting most of Bach’s notes amid displays of acrobatic virtuosity. The “happiest” work on the program, as Sorrell called it, was the fifth Brandenburg, with its dizzying harpsichord cadenza (which elicited a “Wow!” from an audience member after Sorrell played it) and chipper and tender encounters with violin (Brault, vivid once more) and transverse flute (the ever-refined Kathie Stewart).

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Apollo's Fire: Brandenburg Concertos at Fairmount Presbyterian
by Nicholas Jones

I would guess that most classical-music concertgoers know Bach's Brandenburg concertos pretty well. But hearing Apollo's Fire play three of them this weekend was, for me, to hear them new. What was new? Most obviously, the instruments. In Brandenburg #1, two hunting horns - metal, valveless and held high above the heads of the players, were utterly different from the suave, neat sounds that the elegant Cleveland Orchestra horns brought to the same piece last year. Here, Paul Avril and Todd Williams were the hornists, mastering these unwieldy beasts with utter aplomb.... Only rarely do we hear the thrilling sound of the natural trumpet. Guest artist Josh Cohen nailed the performance with unforgettable precision and style.

That takes me to the second aspect of what was new: the skill level of the performances. Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible to pull this off with consistent high quality.

Oboist Debra Nagy excelled in Brandenburg #1. To the fifth Brandenburg, Kathie Stewart brought her lovely dark tone and her superb sense of ensemble playing. She and Olivier Brault worked together beautifully, facilitating some of the best playing that I've heard from Brault. And in that same concerto, music director and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell outdid herself in the stunning first-movement solo, generating a tightly wound energy in the passagework that spilled out into a roller-coaster of almost terrifyingly dizzy scales.

Finally, the pieces themselves felt grippingly new to me. Not only does each of the concertos have its own unique sound, but so does each movement. Listening to this wondrous variety of color was like walking from room to room in a great museum—the vast, glowing canvases of Rubens, the austere Goyas, the intimate Vermeers, the pulsing Van Goghs, the luminous Monets.

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June 16, 2012 - THE PLAIN DEALER
A good dose of Irish traditions
by Zachary Lewis

Don't look to the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea if it's a genuine, well-rounded and singular Irish experience you seek this summer. Rather, go to the Baroque Music Barn in Hunting Valley. Go to Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village. Go to Geauga Lyric Theater in Chardon. Go anywhere, really, this weekend where Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is presenting "Celtic Crossings: Songs and Stories of the Irish-American Journey." A sampling of Irish traditional music, dancing and storytelling, performed by experts and natives, the program, part of the orchestra's "Countryside Concerts," is a substantial and highly effective dose of culture only a leisurely trip around the Emerald Isle, complete with pints of Guinness, could top.

...A full-on immersion in actual, living traditions, performed by experts and natives - every round of jigs, reels, and Shaker tunes sparkled with authenticity. Two performers even engaged in an Irish dance- off. Storyteller and Ireland native Tomáseen Foley regaled the sold-out crowd of 'good people of Cleveland, Ohio,' with poetry, tales and jokes, evoking a quiet evening spent sitting around the hearth. But if Foley was the narrative heart of the program, the musicians were its soul. No band at any fairgrounds will equal tenor Ross Hauck singing folk songs by Robert Burns, who was Scottish, or the unique blend of masterful artists on the hammered dulcimer (Tina Bergmann), guitar (William Coulter), flutes (Kathie Stewart) and Irish pipes (Brian Bigley). Intimacy was another unforgettable factor. Hauck, for instance, sang as if from personal experience, addressing listeners almost individually with his light, sweet voice. Likewise, the brilliant dancing of Bigley shook the floor, lending a physical dimension to his already stunning performances on the Uilleann pipes....

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November 14, 2011 - EL PAS (The major national newspaper of Spain)
Classical Fireworks: A Fine Champagne
by J. . Vela del Campo

It was immediately obvious that the evening would be a party, with fireworks in style. And indeed it was... A standing ovation, as rarely happens at the Royal Theatre. The shadow of the American Louis Armstrong was evoked in spirit to perfection by his compatriots from Cleveland, Apollo's Fire Baroque Orchestra, thanks to some dazzling variations on the trio sonata "La Follia" by Vivaldi. These musicians rejuvenated the baroque for us with the spirit of jazz, and the joy of playing together... Jeannette Sorrell conducted from the harpsichord with great precision, sensitivity and femininity. It was one of those evenings that leaves you wanting more.

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November 8, 2011 - THE BOSTON GLOBE
"Fireworks" Lofted by a French Countertenor
by Jeremy Eichler

Easily one of the most enjoyable concerts of the season.... Part of the evening’s success also flowed from the sense of artistic collaboration, as Apollo’s Fire here was far more than a backup band. The group without Jaroussky played two Vivaldi concertos on the first half and later pulled out Sorrell’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s “La Follia’’ trio sonata, uncorking it like a Baroque party piece, dashed off from memory. These excellent young musicians take a highly gestural approach to phrasing and bring across their music with an exuberant physicality, like wind through a forest.

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November 2, 2011 - THE TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL
Jaroussky Dazzles in Arias Raised from Opera's Splendid Shipwrecks
by Robert Everett-Green

Apollo's Fire's flair for drama was perhaps best displayed in a grand rumpus performance of Sorrell's arrangement of La Follia, from a Vivaldi triosonata. This party piece, played from memory, featured many steep and rapid changes in tone, texture and rhythmic character. One of the most interesting and rewarding recitals of the season.

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April 16, 2011 - THE PLAIN DEALER
German recorder player shares wild, crazy and mirthful night with Apollo's Fire
by Donald Rosenberg

Baroque music is openly amenable to transformation. Even composers of the period were happy to borrow (sometimes from themselves) and tweak to suit an artist or a performance situation.

So it was no surprise to find that virtually everything on the program Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, offered Friday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights was an arrangement. What was surprising, and often delightful, was the rambunctious nature of much of the music-making.

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December 17, 2010 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire brings Handel's "Messiah" into warm and dramatic focus
by Donald Rosenberg

In the biggest hit of his fruitful career, "Messiah," George Frideric Handel applied an especially buoyant touch to the words "rejoice greatly."

Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, heeds those words to special effect throughout its performance of Handel's oratorio. But music director Jeannette Sorrell, the orchestra, Apollo's Singers and a vocal quartet also rejoice intimately.

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October 10 , 2010 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire once again illuminates Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610"
by Donald Rosenberg

The performance Saturday at First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland in Shaker Heights was one of those occasions when Monteverdi’s musical inspiration gripped ears, heart and soul.

Sorrell conducted the “Vespers” here in 1998 and 2001 before putting the score away until the current run. In the years since she last shaped the piece, her command of Monteverdi’s idiom has become both more subtle and more dramatic.

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July 4, 2010 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire turns vast Cain Park amphitheatre into intimate space
by Donald Rosenberg

It's business as usual to find pop musicians captivating a crowd at Cain Park. Most of the performers who make a stop at the Cleveland Heights venue hail from the pop, jazz and folk fields.

So the presence of a stellar troupe of singers and instrumentalists digging into down-home fare on a recent Friday night at Cain Park shouldn't have seemed so out of the ordinary. Well, it was and it wasn't.

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Concert Report: Apollo's Fire -"Come to the River" at Huntington Playhouse
by Nicholas Jones

What an endlessly inventive group is Apollo's Fire! Their current offering, "Come to the River," billed as "An Early American Gathering," combines drama, personal recollection, American musical and religious history, and a corncrib full of music. Baroque meets bluegrass, and gospel, and shaped-note, and Celtic, and . . . .

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June 19, 2010 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire applies buoyant and tender touch to country fare
by Donald Rosenberg

Members of Apollo's Fire, including music director Jeannette Sorrell, perform "Come to the River - An Early American Gathering" at various locations Northeast Ohio through Friday.

Jeannette Sorrell’s Cleveland Baroque Orchestra is known best as Apollo’s Fire, even when the musicians diverge from their normal period-instrument activities.

The ensemble takes such a detour every summer during their Countryside Concerts to glory in music of folk persuasion. Given the dominant nature of the offerings, perhaps the group should assume the temporary moniker Appalachia’s Fire.

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March 14, 2010 - THE PLAIN DEALER
The old and the modern make a marvelous Apollo's Fire match
by Donald Rosenberg

It’s easy to get bogged down in a debate about period vs. modern instruments. Does music sound best when the performers are playing instruments the composer might have known? There’s no simple answer.

Apollo’s Fire found itself (unwittingly) addressing the issue this week when the 1877 Bluthner piano it was set to use in Mozart concerts came under the technical weather due to the Ohio weather. In that historic instrument’s place, Sergei Babayan chose a modern Steinway grand tuned slightly down to match the pitch of Jeannette Sorrell’s Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.

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February 2, 2010 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire Bach program confirms patriach's primacy
by Donald Rosenberg

Enlightenment and entertainment have been key elements for Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, and music director Jeannette Sorrell throughout their 18-year history.

A prime example is “Bach Family Fireworks,” the ensemble’s program this month. Sorrell invited two engaging actors, George Roth and Tom White, to serve as narrative glue during a potpourri of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and sons Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich. Maybe another title would have been more apt: “Father Knows Best.”

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December 12, 2009 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire does Praetorius proud
by Donald Rosenberg

With all due respect to George Frideric Handel, “Messiah” doesn’t hold a monopoly on music that generates holiday rapture.

Among the frigid-weather concert pieces for which local audiences are responding with hallelujah-like fervor is “Christmas Vespers,” a potpourri of music by Michael Praetorius and friends that Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, has made a biennial event.

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Apollo's Fire brings the sweet joy of Praetorius to Trinity Cathedral
by Daniel Hathaway

Jeannette Sorrell brought the alternately dazzling and charming music of Michael Praetorius to life once again at Trinity Cathedral on Thursday evening, in her compilation program, “Christmas Vespers” — with a little help from Apollo’s Fire’s 20 instrumentalists, 27 adult singers and the 15 young vocalists who make up Apollo’s Musettes. And a near-capacity crowd of happy listeners.

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Apollo's Fire 'jams' into 'Mediterranean Nights'
by Mark Kanny

Saturday night's concert by Apollo Fire was inspired in all the ways one expects of this brilliantly led ensemble. But the smart choice of repertoire and the artistry to perform it memorably were supplemented by an over-arching sensibility absent from most "thematic" concerts.

The program was called "Mediterranean Nights" and had the festive spontaneity of an impromptu jam session.

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Cohesive Apollo's Fire brims with passion and precision
by Andrew Druckenbrod

Long before sampling became a staple of pop and dance music, the original musical loop served as the basis for music 500 years ago. These were called ground basses -- short bass lines that repeated while the treble instruments or singers offered melodies and improvisation above. Think Pachelbel's Canon, however, as a fantastic concert Saturday night at Synod Hall showed, he was a latecomer to this party

Not only that but, presented by the Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh, the Cleveland-based period ensemble Apollo's Fire also showed how varied these bass lines got in 16th- and 17th-century Spain and Italy, different patterns of the ciacona (chaconne) and passacaglia, folia, fandango and lamento.

But what was truly brilliant about this concert of nine musicians (including guitars, violins, harpsichord/cello/theorbo continuo, percussion and singing) was that director Jeannette Sorrell didn't "bass" it just on that. In fact, if they hadn't mentioned that these lively songs and dances all had ground basses in common, few of us would have noticed. There was just too much fun layered on top to pay attention to . . .

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November 1, 2009 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire revels in sunlit Baroque repertoire
by Donald Rosenberg

Audiences have come to expect Apollo’s Fire to shed light on whatever music it prepares. This is certainly true when music director Jeannette Sorrell and her Cleveland Baroque Orchestra apply their period-instrument gifts to Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach and friends. And it also happens when the ensemble ventures away from the Baroque mainstream . . .

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Apollo's Fire: One and a half 'Glorias' and three trumpets
by William Fazekas

Jeanette Sorrell is both a scholarly musicologist and a consummate musician. This past weekend, She could easily have presented an erudite paper, titled something along the lines of “The influence of Venetian church music on the choral style of J. S. Bach”; instead, Ms. Sorrell lead her period-performance orchestra and chorus Apollo’s Fire in a stunning series of concerts . . .

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October 3, 2009 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire opens 18th season on heavenly notes
by Donald Rosenberg

Leave it to Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, to open a season in a blaze of glory. Make that Gloria. Come to think of it, make it both.

Music director Jeannette Sorrell had a smart idea for the first program of her ensemble’s 18th season: sacred choral works by Vivaldi and Bach that include the texts “Glory be to God on high” (“Gloria in excelsis Deo,” in the original Latin).

The orchestra’s concert Friday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights was another example of the heightened musical sensibilities that Sorrell and company pour into their Baroque duties . . .

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Apollo's Fire "Come to the River"

by Daniel Hathaway

At the end of ‘Come to the River’, Apollo’s Fire’s latest summer Countryside Concerts production, Jeannette Sorrell had the audience humming along and eventually joining in a southern folk hymn a la Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. Generating that level of audience engagement explains why the series sold out and an extra concert had to be added to the current run. We gathered at the river — or the Lake — for its final performance at the Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village on Sunday afternoon.

Working from her story line about a preacher who moves his family from Pennsylvania to Kentucky during the Great Awakening around 1800, Sorrell has festooned the plot with a rich playlist of early American music (including repertory from the British Isles which became transplanted and in some cases transformed during its own journey to the new world).

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June 13, 2009 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire applies its magic to American fare

by Donald Rosenberg

Every program that music director Jeannette Sorrell devises for Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is a fascinating journey. The itinerary usually takes listeners through well-known or obscure European terrain.

For her Countryside Concerts this year, Sorrell has come up with something closer to home: a musical travelogue through Appalachia of jubilant and poignant persuasion. The artistry is fresh, impeccable and enchanting.

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April 27, 2009 - THE CALGARY HERALD
Apollo's Fire heats up Calgary concert hall

by Kenneth Delong

Apollo's Fire is a baroque orchestra whose program Sunday night, closing the current Calgary Pro Musica season, was subtitled: Vivaldi and Rameau do Battle with Nature. Calgarians were doing their own battle with nature as our winter weather continues into spring, but it didn't deter the healthy-sized audience that showed up to enjoy the diverting and diverse program presented by the American guests.

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Apollo's Fire 'Virtusoso Fire' in Rocky River

by Daniel Hathaway

Sorrell constructed a fascinating program built around the notion of ambitious composers locked in competition and intrigue in early 18th century Venice, accompanied by lively program notes which revealed colorful flaws in some of their personalities. Antonio Vivaldi was the leading figure, represented by a movement from his Concerto in F for three violins…

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March 6, 2009 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire presents virtuosos galore
by Donald Rosenberg

Competition among composers in 18th-century Venice appears to have been heated. Put it this way (in alphabetical order): Tomaso Albinoni vs. Alessandro Marcello vs. Benedetto Marcello vs. Antonio Vivaldi vs. Francesco Veracini.

Thank goodness for the enmity. It fueled creative fires that inspired a bounty of delicious music.

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Apollo's Fire mounts thoroughly enjoyable production of Purcell's Dido & Aeneas at St. Josaphat Hall
by Daniel Hathaway

"Purcell’s 'Dido and Aeneas' is an opera an opera hater can love”, as Allan Kozinn put it in a New York Times review last December. “It’s in English, and it runs less than an hour. Its libretto, drawn from Virgil, is fantastical but not idiotic, and Purcell’s music brings it to life magnificently”. It’s also remarkably adaptable to wildly different approaches in staging — Kozinn happened to be commenting on a production by the Sybarite Chamber Players which relocated the action to Wall Street and turned the plot’s love interest into a planned corporate merger that fell apart when Aeneas was suddenly called back to Italy, all without doing any damage to the music.

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January 31, 2009 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Apollo's Fire illuminates Purcell opera
by Donald Rosenberg

Need help preparing a 350th-birthday celebration? Look no further than Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.

Music director Jeannette Sorrell and company are in the midst of throwing a series of enchanting parties for Henry Purcell, the English composer who was born in 1659. Their program of theater music and the opera "Dido and Aeneas" runs through Tuesday at Cleveland's Josephat Arts Hall.

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