Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Baroque ensemble Apollo's Fire to open Rosary Cathedral series

With her tamed mop of auburn curls and lovely classic features, Jeannette Sorrell looks to have stepped right out of an ancient Grecian frieze depicting gods and goddesses at play. And when she sits at her harpsichord and gives a firm downbeat to her Baroque orchestra, the result is something that Apollo, Greek god of music and the sun, surely would have relished.

Sorrell, a visionary and determined musician who studied keyboard with the legendary Dutch musician Gustav Leonhardt and, in the United States, with Roger Norrington and Leonard Bernstein, has named her much-lauded ensemble after the mythical figure.

Apollo's Fire comes to Toledo at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to launch the Cathedral Concert season at Our Lady Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral.

Now in its 19th season, the Cleveland-based ensemble has built a solid reputation for lively performances of 17th and 18th century music on string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments either built at that time or newly constructed to authentic specifications.

This year, Sorrell's group, touring nationally under an NEA grant, is reviving one of its standard major works: Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610. Next month, Apollo's Fire will make its first European tour, visiting some of the sites where the music they play was written.

Venues include Zaragoza and Bilbao in Spain; two gigs in the Netherlands, and a debut Nov. 30 at Wigmore Hall in London.

Speaking to the Cleveland Plain Dealer last spring when the tour was announced, Sorrell said, “The style in which Apollo's Fire plays is rooted in our European training, and that training has enabled us to really focus on the concepts that were discussed by the musician-writers in the 18th century — conveying the emotions and moods of the music to the audience.

“We have definitely put our own stamp on that style — and we are dying of curiosity to see how the Europeans will respond to that.”

The Rosary Cathedral concert will be a do-not-miss performance of the Monteverdi classic.

Written while Monteverdi (1567-1643), the forward-looking Italian composer, was working in Mantua, this memorable piece was first printed in nearby Venice, where he became music master in 1613. It is not clear whether the Vespers ever was performed in the spectacular visual and acoustic space of St. Mark's Cathedral.

But inside Rosary Cathedral, with its soaring Plataresque arches and colorful surfaces, the sound should bloom like 1,000 roses.

The Vespers — its full name is Vespers for the Blessed Virgin — is a 90-minute collection of psalms, motets, and solos alive with soaring choruses, dramatic instrumental passages, and lovely solos for voice and instruments. Based on Biblical texts, it was created for use during evening prayers.

For Monteverdi, who earned a star position in the history of music for this work as well as several operas and many, many madrigals, it was the benchmark in a long career. In many ways the Italian musician's work was a bridge between the Renaissance period, in which music had become far more secular in orientation, and the big Baroque era that followed.

Some compare Monteverdi's impact on music at the time to Shakespeare's effect on literature. He is seen as the immediate precursor to Johann Sebastian Bach, the most famous figure in Baroque music.

In a time when more and more music is machine generated from either sampled sources or original electronica, love for the soft, unamplified sounds of Baroque performance continues to thrive. Apollo's Fire is one of more than 20 such orchestras around the world which, in their performance practices and programming, keep alive a more intimate music.

Apollo's Fire will perform the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Blvd. Tickets are $10 to $20. Information: 419-246-8000.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.

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