Apollo’s Fire to light up Tanglewood with ‘Night at Bach’s Coffee House’
OK all you Baroque music fans, get ready for a great big caffein high at Tanglewood!
Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is bringing A Night at Bach’s Coffee House to Seiji Ozawa Hall on July 2, evoking the Cafe Zimmermann in Leipzig where in the 18th century the cantor of the city’s St. Thomas Church, one Johann Sebastian Bach, used to conduct a zesty band of young music students. Together, they played some of the best new music written by Bach’s most admired colleagues Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann as well as Bach’s own secular music. In fact, much of his chamber and orchestral music, including the Brandenburgs and harpsichord concertos, was written for performance at the cafe. All told, Bach gave 60 concerts annually there from 1729 to 1739. Be there or be square, as they didn’t say in the early eighteenth century.
If you want to sample Apollo’s Fire for yourself, see the video below in which Jeannette Sorrell leads Apollo’s Fire in Antonio Vivaldi’s “La Folia.”
This wild Vivaldi piece about madness, which will be on the Tanglewood program, is one of their signature works. It has become so popular with audiences that the group now plays it from memory.
Jeannette Sorrell, harpsichordist and passionate conductor of Apollo’s Fire, considers “the most distinctive thing about our style is that we are really focused on the concept of Affekt, the idea that the music is there to move the emotional mood of the listeners. We’re very conscious about trying to find the emotional drift of any particular phrase. Is this a phrase where we’re trying to keep the audience in suspense, or is this a phrase where we’re trying to calm them down?”
It has been said that when Jeannette digs into her harpsichord solos, she takes no prisoners! One of her favorites, which will also be heard in Ozawa Hall, is Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. “The famous cadenza in the Brandenburg Five is an amazing and I think unique moment in the repertoire of Baroque music. It’s just like this mountain-top contemplation that the harpsichord goes into. It starts out kind of dreamy and gets more and more wild and it goes crazy eventually and once you get into the crazy part, nothing is going to stop you — you just have to go for it.”
As a child Jeannette longed to study piano, but her family didn’t have one. So, as a stop-gap measure, she copied two octaves of a keyboard on a long piece of cardboard so she could practice fingering. A $125 upright piano soon materialized in their living room.
Fast Forward. While a student, Sorrell received a full scholarship to the Artist Diploma program of Oberlin Conservatory where she studied harpsichord with Lisa Crawford and orchestra conducting with Robert Spano. In 1989 she was a Tanglewood Music Center Fellow in conducting coached by Leonard Bernstein among others. “I was the baby of the class and the only girl. Roger Norrington was also there that summer and I spent quite a lot of time with him, too.”
After that summer, Norrington invited her to be his assistant conductor in London, but instead she opted to study harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam. “He is really the patriarch of early music and none of us would be here today if he had not spent years in the library writing out manuscripts he found there and making them available.” As Sorrell tells it, Leonhardt was a man of few words. “But I thought that every word that came out of his mouth was perfectly chosen. I would play my pieces for him and then he would play them for me. This was the best way of learning how to make the best sound on the harpsichord; how to transcend the limitations of the harpsichord; how to create the illusion of dynamics; how to make Baroque music expressive; and how to liberate yourself from the fact that very little of the expression is written on the page, but that does not mean it is not meant to be there. After my lessons, I would sit down on his front step on the canal in Amsterdam and just try to write down everything that he said.”
Sorrell has also guest-conducted the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphony, the Seattle and St. Louis Symphonies, and a host of other orchestras and opera companies. She made her Pittsburgh Symphony debut as conductor and soloist in a concert of the complete Brandenburg Concertos. With standing ovations every night, the event was hailed as “an especially joyous occasion.”
Apollo’s Fire records for the English label Avie. With over 18 CDs to their credit, they have received world-wide recognition. Their recording of the Montverdi Vespers became a Top 10 best-seller on the Billboard classical in the USA and a London critic went so far as to say it “wins out handily over William Christie’s version.”
What’s their next gig after Tanglewood? The Proms, London’s summer-long music celebration at the Royal Albert Hall. And guess what? They have already been sold out for three months. What more can I say?
Here is Apollo’s Fire Tanglewood program:
8 p.m. at Seiji Ozawa Hall
Telemann: Excerpts from the incidental music to Don Quixote
J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Handel: Chaconne from Terpsichore
Vivaldi: (arr. Sorrell) La Folia (Madness)