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Issue Date: September 2010 Issue

Behind the Music

Apollo’s Fire immerses itself in the world of Monteverdi with a five-day affair.
Rebecca Meiser
Jeannette Sorrell was ready to dedicate her undivided attention to summer conductor classes at Massachusetts’ esteemed Tanglewood Music Center. But once the harpsichordist and then-budding conductor learned about a three-day immersion festival in New York dedicated to the life of her musical idol Beethoven, the classroom seemed less important.

So she skipped class to make the trek to the New York festival. Looking back, she says she learned so much while taking in the sights and sounds of that weekend.

“It was a rare opportunity for people who were not professional musicians to go to lectures and concerts and see the art and architecture of that period,” Sorrell recalls. “It gave the audience a chance to see all the different influences that affected Beethoven’s compositions.”

That was more than 20 years ago, but the founder and conductor of Apollo’s Fire has always wanted to create a similar event here. “It just took a lot longer than I thought,” she says.

Sorrell will finally get her chance Oct. 5 through 10, when the Northeast Ohio baroque orchestra she founded celebrates the 400th anniversary of composer Claudio Monteverdi’s masterpiece Vespers of 1610 with a five-day concert series that culminates with a full day of events on Saturday, Oct. 9.

The mini festival, which ushers in Apollo’s Fire’s 19th season, will feature a dance workshop led by noted performer Julie Andrijeski, lectures about Venice in the early 17th century from a Monteverdi expert, discussions with performers, and a Monteverdi recital by members of Apollo’s Fire.

“The cultural and artistic ideas that were going on in Italy then were just incredible,” Sorrell says. “It was a time of great experimentation in theater and architecture. Italy was the capital of the world in terms of artistic and cultural development.”

Musically speaking, Monteverdi helped to create a new style of composition revolutionary in its intertwining of medieval church music with a more virtuosic, expressive music. Guests can expect to hear some “very haunting and dramatic sounds,” Sorrell says. “The music incorporates some very cool and exotic instruments, such as the theorbo, a giant lute, and cornettos, a wind instrument, which is sort of a cross between an oboe and a trumpet,” Sorrell explains.

During the dance workshop, audience members can attempt to master baroque steps, a style of dance noted for its refined footwork.

“It’s not the type of dancing that travels all over the stage, like ballet,” Sorrell explains. “It takes up a small amount of space, with a lot of emphasis on the toes.”

By mimicking the dance’s quick up and down gestures, guests are “able to understand the music and its rhythm better,” Sorrell says.

Attendees at the event will walk away with a deeper emotional understanding of Verde’s culture, life and influences — and perhaps a few unexpected tears.

“The role of a baroque performer is to evoke an emotional state in the listener,” Sorrell says, “whether that be joy or sadness, agitation or triumph.”

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