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Apollo's Fire

Based in Cleveland, Ohio, far from the cities of the historical performance mainstream, Apollo's Fire, which styles itself as The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is an innovative, popular, and critically acclaimed group devoted to repertory from the 17th and 18th centuries (i.e., mostly works from the Baroque and early Classical era). The group consists of about 35 players and often uses guest artists during performance. Of course, the size of the ensemble can vary depending on the work, shrinking to chamber size or swelling to stage-filling proportions for choral works where the group often employs its sister enterprise, Apollo's Singers. This ensemble has about 20 members and is also highly respected. Typically, Apollo's Fire has a concert schedule consisting of five programs yearly, with each concert performed several times over a three- or four-day period. In addition, the group regularly tours throughout the U.S. and Canada. Most of its recordings have achieved both impressive sales and critical plaudits. The group has recorded with greater frequency since the turn of the new century and recordings have been widely available on three labels: Koch International Classics, Eclectra, and as of 2005, Avie. Apollo's Fire was founded in 1992 by harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell. She was aided in the process by Roger Wright, Cleveland Orchestra artistic administrator at the time. As a harpsichord student of Gustav Leonhardt and conducting student of Leonard Bernstein and Roger Norrington, Sorrell possesses impeccable credentials. She attracted many musicians from the Netherlands with the intention of assembling an orchestra devoted to historic practices in performance as laid down by Leonhardt, Anner Bylsma, and Sigiswald Kuijken. Apollo's Fire debuted in June 1992 and by the mid-'90s had achieved wide acclaim, as evidenced by the Noah Greenberg Award given in 1995 to Sorrell and her ensemble. A pair of recordings from 1999 -- Monteverdi's Vespro Della Beata Virgine and Nöel Ancien (Noels & Carols from the Olde World) -- were both critical successes and augured further artistic triumphs for the players. In the new century Apollo's Fire regularly appeared in broadcast concerts on NPR's Performance Today and World of Opera. In February 2008, Apollo's Fire gave its television debut concert in a program featuring Vivaldi concertos over WVIZ, the Cleveland-area PBS station. Among the ensemble's recordings is the 2007 Koch International Classics CD of Christmas Vespers: Music of Michael Praetorius. The program recorded on their 2011 release, Come to the River: An Early American Gathering, received an American Masterpieces Award from the NEA in 2009. That recording exemplified a branch of Apollo's Fire efforts directed toward the performance of American folk and traditional music, a development that continued in 2015 with the release of Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering. The group also ventured into Celtic music (Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers, 2012) and Sephardic music (Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews, 2016). Apollo's Fire has issued straightforward collections of Baroque arias and choral works. But perhaps most characteristic of the group's originality were its acclaimed 2017 performances and recording of Bach's St. John Passion, BWV 245, which was performed in New York as well as Cleveland. The live performances were semi-staged, with the soloists moving around and addressing each other on stage rather than singing to the audience. The audience itself was infiltrated by members of the chorus. Offering the kind of freethinking that develops best when it's far from established scenes, Apollo's Fire was continuing to push historical performance in new directions.
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