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Jeannette Sorrell

Jeannette Sorrell is the conductor of Apollo's Fire. A major figure in the U.S. early music scene, she has also been a pioneer in programming that explores the relationship between early music and American folk music. Sorrell was born in San Francisco in 1965. Her father was a critic and linguist, her mother a nurse, and both were educators. As a child, she took lessons in piano, violin, dance, and acting, practicing at first on a paper piano until the family could afford an actual instrument. The family moved when Sorrell was 15 to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, where she got her first job as an accompanist at a Southern Baptist church. There, she encountered American shape-note hymnody and developed an ongoing interest in the form. She began taking composition and conducting lessons and formed a small ensemble of her own. This won her a scholarship to Oberlin University, where she studied harpsichord with Lisa Crawford and conducting with Robert Spano. In 1989, Sorrell was accepted into the conducting program at the Tanglewood Summer Festival, taking lessons with Leonard Bernstein and Roger Norrington; she went on to a conducting fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival. Sorrell also traveled to the Netherlands for harpsichord lessons with Gustav Leonhardt. In 1991, she was recruited by a talent headhunter to apply for the post of assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. Conductor Christoph von Dohnányi refused to interview her, stating that audiences would never accept a female conductor, but administrator Roger Wright heard of her interest in early music and offered to help fund a new period-instrument orchestra in Cleveland. In 1992, Apollo's Fire was launched, with Sorrell as music director; she remained in that position as of the early 2020s. The new group flourished, led by Sorrell on tours of the U.S. and eventually Europe. It quickly attracted the attention of recording companies, making a recording of Handel's Messiah, HWV 56, that was issued by the Onda label in 1996. In 1999, Sorrell and Apollo's Fire made the first of many albums for the Avie label, releasing a recording of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610. The group also recorded for Eclectra and Koch in the 1990s and 2000s; its first album for the latter was Scarborough Fayre: Traditional Tunes from the British Isles and the New World. That reflected a new interest of Sorrell's in folk and traditional music, reflected both in programming and on recordings. Sorrell's pure Baroque performances, reflecting the application of the German Baroque concept of Affekt, were also distinctive and attracted critical attention in Europe as well as the U.S. Sorrell is also in demand as a guest conductor, having led such group as the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, and the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston. By 2021, when Sorrell and Apollo's Fire released a recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons violin concertos with violinist Francisco Fullana, Sorrell's discography numbered 30 items.
© James Manheim /TiVo
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