Tuesday, October 23, 7:30pm
Sundin Music Hall
“The U.S.A’s hottest baroque band” - Classical Music Magazine
Named for the classical god of music and the sun, Apollo’s Fire was founded in 1992 by the award- winning young harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell. Sorrell envisioned an ensemble dedicated to the baroque ideal that music should evoke the various Affekts or passions in the listeners. Apollo’s Fire is a collection of creative artists who share Sorrell’s passion for drama and rhetoric.
Hailed as “one of America’s leading baroque orchestras” (The Boston Globe), and “a front-runner among America’s finest baroque orchestras” (The Independent, London), Apollo’s Fire enjoys sold- out performances at its subscription series in Cleveland. The ensemble has toured throughout North America, performing at venues such as the Aspen Music Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival series, the Library of Congress, the Ojai International Festival in California, and the Chautauqua Institution. The ensemble recently completed an 11-concert national tour of the Monteverdi Vespers.
Apollo’s Fire made its European debut tour in November 2010, to standing ovations in Spain and the Netherlands, and a sold-out crowd at London’s Wigmore Hall, where the concert was broadcast by the BBC. This season, Apollo’s Fire tours internationally with countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, with engagements in Bordeaux, Madrid and Lisbon, as well as Boston, Toronto, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Apollo’s Fire has released 17 commercial CD’s, and currently records for the British label AVIE. Since the ensemble’s introduction into the European CD market last summer, the recordings have won rave reviews in the London press: “a swaggering version, brilliantly played” (THE TIMES) and “the Midwest’s best-kept musical secret is finally reaching British ears” (THE INDEPENDENT). The fall 2010 release of the Monteverdi Vespers made the Top 10 on the classical Billboard chart.
Apollo’s Fire is broadcast frequently on National Public Radio, Canada’s CBC, Britain’s BBC, and the European Broadcasting Union. The ensemble’s television special “Discovering Vivaldi,” produced by Cleveland’s PBS television station, began national syndication on PBS stations in 2011.
|Concerto in D minor for Two Violins
|Allemande from Suite no. 6
for Unaccompanied Cello
|Concerto in E minor for Flute & Recorder
|Brandenburg Concerto no. 5
|“La Follia” (Madness)||Vivaldi/arr. Sorrell|
A Night at Bach's Coffeehouse by Jeannette Sorrell
As Cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach had a difficult life. In charge of the music for all of the town’s principal churches, his duties included composing new cantatas virtually every week, engaging and rehearsing musicians to perform the cantatas (a difficulty due to the shortage of “freelance” musicians), and teaching the boys of the Thomasschule every day.
Such a workload would no doubt have been joyously stimulating to a man of Bach’s genius, were it not for the hostile work environment. From 1720 onward, Bach’s relationship with the Leipzig Town Council became a constant litany of arguments and criticism. Several years later, forbidden to perform a Passion for Good Friday, Bach noted bitterly that it would have been “just a burden anyway.”
Against this backdrop of conflict, it is not surprising that Bach enjoyed letting his hair down in the lively atmosphere of Zimmerman’s Coffeehouse, a sort of Starbuck’s of 18th-century Leipzig. Gottfried Zimmerman, an enterprising middle-class businessman, sponsored casual weekly concerts in his coffeehouse in the Catherstrasse. In the summer, the concerts were held outdoors in the “coffee garden.” The main attraction of the concerts was the Collegium Musicum, the informal student orchestra of the University of Leipzig, which had been founded by G.P. Telemann. Bach became their director in 1729, and quickly began focusing his compositional energy on the orchestra at the expense of his church work. Perhaps the Collegium was just more fun than his laborious church duties? In any case, he set to work creating concertos that could be played by himself, his sons, and his friends with the Collegium Musicum.
Most of Bach’s concertos had already been composed during his previous employment as Capellmeister of the orchestra of the Prince of Cöthen. At Cöthen he had presided over an excellent ensemble of 8-10 musicians, most of whom were true virtuosi. The ever-popular Concerto for Two Violins had most likely been written for that ensemble—so Bach easily revived it for the Coffeehouse, where the best of the student musicians took the solo parts. The first and third movements feature lively ritornellos that show the influence of Vivaldi. The first movement is a dramatic discourse between the two soloists, while the third movement is more of a fiery duel. The serene slow movement in F major lends itself to improvisatory ornamentation.
Bach’s friend and colleague Telemann, who had founded the Coffeehouse orchestra in Leipzig, had gone on to greater things than cappucino concerts. He had become the Music Director for the wealthy city of Hamburg. (Telemann had also been chosen over Bach for the Music Director post in Leipzig. But he declined the offer, and the post eventually went to Bach after it was also declined by Graupner and Fasch.) Bach and Telemann seem to have met when both were in their 20’s, and in 1714 Telemann became godfather to Bach’s son Carl Phillip Emmanuel. Bach paid tribute to Telemann by studying and transcribing his music, and by performing it with the Collegium at Zimmerman’s.
Though Telemann was four years the elder, he was definitely the more trendy and forward-looking of the two composers. His sense of musical humor, lightness, and use of folk elements greatly endeared him to the public. One of the composer’s first jobs had been a three-year stint at the court of a Polish count, where he became acquainted with Polish folk music and grew to love its “barbaric beauty.” This experience stayed with him throughout his life, and he continued to employ Polish folk elements in many of his compositions.
The Polish dance spirit flavors the Concerto for Flute and Recorder, which erupts into a lively finale in which peasants seem to dance off the page. We add some of our own touches to this finale-rondo, in order to highlight the peasant-like droning in the bass (sliding off pitch now and then, and exploding into percussion at the end.) This concerto is one of the rare examples of a recorder and a flauto traverso (ancestor of the modern flute) being used together. Telemann’s imaginative writing demonstrates what a delightful combination they can be.
The fact that Telemann’s music is not only lighter but easier to play than Bach’s would have also contributed to his widespread popularity. Whereas only a dedicated professional could master Bach’s works, many talented amateurs could play Telemann for pleasure. In fact, Telemann, who received four times as much space in 18th-century German music encyclopedias as Bach did, was praised for not composing like Bach.
Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos had been written in the earlier Cöthen period, when he had a professional virtuoso orchestra at his disposal. The Margrave of Brandenburg, to whom Bach dedicated the set of six Brandenburg Concertos, will forever live in infamy because he never had the pieces performed or sent Bach a thank-you note. However, it is actually not surprising that he didn’t arrange for a performance; he didn’t have an orchestra of the caliber to play such virtuoso concertos. In any case, the concertos were undoubtedly performed by the Collegium Musicum under Bach’s direction at Zimmerman’s Coffeehouse.
Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 requires from the harpsichordist a level of speed in the scalar passages that far exceeds anything else in the repertoire. One has to train for this piece the same way one trains for an athletic event. Also, the unusual role of the harpsichord in this Concerto--starting off playing basso continuo (easy), then playing solo melodies in dialogue with the flute and violin (moderately difficult), then getting carried away into virtuoso scales (very difficult), and finally leaving the others in the dust as one contemplates the universe in a huge solo cadenza (mountaintop experience)--makes this piece a unique emotional experience each time one plays it.
Bach was also an avid admirer of Antonio Vivaldi, and arranged at least seven of Vivaldi's violin concertos into keyboard pieces. These arrangements bear the name of J.S. Bach on the manuscripts, with no mention of Vivaldi, and thus they carry BWV numbers in the catalogue of Bach's works. The unsuspecting listener therefore would not realize they are Vivaldi's compositions if not informed.
There is no surviving record of any meeting between Bach and Vivaldi. But like most great composers, Bach made a thorough practice of studying the works of composers he admired, and Vivaldi was the composer whom Bach seems to have studied the most. Vivaldi was considerably more famous than Bach during the first half of his career; as music master at the prestigious Pietà in Venice (a special school for orphaned girls and illegitimate daughters of the nobility, with an extraordinary emphasis on music), Vivaldi attained great honor throughout Europe. Tourists from as far as England flocked to Venice to attend the concerts of the "red-headed priest" and his girls.
The great Follia or folia tune and dance served as inspiration for Vivaldi as well as several other baroque composers (Corelli, Marias, Geminiani, and C.P.E. Bach.) Scholars believe that the dance originated in Portugal, where young girls would engage in the “folly” of a wild dance around the fire. The follia is a triple-meter ground bass, beginning in a haughty sarabande-like rhythm, and traditionally growing faster and faster toward the end. The tune is full of the dramatic tension of courtship and seduction. Vivaldi’s version, which I believe is the finest of them all, was originially a triosonata; I arranged it as a concerto grosso so that all of us could join in the fray.
In his Coffeehouse concerts, Bach showed a warm sense of collegiality and respect for his more successful colleagues, Telemann and Vivaldi. If he felt any envy of their success, we have no sign of it. His generous spirit and the sense of communal gathering at these informal concerts make Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse an inspiring model for music-making today.
© Jeannette Sorrell