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by Daniel Hathaway

McFarlane-HallDuring the first of her amusing asides to an audience who had just slogged through snowdrifts on Sunday afternoon, soprano Meredith Hall noted that the subtitle of this year’s Apollo’s Fire’s Fireside Concerts was “Drive the Cold Winter Away.” “We have failed!” she added, ruefully.

Well, maybe the Polar Vortex and its aftermath had chilled patrons to the bone on the way to Rocky River Presbyterian Church, but the English music from the 16th and 17th centuries that awaited them inside warmed the cockles of the soul, even with no fireplace in sight.

Hall was joined by lutenists Ronn McFarlane and William Sims (who doubled on theorbo) and flutist Kathie Stewart (who also played recorder) in an engaging, two-hour journey through the ballad repertory which supplied house music for the well-to-do and lyrics for Everyman to sing to familiar tunes during the flowering of poetry and music in Renaissance England. Read the rest of this entry »


by Daniel Hathaway and Mike Telin

McFarlane-Hall“Now winter nights enlarge / The number of their hours; / And clouds their storms discharge / Upon the airy towers. / Let now the chimneys blaze / And cups o’erflow with wine, / Let well-tuned words amaze / With harmony divine.”

Soprano Meredith Hall will begin this week’s Apollo’s Fire Fireside Concerts, “Drive the Cold Winter Away,” with those sentiments by sixteenth-century poet, composer and lutenist Thomas Campion from his song of the same name. “Given the way the winter has been — power outages and such — this theme is a fairly easy one to latch onto,” Hall said in a phone conversation. “What we’re doing is banding together and having an evening celebrating something warm!”

“Campion’s song inspired the program,” said Grammy-nominated lutenist and guest music director Ronn McFarlane, also in a phone conversation. “It’s an Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan show focusing on the English ballad repertoire featuring works by Dowland, Purcell and my favorite composer, Anonymous. Billy [William] Sims will join us on lute and theorbo and Kathie Stewart will play flute and recorder.”

Ballads were the popular music of the Elizabethan period, often circulated as “broadsides” or printed sheets of lyrics that could be fitted to tunes — or families of tunes — that everybody knew and which may have originated as improvisations over bass patterns like the Romanesca. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

SORRELL-JeannetteAfter I congratulated her on launching her ensemble’s twenty-second season, Apollo’s Fire founder and artistic director Jeannette Sorrell said, “We’re into adulthood now, and we’re in a really fantastic place regarding our artistic reputation.” Cleveland patrons don’t need to be reminded of the high quality of playing their resident baroque orchestra turns in on a regular basis, but a wider audience is now sitting up and paying attention.

One indication of Apollo’s Fire’s “grown-up” status: the ensemble has recently been picked up by Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI), “a big stamp of approval”, Sorrell said. “We’re the first period instrument orchestra to appear on their roster, and after twenty-one years of honing our craft and trying to perfect our art, it’s great to be getting global attention.”

We reached Jeannette Sorrell via Skype last weekend to chat about the multiple performances of seven programs that local audiences will enjoy in area church venues this season. It all begins with “Virtuoso Orchestra”, which opens on Thursday, October 10 at First Methodist in Akron and will be repeated on October 11 and 12 at Fairmount Presbyterian in Cleveland Heights and on October 13 at Rocky River Presbyterian.

Sorrell promises that the program will live up to its name with dazzling performances including Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins, Bach’s fourth Brandenburg Concerto and a novelty for local audiences, a concerto by J.D. Heinichen. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

Apollo’sMcFarlane-Ronn Fire has cozy “fireside” events planned for its next two sets of concerts, “Intimate Vivaldi” from January 31-February 3 and “Intimate Bach, Part II” from March 14-17. The Vivaldi set will feature lutenist Ronn McFarlane in the “Red Priest’s” lute concertos and violinists Olivier Brault and Johanna Novom will join McFarlane in chamber music by Vivaldi’s musical forebears and colleagues Giovanni Zamboni, Dario Castello, Biagio Marini and Giovanni Legrenzi, assisted by violist Kristen Linfante, cellist René Schiffer and William Simms on theorbo and guitar.

McFarlane began his career as a blues and rock guitarist, but went on to study classical guitar at the Peabody Conservatory under Paul O’Dette, Roger Harmon and Pat O’Brien. By the late 1970s, McFarlane had switched his musical attention to the lute and helped found the Baltimore Consort.

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Daniel Hathaway
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