Jeannette Sorrell, Artistic Director

sorrell

“A musical live wire — one heck of a harpsichordist and a lively conductor.”
–THE BOSTON GLOBE

“A true Mozartian. Her Mozart achieves a near-perfect combination of real dramatic cogency and the ability to sing.”
FANFARE Record Magazine

Jeannette Sorrell has quickly gained international attention as a leading creative voice among the new generation of early-music conductors. She has been credited by the U.K.’s BBC Music Magazine for forging “a vibrant, life-affirming approach to the re-making of early music… a seductive vision of musical authenticity.”

Sorrell was one of the youngest students ever accepted to the prestigious conducting courses of the Aspen and the Tanglewood music festivals.  She studied conducting under Robert Spano, Roger Norrington and Leonard Bernstein, and harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam. She won both First Prize and the Audience Choice Award in the 1991 Spivey International Harpsichord Competition, competing against over 70 harpsichordists from Europe, Israel, the U.S., and the Soviet Union.

Sorrell founded Apollo’s Fire in 1992. Since then, she and the ensemble have built one of the largest audiences of any baroque orchestra in North America. She has led AF in sold-out concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, Madrid’s Royal Theatre (Teatro Real), the Grand Théâtre de l’Opéra in Bordeaux, Boston’s Early Music Festival, and the Aspen Music Festival, among others.

Sorrell made her debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 2013 as conductor and soloist in the complete Brandenburg Concertos. With standing ovations every night, the event was hailed as “an especially joyous occasion” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). She has also appeared as conductor or conductor/soloist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis with the St. Louis Symphony, Handel & Haydn Society (Boston), the Omaha Symphony, Grand Rapids Symphony, Arizona Opera, and has appeared with the Cleveland Orchestra as guest keyboard artist. Upcoming engagements include a debut with New World Symphony in Miami and a return engagement with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Sorrell and Apollo’s Fire have released 20 commercial CDs, of which four have been bestsellers on the Billboard classical chart. Her recordings include the complete Brandenburg Concerti and harpsichord concerti of Bach (with Sorrell as harpsichord soloist and director), which was praised by the London Times as “a swaggering version… brilliantly played by Sorrell.” She has also released four discs of Mozart, and was hailed as “a near-perfect Mozartian” by FANFARE Record Magazine.  Other recordings include Handel’s Messiah, the Monteverdi Vespers and two creative crossover projects: “Come to the River:  An Early American Gathering” and “Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers.”

Sorrell has attracted national attention and awards for creative programming.  She holds an honorary doctorate from Case Western University, two special awards from the National Endowment for the Arts for her work on early American music, and an award from the American Musicological Society. Passionate about guiding the next generation of performers, Ms. Sorrell has led many baroque projects for students at Oberlin Conservatory.

Review Quotes

Bach | Mozart | Vivaldi | Handel | Monteverdi | Other

J.S. Bach: Brandenburgs, Passions, etc

“A swaggering version… The most is made of the instrumental colours Bach so exhilaratingly put on show. The keyboard part in the 5th Brandenburg is brilliantly played by Sorrell.”
–THE SUNDAY TIMES, London (CD review – complete Brandenburgs & harpsichord concertos)

“Bubbles like fine champagne… A fabulous harpsichord cadenza played with gusto by Sorrell… perfectly polished.”
–EARLY MUSIC AMERICA MAGAZINE (CD review – Brandenburgs)

“Sorrell leads from the harpsichord and delivers a brilliant take-no-captives rendition of the big solo in No. 5. In all, these performances are lively and unfailingly attractive—the best in what historical performance can be…. an impressive treasure.”
–AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, (CD review – Brandenburgs)

“The debut of Jeannette Sorrell with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was an especially joyous occasion. The American conductor and harpsichordist brought an exciting combination of individuality with decisive yet graceful style to Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Six Brandenburg Concertos… This is a concert not to be missed.”
–PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 2013

“Sorrell played [Brandenburg Concerto no. 5] with impeccable precision, all the while maintaining full control of the cadenza’s momentum. Most impressive was her exploitation of the… relentless rhythm, drawing the ear toward an expected conclusion only to be thrown into more and more tumultuous churning.”
–KANSAS CITY METROPOLIS, 2012

“Sorrell outdid herself in the stunning solo [of Brandenburg #5], generating a tightly wound energy in the passagework that spilled out into a roller coaster of almost terrifyingly dizzying scales.  The piece sounded grippingly new.”
–CLEVELANDCLASSICAL.com, 2012

“Sorrell led a revelatory performance [of Bach’s St John Passion], with impassioned singing and playing bring Bach’s score to life with contemporary immediacy.”
–OPERA NEWS, review of Ojai Festival, 2004

“Magnificent… Sorrell, often leading from the harpsichord, imbued every moment with apt expressive intensity or buoyancy, and balances between voices and instruments were ideal. Leave it to Apollo’s Fire to open the season in a blaze of glory.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 2009 (Bach B Minor Mass)

“Sorrell conducts the oratorio [Bach’s St. John Passion] as a sweeping saga in which intimate episodes are balanced by explosive theatrical moments. What sets her performance apart is the expressive depth with which she conveys the messages.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1999

“Harpsichordist Sorrell sparkled like a meteor zooming through time and space in the incredibly fast fingerwork of Brandenburg No. 5.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1999

“Sorrell offered a wonderful interpretation of the third [Brandenburg] concerto. Her fluent and expressive keyboard style led the way in the fifth concerto… providing exhilaration to the mind and spirit.”
–PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1999

“Virtuosity runs rampant among the musicians [of Apollo’s Fire], starting with Sorrell herself. The Fifth Brandenburg told Sorrell’s real story, and what a story it was. Her playing of this extraordinary passage was always musical, never just flash…. Under her direction, the group sounds like it’s been playing together for something like forever.”
–INDIANAPOLIS STAR

“A triumph of fingers and brain over thousands of notes. Sorrell turned the challenging outer movements [of the Bach d minor harpsichord concerto] into a series of fiery statements, while she rendered the slow movement songful and cohesive.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

“Sorrell is mature, masterful at the keyboard…”
–INDIANAPOLIS STAR (Brandenburg #5)

“Sorrell made a virtuosic delight of Bach’s marathon lines… her buoyancy of rhythm kept the ideas in crystalline focus. She was unerring in matters of embellishment and nuance. The second movement [of the Bach D Minor Harpsichord Concerto] seemed like a heavenly aria in her hands. How she kept her fingers moving so fluently in the finale, only she can tell.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER (performance at Severance Hall).

“Ms. Sorrell sparkled in the extravagant harpsichord solo [of Brandenburg Concerto no.5].”
–THE MORNING JOURNAL, CLEVELAND

“Sorrell’s interpretation of C.P.E. Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto was exemplary: agitated and lyrical and fickle as a cat.”
–PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

Mozart Symphonies & Operas

“Sorrell is a true Mozartian. Her Mozart achieves a near-perfect combination of real dramatic cogency and the ability to sing.”
–FANFARE Record Magazine, (CD review – Mozart Piano Concerti)

“Sorrell presents an elegantly proportioned Symphony no. 40… vividly characterized.”
–THE INDEPENDENT, London (CD review – Mozart Symphony no. 40)

“Performances of enormous drama, delicacy and zest played with keen attention to expressive and textural nuances. It is clear from the symphony’s opening moments that Sorrell intends to emphasize the music’s tragic elements. The account brims with nervous energy and the pacing is propulsive, though the conductor calls for spacious sighs and dynamic gradations that allow contrasting materials to have their say. The slow movement benefits from shapely, graceful phrasing, while the Menuetto’s alternation of vehemence and lilt is boldly dispatched. Mozart’s dangerous psyche returns in the finale with Sorrell urging the music along as she takes full advantage of her superb period instrumentalists: silken strings, woodsy winds, nimble horns, focused timpani.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER (CD review – Symphony no. 40)

“Music director Jeannette Sorrell and superb colleagues have created a lithe “Magic Flute” of captivating and touching vibrancy. Sorrell shaped the score with a knowing blend of momentum and elasticity, drawing lucid playing from her remarkable period instrument orchestra and making glittery contributions at the keyed glockenspiel to depict Papageno’s magic bells.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 2012 (Mozart’s Magic Flute at Severance Hall)

“The Jupiter [Symphony of Mozart] was an aristocratic knockout. Sorrell has re-thought the piece even since she and her players recorded the work for Koch Classics (also a fine performance.) She now achieves phrasings, blends and accents that animate every corner of this masterpiece. The orchestra played with crackling vitality and dulcet lyricism.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 2005

“This Mozart verged on the revelatory, especially Sorrell’s account of the Symphony no. 40. Each movement had a sense of inner life and drama, and every instrumental line could be heard. The sense of discovery Sorrell and the players brought to the performance… was so exciting, it generated a standing ovation.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 2003

Vivaldi Concertos

“Under the inspired leadership of Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo’s Fire has become one of the pre-eminent period-instrument ensembles, causing one to hear baroque material anew.”
–THE INDEPENDENT, London (CD review – Vivaldi concertos)

“Led by exuberant, flame-haired Jeannette Sorrell, they were flamboyant and fun. Their party piece – Vivaldi’s trio sonata La Folia arranged as an increasingly frenetic dancing concerto grosso by Sorrell – energetically rounded off a hugely enjoyable concert.”
–THE BIRMINGHAM POST, UK, 2014

“Jeannette Sorrell put together an ingenious programme which showed off the ensemble’s range of colour, mood and style… playful and flexible.  Each piece found its own special colour.  Another engaging thing about this group is that it combines European stylishness with “can-do” American entrepreneurism. Sorrell arranged [Vivaldi's La Folia] for the full band and the results were thrilling.”
–THE TELEGRAPH, London, 2014

“The two-hour “Viva Vivaldi!” program enthralled the Holland Performing Arts Center audience from start to finish…. Sorrell, who conducted the ensemble throughout while supplying “continuo” accompaniment on the harpsichord, showed why she‘s one of today‘s most engaging and skilled ambassadors of Baroque music. A return visit — perhaps with her leading and playing Bach‘s Brandenburg Concertos, which she has recorded to acclaim — would be most welcome.”
–OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, 2014 (review of the Omaha Symphony)

“Apollo’s Fire’s flair for drama was perhaps best displayed in a grand rumpus performance of Sorrell’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s La Follia.  This party piece, played from memory, featured many steep and rapid changes in tone, texture and rhythmic character.  One of the most interesting and rewarding recitals of the season.”
–THE TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL, 2011

“With Sorrell leading from the harpsichord, the ensemble played… [Sorrell’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s La Follia] with brio and style and more than a hint of the madness the title implies. It was delicious.”
–ANN ARBOR.COM (formerly the Ann Arbor News), 2011

“Sorrell is one heck of a harpsichordist and a lively conductor. She played with skill and panache.”
–BOSTON GLOBE, 2001 (Vivaldi’s Summer concerto, transcribed for harpsichord by J. Sorrell)

Handel’s Messiah & Other Oratorios

“Music Director Jeannette Sorrell… succeeded in drawing the audience into another world. While the performance [of Handel's Messiah] Friday was sold out, the Apollo’s Fire forces… approached the piece as if they were telling the story for the first time. Sorrell shaped the score with an alert ear for expressive and dramatic nuance. Apollo’s Singers again explored a magnificent spectrum of shadings. From the lightest of touches to the majestic proclamations, the ensemble provided lucidity and fervor.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 2012

“Sorrell’s brilliance was stamped on every aspect of the performance [of Handel’s Belshazzar]. She conducted the arias and choruses with a dramatic zeal that provided momentum or space as the music required. Her orchestra sounded marvelously articulate and bright.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 1998

“Sorrell invested the work [Handel’s Messiah] with remarkable muscle, tenderness and textural clarity. She achieved striking nuances through accents and silences. Sorrell’s contact with her players was so intimate, they seemed to breathe as one.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

“When Jeannette Sorrell plays Handel, the audience is the winner. If Handel’s Messiah transcends the usual categories to be a fixture of our general culture, so Jeannette Sorrell transcends mere historicism in her performances of this music. Her triumph Saturday night had fresh impulses and took risks.”
–PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

Monteverdi Vespers & L’Orfeo

“Exultant… instrumental colours blaze brilliantly.”
–THE SUNDAY TIMES, London (CD review – Monteverdi Vespers)

“A stunning achievement….  Wins out handily over William Christie’s versions and other recent issues.” 
–FANFARE (CD review – Monteverdi Vespers)

“Sorrell and her fine young choir lavish attention on every phrase and inflexion. The exhilaration and sense of discovery is utterly infectious….An unanticipated delight.”
–INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW, UK (CD review – Monteverdi Vespers)

“A resplendent account, brilliantly motivated by Sorrell and performed with vibrant attention to dramatic detail.  In short, a thriller from first note to last.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER (CD review – Monteverdi Vespers)

“Sorrell has developed one of the most enterprising and plucky early-music ensembles in the nation today.”
–AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, (CD review – Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo)

“Sorrell’s brilliance was stamped on every aspect of the performance… She must be one of the best conductors around in this repertoire.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER (Monteverdi Vespers)

“Monteverdi’s Orfeo was a triumph for Jeannette Sorrell, showing us new dimensions of her genius.”
–PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1996

Other Reviews

“Led by a brilliant harpsichordist, Jeannette Sorrell, the ensemble exudes stylish energy – a blend of scholarship and visceral intensity.”
–GRAMOPHONE Magazine

“Sorrell conducted from the harpsichord with great precision, sensitivity and femininity.  The concert was impeccable and the Royal Theatre was full to overflowing. It was one of those evenings that leaves you wanting more.” 
–EL PAÍS (the leading national newspaper of Spain), Madrid, 2011

“…Under the guidance of Jeannette Sorrell, a conductor/harpsichordist who manages to be everywhere, plays the harpsichord, and who personally elicits the audience’s enthusiasm herself… clock-like precision, birdlike lightness, and intoxicating alacrity.”
–LE RÉPUBLICAIN LORRAIN, Metz, France, 2011

“An engaging conductor… what’s not to love? Sorrell guided the players with a light but definitive touch, a thoroughly involved but efficient presence. The musicians seemed to welcome this immersion in a vintage genre with Sorrell, a well-regarded specialist, unleashing a rich, full sound belying their small number.”
–THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS, 2011 (review of Grand Rapids Symphony)

“Music Director Jeannette Sorrell consistently devises interesting programs, gathers the finest early-music artists and molds performances that go beyond the narrow implications of ‘authenticity.’”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

“Sorrell, her Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, vocal soloists and choruses took wing throughout the performance. Apollo’s Singers, the supremely refined chorus, were vivid and cohesive. Whether conducting or playing harpsichord, Sorrell held the work together with consummate intensity. Her phrasing was flexible and her concern for expressive meaning vibrantly apparent.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 2007 (Praetorius Christmas Vespers, edited & compiled by Sorrell)

“Baroque specialist Jeannette Sorrell churns Grétry’s simple tunes into storms at sea, thunder and lightning, graceful dances and echoes of the exotic. One of the many pleasures of the evening is catching a glimpse of Ms. Sorrell physically flowing with the music.”
–RIVERFRONT TIMES, St. Louis, MO (review of St Louis Opera Theatre with the St Louis Symphony), 2005

“Chief among the stars was conductor Jeannette Sorrell. Sorrell conducts like she’s willing something magical to happen. The festival orchestra played with a burnished string sound and wind playing that was jewel-like in clarity.”
–WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL (review of Magnolia Baroque Festival), 2004

“Sorrell, who looks like a pre-Raphaelite figure with her tousled mane of coppery hair, might have been a dancer in a previous life—when she conducts, her arms describe musical phrases with gracefully sculpted gestures. She is, in fact, one heck of a harpsichordist and a lively conductor.”
–THE BOSTON GLOBE, 2001 (review of the Handel & Haydn Society)

“Sorrell and her players, as well as her sensational chorus, make contact with music on both visceral and intellectual levels, and the results are intoxicating. When Sorrell arrives onstage, she grabs the attention of her musicians, who respond with missionary enthusiasm, and her listeners. It is no exaggeration to say that Sorrell and her inspired band provide the most consistently satisfying and compelling artistic experiences on Cleveland’s classical music scene.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

“The group had amazingly clear musical direction. We must give credit to Jeannette Sorrell for her fresh and lively vision… Their playing was super-animated and electric.”
–LOS ALAMOS MONITOR, 1999

“Much of the credit for Saturday’s delectability must go the music director Jeannette Sorrell and her electrically charged players. Rhythms snap to attention as set forth by these musicians. Tension is never allowed to flag, though flexibility of line is an Apollo’s Fire requisite. Then there’s the matter of spirit, which is never in short supply.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER