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Foot-stompin' and Toe-tappin' Through Appalachia

Early Music Now welcomes Apollo's Fire

Mar. 14, 2017
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Photo credit: Sisi Burns

In a concert that, per Early Music Now’s Executive and Artistic Director Charles Q. Sullivan, “blows off the pretentions of Baroque music to demonstrate, instead, the origins and fresh appeal of music from the Appalachian hills,” Cleveland-based Apollo’s Fire will bring to town some very unfamiliar sounds, indeed. It’s not often we get the chance to hear instruments like the hammered dulcimer, long-neck dulcimer or banjo in a live classical music concert performance in Milwaukee, but that all changes at Saturday’s Early Music Now program.

According to Apollo’s Fire Artistic Director Jeannette Sorrell, their Milwaukee program—titled “Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering”—will reach back in time “to explore the earliest roots of Appalachian heritage. The immigrants from the British Isles who made the crossing and built the Appalachian community were mostly from the impoverished lower classes. The ballads they brought with them, which date back to the Renaissance and, in some cases, to the Medieval period, include many that are dark and haunting. Topics such as murder and even fratricide are very common in this repertoire; but there are also delightfully playful children’s songs.”

The music of Appalachia represents a fascinating mixture of influences—English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh as well as African. Indeed, one of the genre’s emblematic instruments, the banjo, was first brought to the region by African American slaves in the 18th century.

Founded in 1992, Apollo’s Fire (aka the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra) has performed throughout Europe and North America. Its concerts have been broadcast on National Public Radio and on Great Britain’s BBC. This award-winning ensemble also has an extensive discography, with multiple albums comprising the music of George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, W.A. Mozart and other greats of the Baroque and Classical Eras. A 2011 release, Come to the River: An Early American Gathering, displays—as this concert will—the group’s crossover appeal into early American and British Isles folk music.

“This program is particularly appealing to me because each of the eight performers is an artist in his or her own right,” Sullivan explains, “and each has experience and particular expertise in this repertoire. And the repertoire! So much that is familiar to us as folksongs but with links back to the Renaissance or even Medieval times. It’s rare to have bluegrass fiddling at an EMN concert, but foot-stompin’ and toe-tappin’ will be welcome at this program!” 

Indeed, we often think of very upbeat tunes when we think of the banjo-plucking music of the hill country of the American Northeast—not “dark and haunting” aforementioned by Sorrell. Truth is, however, that all music evokes the whole of the experience of life. As she explains, “In short, life was hard back in the home country—and it was still hard in the Appalachian hills. But it was also filled with joy and laughter.”

The Apollo’s Fire concert begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 18 at the Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd. It will be preceded by Early Music Now’s annual silent auction and chocolate reception at 3 p.m. For tickets call 414-225-3113 or visit earlymusicnow.org.

Saturday, Mar 18
UWM Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts

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