Apollo's Fire to Open Houston Early Music's Season, 11/10

Apollo's Fire to Open Houston Early Music's Season, 11/10

Apollo's Fire, The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, will open the Houston Early Music season on Nov. 10 with a performance of Claudio Monteverdi's magnificent Vespers of 1610 in one of Houston's most dramatic concert settings, the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, co-sponsor of the event.

"I think of Monteverdi like Beethoven," Apollo's Fire artistic director Jeannette Sorrell said. "Both were revolutionary composers living at the end of one era - in Monteverdi's case, the Renaissance - and forging a new, more-expressive style. Beethoven gave us the new Romantic spirit. Monteverdi gave us the Baroque."

Monteverdi's monumental Vespers is the most ambitious work of sacred music written before those composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Apollo's Fire will perform it with seven vocal soloists, the Apollo's Singers chamber choir and a period orchestra.

"What makes the piece so extraordinary for me," said Sorrell, "is the tension between the archaic, medieval plainchant that Monteverdi uses and the bold, new, flamboyant counterpoint in Baroque style that he weaves around the chanting."

Formally titled Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610, the Vespers sets a collection of evening prayers traditional to the Roman Catholic liturgy for several Marian feasts. It intersperses psalm settings and motets, and concludes with two of the greatest early Baroque settings of the Magnificat.

Although Monteverdi's precise intentions in creating the work remain unknown, it employs a wide range of musical forms while maintaining overall unity by basing each movement on the traditional Gregorian plainchant for each text, which serves as a cantus firmus.

"The Monteverdi Vespers has been my favorite piece ever since I was a teenager," said Sorrell, whose group has made it a signature work for the last 15 years. Apollo's Fire recorded the music on an internationally acclaimed CD, which made Billboard's top 10 during their national tour of the Vespers in 2010.