MUSIC REVIEW: Apollo’s Fire, “Israel in Egypt,” by Roy Berko

As the story goes, “In 1991, Jeannette Sorrell was invited to interview for the position of assistant conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra. Sorrell met with Music Director Christoph von Dohnányi, who told her that there was no point in trying to find time in the orchestra’s schedule for an audition because the audience in Cleveland would never accept a woman as a conductor. Sorrell replied that she had actually not sought this post and she really wanted to work with period instruments. Following this interview, the orchestra’s artistic administrator, Roger Wright, offered to help Sorrell launch a period-instrument orchestra in Cleveland.”

With Wright’s assistance, “Sorrell received start-up funding from the Cleveland Foundation. The ensemble made its debut in June 1992 under the name of Apollo’s Fire — The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra. The debut concerts were sold out. Apollo’s Fire began receiving touring invitations within a few months.”

And, a legend was started. Apollo’s Fire, with Sorrell as Music Director, has developed a national and international reputation.

Apollo’s Fire’s recent production, a new adaptation of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, a Dramatic Oratorio, took the audience on a triumphant musical journey from the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, escaping with the aid of the plagues that were cast upon their oppressors, and Moses leading the assemblage crossing the Red Sea into what is now Israel.

The piece, which has a “dramatic arc, from grief and lamentation, through fear and crisis to triumph,” is a display of the startling abilities of the orchestra’s musical sounds and solo and choral performances.

The two-hour evening is divided into two segments. “Part I: Lamentations of the Israelites for death of Joseph.” It starts with the chorus singing, “The sons of Israel do mourn, and they are in bitterness; all the people sigh, and hang down their heads to the ground,” and ends with, “But the waters overwhelmed their enemies, there was not one of them left.”

Part II: “Exodus” and Part III: “Moses’s Song” begin with “I will sing unto the Lord” and ends “I will sing unto the Lord for he hath triumphed gloriously.”

The printed program wisely provides a narration of the words being sung, which are easy to follow as the auditorium’s lights are left on.

Israel in Egypt is different than many of the orchestra’s presentations as the music is played mostly by traditional Western instruments. In contrast, in their recently released O Jerusalem City of Three Faiths, the musicians play regional and baroque instruments. In addition, Egypt is sung entirely in English, in contrast to many of the orchestra’s offerings in which a variety of languages are used.

The soloists, sopranos Margaret Carpenter Haigh and Molly Netter, tenor Jacob Perry Jr. and baritone Edward Vogel, were excellent, singing meaning, not just words.  Daniel Moody captured the audience with his compelling countertenor tones. Moody’s range, the highest male adult singing voice, was impressive in its pure tone.

Capsule judgment:  Whether you are a believer in the tale as a religious statement or as a piece of literature, the effect of Sorrell’s adaptation and arrangements and the quality of the Apollo’s Fire music and the singing, make Israel in Egypt a powerful emotional journey and an audience pleaser. 

Look forward to Violin Fantasy Tracing the Path from Biber to Bach, which will be presented by Apollo’s Fire from November 11-14.  For information call 216-320-0012 or visit

[Written by Roy Berko]



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