GRAMMY® Award winners Apollo’s Fire and Jeannette Sorrell are poised to launch a semi-annual Chicago-area residency. On March 12th, 2020, they will begin with O Jerusalem! – Crossroads of Three Faiths, a groundbreaking program that evokes ancient Jerusalem through music and poetry.

In anticipation of their upcoming performance, several of the musicians wanted to take the opportunity to share their stories.

“As we celebrate the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Jerusalem, several of our musicians with Jewish and Middle Eastern roots have chosen to share their family immigration stories with you.”
Apollo’s Fire

DAPHNA MOR, recorder and ney
Like most people of Jewish heritage today, I come from a family of immigrants and refugees.  My mother’s family fled from their homeland, Bulgaria, during WW2 to escape the Nazis. They did so by taking trains through the Balkans, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. Miraculously they all arrived safely in the Middle East. My father’s family was less fortunate.  His parents met in Germany in 1945 in a Displaced Persons camp established by the U.S and the United Nations. Having lost nearly all of their family members, both of them were alone and had nowhere to go. The Americans settled them in an apartment in Regensburg, Germany.  And there my father was born. I often think of their years in Germany – living among the Germans including former Nazis… not knowing where they would end up, trying to rebuild their broken lives. Once Israel became established, they emigrated there.

Unlike my grandparents, I am an immigrant by choice – an Israeli and American citizen who had the privilege to choose her new country and to follow the passion of being a musician. This is not true for millions of refugees and immigrants around the world today, and each one has their own unique story. Please have them in your minds and hearts while listening to our music.

RENÉ SCHIFFER, cello and viola da gamba
I suppose you all have noticed for a while that I am an immigrant.  What you may not know is that my father is a Hungarian Jew.  He and his family were very lucky not to be deported by the Nazis in WW2.  But of course hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews – including three of my dad’s four grandparents and many of his friends – were killed in the Holocaust.  So after the war, my father and his older brother decided to go to Israel.  They were teenagers, and both were serious classical musicians heading towards professional careers in chamber music.  After two years in Israel (1949-50), they saw that there were not yet enough opportunities in Israel for classical musicians.  So they returned to Hungary…  communist Hungary.  

Six years later, they escaped the Iron Curtain under cover of night, on foot – during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  A boy in their group almost froze to death while crossing a semi-frozen canal.  But they kept going and miraculously made it across into Austria.  As the Hungarian refugees poured into Vienna, many countries (including the U.S.) welcomed them.  My father and uncle chose for the Netherlands.  The Dutch government provided a bus to take them to Holland.  They both became prominent Dutch musicians – they played in the Haydn Quartet (originally called the Dekany Quartet) which can be heard on many recordings, including the complete Haydn string quartets.

SUE YELANJIAN, contrabass
My grandfather, O’Wagon Yelanjian, fled Turkey as a teenager around 1908 to escape the massacre of Armenians in Turkey.  He came alone, and was sponsored by a stranger. During WW1 he served in the U.S. Army.  After the war, my grandfather’s sponsor in Wisconsin wanted his Armenian fiancée to emigrate to the U.S.  She wouldn’t come without her best friend… and that was my grandmother, Angele Djivelekian. She married my grandfather without knowing him.  She was from Constantinople and brought her oud with her.  I recall her playing it for me, using a feather to strum the strings.  They went on to have two sons. When those children (my father and uncle) started elementary school, they knew no English.  As a reaction to his difficult early school years, my father didn’t teach us to speak Armenian.  However, my grandparents lived next door and there was a large population of Armenians in the area who formed a community. This colored and enriched my early years.

JEANNETTE SORRELL, founder and artistic director
I have always been proud to be the daughter of an immigrant. But only recently have I begun to understand just how proud I should be.  When my father came to the U.S. at the age of 27, he already knew about 4-5 languages – but English was not one of them. Though he had been a journalist and translator in Europe, he quite willingly took some clerical and menial jobs in his first year in America. He worked briefly in a shoe store, a deli, and as an elevator operator. But within 5 years, he had mastered English so well that he was working as a journalist again – this time for an arts and culture newspaper in San Francisco.  

Eventually he met my mom, a 22-year-old nurse from a small Midwestern town.  She did not know much about Europe or the horrors of World War II. She did not realize that this young European man, who spoke so passionately about theatre, literature, and opera, but would not say much about his past – was Jewish. (And her family would probably not have approved, if they had found out.). But she had incredible intuition. She knew that he was a profoundly good person.  And so… she married him.  

Like many immigrants, my father then went to night school while working full time to support his young wife and baby.  He sped through graduate school in record time, earned a Ph.D., and became a professor. He instilled in our little family a love of history, literature, and the arts.  It took 50 years and DNA testing, plus an encounter at Carnegie Hall, for us to find out that he is Jewish. But that’s another story.

If the U.S. government in 1957 had not welcomed immigrants, or if my mom had not been willing to trust a foreigner… I would not be here today.  And neither would Apollo’s Fire.

Composers Elizabeth Brown and Frances White will have their works performed in collaboration with the Momenta Quartet on Thursday, December 5th, 2019, 8pm at Brooklyn’s Roulette. As part of the celebrated Interpretations Series 31st Season, they will present an evening of works that blend sound and sight, both Western and Eastern in style, and steeped in literary and mythic origins.

The evening takes inspiration from 11th-century Persian epic Shahnameh, James Pritchett, W.G. Sebald, and poet Mark Strand, utilizing Interpretations founder Thomas Buckner narration and vocal skills.

Lothar Osterburg with Tower of Babel sculpture

Among several visual accompaniments, video and sculpture artist Lothar Osterburg has constructed a sculpture to pair with Elizabeth Brown’s Babel a fresh take on the Biblical myth. Rather than destruction, the pairing of music and visual presents the tale as cumulative growth, with New York City acting as a thriving analogue.


Watch a preview clip of Brown’s Babel with Osterburg’s visuals:

The program also makes excellent use of composer Elizabeth Brown‘s masterful prowess as a shakuhachi player.

This haunting Japanese flute is given a chance to shine in various works, such as Frances White‘s The book of the eveningand Brown’s own Dialect, for solo shakuachi, which makes its NY premiere.

Frances White’s world premiere of And so the heavens turned is not the first time she has directly collaborated with James Pritcher’s texts — for an example, check out The Old Rose Reader.

Her work has been called “seductive and hypnotic” (Music Works), and with its lilting string parts, this certainly follows suit.

This is also not the first time the Momenta Quartet has been summoned to bring Brown and White’s compositions to life. Please enjoy this clip of Momenta performing Brown’s Just Visible in the Distance.

For more of Brown and White:
Elizabeth Brown’s music page, with works and audio
Frances White’s SoundCloud and website

For the event’s official press release, click here.

As one half of the upcoming September 26th, 2019 Interpretations Series 31st season opener at Brooklyn’s Roulette, composer and pianist Rocco Di Pietro has curated an evening of compositions that span his whole career.

With a setlist comprised of selections that Di Pietro wrote himself, one special piece makes for an exception: “Hail Mary” by the late Julius Eastman. A dear friend and colleague, Eastman composed the piece especially for Di Pietro. As such, it is more than appropriate to be included in this retrospective, and will be performed in an arrangement by Di Pietro on piano and Robert Dick on flute.

Watch a 2017 performance of Eastman’s “Hail Mary” at OSU Urban Arts
with Rocco Di Pietro (keyboard), Larry Marotta (guitar),
and David Nelson Tomasacci (recitation).

Of the piece, Di Pietro had this to say:

Julius Eastman’s “Hail Mary” was written for me in 1984 after a concert he had set up for us at the Clocktower in NY fell apart. He had commissioned me for a two piano work we were to play together. He was having a very hard time in NY, and he thought I was much too isolated in Buffalo. He wrote the “Hail Mary” as a consolation for my meditation, in which everything would be all right.

He admired me because I was still writing music with few opportunities, while he was giving up music altogether. It was a misunderstanding, as I wrote music to protect myself from reality. Julius did not like this Giacometti-like stance.

I buried the work for 32 years. I found it one day when the Guardian newspaper called and asked me about Julius in 2016. It was first performed in London at the LCMF in 2017, and I performed it myself in Berlin in 2018 at Savvy Contemporary Berlin.

I may have played it myself in New York in 2016 in an early non sequenced version at Spectrum, but I can no longer remember without checking past programs. Since then, Luciano Chessa told me he has performed it in NY at Mannes and in San Francisco.

As a special tie-in, Di Pietro will offer copies of his new book, Memoir of Julius Eastman, at the Roulette performance.

Although the book is not for sale, donations will be accepted to cover the cost of the galley and the book.

Following the performance, the book will be given away online and at

For more information about Interpretations’ 31st season opener, click here.

The Amagansett Life-Saving Station is not only a place of great historic importance, but one that is tied to the family history of Libero Canto‘s Deborah Carmichael.

The 2nd annual benefit concert for the Station will be held on Friday, June 28th, 5pm (160 Atlantic Ave. Amagansett, Long Island, NY 11930).  Held in its boat room, tickets are $20 in advance ( / $25 at the door.

Amagansett Life-Saving Station – photo by Olga Goworek

A documentary film about the Station was made, titled Ocean Keeper. Interviewing the Carmichaels and others, and integrating great archival footage, the film covers the 100+ years of its rich history. It has aired on PBS as a ‘Treasure of New York’, and was an Official Selection in both the Long Island International Film Expo, and the Hamptons International Film Festival.

To quote the Ocean Keeper‘s website:

“The Amagansett Life-Saving Station has been a unique centerpiece of Long Island history since it was built in 1902. Over a period of 44 years, the dedicated men who worked at the Station saved hundreds of lives. In 1942, four Nazi saboteurs were found by Coast Guardsman John Cullen close to the Station during a nightly beach patrol.

And in 1966, the building was rescued from demolition and purchased for a dollar by Joel Carmichael whose family lived there for the rest of the 20th century. After Carmichael’s death in 2006, the house was donated to East Hampton Town for historical preservation.”

(partially cited with permission from

For more information on the film, please visit
And for more information on Libero Canto, please visit

Kinga Cserjési and Deborah Carmichael

In anticipation of Libero Canto’s upcoming New York City workshop (February 15-17th), singers Deborah Carmichael and Kinga Cserjési would like to share this supplemental film: “Libero Canto – Voice is Breath,” made by award-winning director Andrea Simon in 2001. The film focuses on the work of Edvin Szamosi (son of founder Lajos Szamosi), and the history of the Libero Canto Approach.

Click to play “Libero Canto – Voice is Breath”

The film, while made almost 20 years ago, still serves as an inspiring introduction to the approach, which continues to evolve and thrive through the work of dedicated teachers and students in many cities including New York, Toronto, Florence, The Hague, and Budapest. Carmichael and Cserjési feel the film will be of interest to many different people, among them singing teachers, music teachers, teachers of children, singers, musicians, actors, dancers, anyone in the performing arts, and anyone interested in the arts, pedagogy or psychology.

The path to free singing” was first developed by Lajos Szamosi in Budapest before the Second World War. This unprecedented pedagogic approach was carried on and further developed by Lajos’s son Edvin Szamosi, who taught singing in Vienna and New York City for more than 50 years, until his death in 2014.

Through interviews and footage of lessons and rehearsals, “Libero Canto – Voice is Breath” draws the viewer into the musical and human evolution of Edvin Szamosi’s students both in New York, and in Vienna. The care, love, and attention to detail with which the film is made reflect these same qualities in Edvin’s teaching. With gentleness, rigor, and humor, Mr. Szamosi guides his students towards increasing freedom, spontaneity, and authenticity.

Deborah and Kinga are still accepting applicants for their February workshop.
for more information, click here or email [email protected].