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On Center: Appalachian Christmas

by on November 02, 2017 10:48 AM

Centuries ago, the carols and fiddle tunes of Celtic Europe crossed the Atlantic and found a second home in the mountains of Virginia. They mingled with shape-note hymns and African spirituals to create the soulful Christmas music of Appalachia. The people of the highlands welcomed the Christ child with singing, dancing, love, and prayer.

In a new holiday program, Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, explores the Celtic roots of Appalachian music. Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Celebration — featuring 11 instrumentalists, 16 chorus members, and two vocal soloists — follows the joys and sorrows of the Celtic immigrants who braved the ocean to build new lives.

The concert, on stage November 30 at Schwab Auditorium, is a follow-up to Apollo’s Fire’s release Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering.

A reviewer calls the 2015 album “a triumph … an absolutely joyous achievement. Haunting melodies, foot-stomping jigs and reels, and a healthy dose of comedy, all with musicianship of the highest order.”

The acclaimed period-instrument ensemble, a cherished visitor to Penn State after four previous appearances at the Center for the Performing Arts, has played to packed halls at venues such as the BBC Proms in London, the Royal Theatre of Madrid, and the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts.

Artistic Director and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell has designed four previous creative crossover programs, each of which has become a top-10 album on the Billboard classical chart.

“Sorrell and a hand-picked band … tap into America’s hardscrabble Southern roots with grace and power … with music that asks questions about life and death, and bores into the American national psyche at visceral and emotional levels,” writes a Gramophone critic. “… Sorrell’s magical, rapt harpsichord riff on “I Wonder as I Wander” reveals how profoundly spontaneous this folk music is at its core.”

The concert features vocal soloists Amanda Powell and Ross Hauck.

Powell, a soprano, appears frequently with Apollo’s Fire. A graduate of Shenandoah Conservatory, she performs in an array of genres, including classical, folk, jazz, and world music. In addition to performing and recording with Apollo’s Fire and other ensembles, Powell has performed concerts in Italy, Spain, France, and China.

Hauck, a tenor, has recorded with Apollo’s Fire and performed with a variety of early-music ensembles. A Seattle Times reviewer describes his singing as “almost superhuman in musical effect.” Hauck is a regular soloist in performances of Messiah, a piece he has sung with the orchestras of Seattle, Kansas City, Baltimore, Portland, and Dallas, among others. The tenor, who holds degrees from DePauw University and Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, is also a cellist and a pianist.

Gay and James Dunne sponsor the concert. The William E. McTurk Endowment provides support. For tickets and information, visit or phone (814) 863-0255. John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.


John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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