REVIEW: Playing With Fire: Jeannette Sorrell and the Mysteries of Conducting

The documentary begins with Sorrell conducting and working with her own Baroque orchestra, Apollo’s Fire. I can immediately see her enthusiasm for and commitment to the work; it comes across in her physicality and the way she instructs her orchestra to play. Apollo’s fire only plays on historical instruments because it is a Baroque orchestra, which I thought was so cool. She really did a great job finding her own niche when Julliard and other prominent institutions turned her away for wanting to be a woman conductor.

Her own performers also laud her skills and conducting abilities, explaining that she is great at trusting them, at choosing new players, at understanding the music, and at guiding them to a great performance. Even her own ex-husband, who is still a member of the group, has nothing bad to say about her and still enjoys being part of Apollo’s Fire. I also loved hearing the players explain how some of their own instruments work, and how they are more complicated than todays instruments and their differences.

Apollo's Fire Playing Now Online In 'Playing With Fire' | Arts & Culture |  ideastream

Sorrell, at one point, describes herself as “kind of driven”, but it is clear through her own experiences and others descriptions of her that she is more than driven, she is passionate. You can hear it in the way she talks about the music, and how she instructs others as well as plays herself. Her skilled expertise is apparent when she guides us through her own marking-up of a piece and when she directs for a group on stage. She also teaches budding conductors, and explains to the students how the music builds a story, and each marking in the music is an important element in the storyline the piece is creating. I never realized how much of a real story is coming across in every change in tempo, volume, and emotion of the music. I loved how she interpreted them using the knowledge of what the piece was supposed to be about but then also went further and put her own spin on it.

And, of course, I also really enjoyed hearing all of the beautiful music that was interspersed into the documentary as well. I am so glad that they included a lot of playing as well, not just information about her story and conducting abilities. It not only was fantastic to listen to, but it also helped to demonstrate that her skill in conducting is very real and impressive.

Photo Gallery – Jeannette Sorrell – Apollo's Fire

Overall, I thought this documentary was a great overview of what it is like for Sorrell to be a conductor, teacher, and just plain talented person. If you are interested in conducting at all, or just a very empowering story, I would highly recommend this documentary!


Hi all! I am a current U of M senior majoring in psychology. I love to experience arts events, share them with others, and engage in discussion about them as well. So please feel free to comment on my reviews! Outside of classes, I am in an a cappella group, sorority, psychiatry lab, clinical internship, and honors psychology club. I also did theater throughout high school, and have always felt highly engaged with and connected to the arts. Thanks for visiting our Art[seen] blog and happy reading :)

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