With the documentary “Playing with Fire: Jeannette Sorrell and the Mysteries of Conducting” Oscar-winning director Allan Miller explores the career of a woman who bleeds with a complete love of music and works to bring the vibrancy and stories of classical music to life.
When she was young Jeannette Sorrell was told by the Juilliard School and The Cleveland Orchestra that no orchestra would hire a woman conductor. A declaration that would deter many, Sorrell used it as fuel for her own creativity, forming Apollo’s Fire, a Baroque chamber orchestra.
Miller allows his subject to tell her own story while letting his audience experience her talents through fly-on-the-wall moments during the orchestra’s rehearsals. No need for artistic visual representations or directorial trickery. Jeannette Sorrell, her intoxicating spirit, they’re all that’s needed.
At 4 Sorrell got obsessed with the piano and her parents signed her up for free lessons, the catch being that students had to have their own piano for home practice. Dedicated at such an early age, young Sorrell lied to her instructors about the existence of a home piano, deciding instead to draw the piano keys on paper and practice that way. Ultimately, a harpsichord won out.
The conductor describes herself as “kind of driven”–an understatement. What comes through the strongest when listening to Sorrell speak about her love of music is her drive and undiluted passion for the craft.
The film intercuts Sorrell’s stories with Apollo’s Fire’s rehearsals. Viewers experience everything that makes her such a visionary through her words and actions. The director allows for intimate moments where the camera holds as Sorrell creates. It is fascinating to see her working her way through a complicated score.
Sorrell’s love of music molded her life, as the drive to become a conductor would eventually allow her to become the kind of conductor who respects her orchestra, the music’s history, and the people who embrace it. Sorrell’s style (as is her personality) is delicate and kind. To watch her conduct, and play, is magical.
As conductor Sorrell opens her knowledgeable mind to help musicians and budding conductors embrace the many layers of music appreciation and the emotions that lie in the stories found between the notes.
Jeannette Sorrell is a woman full of passion for classical music and how it should be interpreted; one who leads with knowledge, heart, and passion of the soul.
Asked about her place as a female conductor in the modern world, Sorrell puts it beautifully, “I don’t think about whether I’m a woman on the podium or a man. For me, as a conductor I am just trying to express the music.”
Alan Miller’s “Playing with Fire: Jeannette Sorrell and the Mysteries of Conducting” is a rewarding look at an eminent person.