Chinese Music is Early Music

by Gus Denhard

(originally posted at

Recently, people of Asian descent have been the victims of racist attacks, unfairly scapegoated for spread of Covid-19. Early Music Seattle stands with Asian Americans. We take this moment to celebrate the Asian musicians that devote their lives to studying, promoting, and preserving the ancient music of Asia. As reported in an earlier article, I had the pleasure of seeing this commitment first hand as I traveled to China last spring to study and perform Chinese music from the Tang Dynasty, participating in the Tang Music Revival, a project spearheaded by Professor Weiping Zhou of the Shanghai Conservatory. Weiping has commissioned a group of Tang era instruments constructed on a combination of iconography and surviving instruments. He brings scholars and performers from around the world to work with students in the classroom and in musical ensembles to further an understanding of Tang Dynasty music.

Here in the USA several musical organizations take a variety of approaches to ancient Chinese music. The Ba Ban Chinese Music Society, based in New York City, brings a folk and classical music lens to its work. They have deep roots in the Chinese community in Queens, performing many free concerts in libraries and community centers, as well as teaching in area schools.

The Eurasia Consort, based in New York City and Seattle, takes an approach to ancient music that would be familiar to Western-oriented early music performers, paying great attention to historical instruments, repertoire, and performance styles. Tomoko Sugawara, co-director and kugo harpist with the group, devises detailed arrangements of Tang music based on scholarly editions and the idiomatic performance characteristics of a variety of instruments depicted in Chinese visual art. The Eurasia Consort goes a step further, commissioning new works by contemporary composers such as Bun-Ching Lam and Alice Shields (Both premieres were cancelled due to the spread of Covid-19).  Very much a part of the world of mainstream early music, the ensemble performed on the Gotham Early Music Scene (GEMS) Midtown Series in January 2019 and again in September 2019.

As the world braces for the onslaught of Covid-19, we do so shoulder to shoulder with our Asian colleagues, both at home and abroad, and we vow to protect them and their interests in the challenging days ahead. We celebrate the richness and texture they bring to early music.

Ba Ban Chinese Music Society – Click to view video

The Eurasia Consort at the Midtown Concerts, New York City – Click image to view video

Responding to COVID-19

Updated: March 28, 2020 at 11:27am ET

We appreciate that there is a great deal of uncertainty around the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 right now, and that most, if not all, of your early music events may be postponed or cancelled. This is a rapidly changing situation, and recommended actions may be highly specific to your location. We will continue to update the resources on this page. You can also comment in the discussion at the bottom of this page with other resources that may be helpful to the community.

EMA Resources

COVID-19 Information

  • To help stop the spread of misinformation, visit CDC’s webpage: Share Facts About COVID-19
  • Monitor the global situation and ensure you are set up to receive updates from your local state and local public health authorities. 
  • Decide whether to continue with your rehearsal and performance plans and how to communicate with your subscribers/ticket buyers regarding ticket exchanges if you cancel or postpone. If you go ahead, ask those who are not feeling well to stay home. If you cancel, encourage them to convert their ticket purchase to a donation or exchange their tickets for a future performance.
  • Here is an excellent guide to messaging during a time of crisis.

Relief Funds


Teaching Online

Other resources

Apollo’s Fire Announces Appointment of Howard Bender as Executive Director

GRAMMY award-winning ensemble Apollo’s Fire announced today the appointment of Howard Bender as Executive Director.  Mr. Bender will partner with Founder and Artistic Director Jeannette Sorrell and will lead all administrative and fundraising activities for the group.  In connection with the appointment of Mr. Bender, Mrs. Noha Ryder will retire from her position as General Manager and Development Director, and Ms. Allison Richards will be appointed as General Manager.

Mr. Bender, a Cleveland native, most recently served as Chief Development Officer at Florida Grand Opera in Miami.  Prior to that, he was Vice President of the Virginia Opera Association in Norfolk, Richmond and Fairfax, Virginia; Director of Institutional Advancement and External Relations at the Castleton Festival in Washington, D.C.; a Partner at JDMason & Associates in Cleveland; and Founding Festival Director and CEO of the TodiMusicFest USA in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  Following his education at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard American Opera Center, Mr. Bender’s artistic experience included work as a character tenor at the New York Metropolitan Opera, principal guest artist with major opera houses in the U.S., Canada, Italy, Germany and Israel, and as guest soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati May Festival, Jerusalem Symphony, Israel Philharmonic and Musica Sacra/New York.

Howard Bender – Biography

Executive Director

Howard Bender’s history in arts management began by founding a multi-disciplinary, sister-city, international arts festival, TodiMusicFest, in Hampton Roads, (southeastern) Virginia, producing the Virginia premieres of Aïda, Nabucco and Manon Lescaut. Prior to that, he experienced a 28 year career as an operatic tenor on four continents including four seasons at the Metropolitan Opera. Recently, he has served as Chief Development Officer of Florida Grand Opera (Miami/Fort Lauderdale) where he increased Non-Board Individual giving by 68%, met and exceeded a $200,000 matching gift initiative within 5 months, and increased the Foundation sector by 18%. As Vice-President of Virginia Opera, he served a Board leadership of ninety, co-leading this state-wide organization with an annual Budget of $5.3 million and mainstage productions in three cities, to consecutive years of balanced budgets, surpassing contributed income goals by 15% in FY17 and 8% in FY18. Contributed revenue during his five year tenure increased 72% in Central and Northern Virginia. He created new contributed revenue streams such as the Adopt-a-School Program and the Virginia is for Opera Lovers tourism initiative that garnered six-figure support, and managed the company’s largest corporate sponsor.  Prior to being recruited by Virginia Opera, Maestro Lorin Maazel chose him to re-configure and reposition the Castleton Festival as Director of Institutional Advancement and External Relations. That tenure afforded him the opportunity to collaborate with a world renowned musical figure, to conceive and execute new artistic and education/outreach programming that increased the bottom line.  The restructuring process included growing its funding base (41%) and its patron base (30%). 

He brings to Apollo’s Fire a thorough knowledge of classical music repertoire and performing arts management, as well as their history, traditions and techniques acquired during his singing career and 20 year management career. He succeeded in securing new revenue streams and new audiences for operatic and symphonic performances, recruiting new board members and major stakeholders in competitive marketplaces such as Metro DC, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Richmond and Hampton Roads, VA.

Bender was a frequent guest at the opera houses of Montréal, Philadelphia, Houston, St. Louis, Miami, Washington, Pittsburgh, Portland, Spoleto USA, Düsseldorf, Spoleto Festival di Due Mondi, Palermo and Tel Aviv, and with the symphony orchestras of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Jerusalem and the Israel Philharmonic. He has collaborated with James Levine, Mstislav Rostropovich, Sir Richard Bonynge, James Conlon, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Asher Fisch, Gerard Schwarz, Harry Bicket, Robert Spano, Bernard Uzan, Ian Judge, Colin Graham, Günter Krämer, and Frédéric Chaslin.  

He holds a Bachelor of Music and a Postgraduate Diploma in Voice from Manhattan School of Music. During his student years, he supported himself as Cantor of two major New York synagogues and during his operatic career, served synagogues throughout Southeastern Florida, Israel, Canada and Germany. In Cleveland, he served frequently as guest Cantor for Temple on the Heights (B’nai Jeshurun) and The Park Synagogue. He has been recognized by Coretta Scott King for extraordinary work in bringing diverse communities together through shared musical experiences. He is a Cleveland native, a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School, and was an apprentice to Cleveland’s renowned Master Cantor Saul Meisels.


“The U.S.A.’s hottest baroque band”

– Classical Music Magazine, UK

“Led by a brilliant harpsichordist, Jeannette Sorrell, the ensemble exudes stylish energy –

a blend of scholarship and visceral intensity.”  – GRAMOPHONE

Named for the classical god of music, healing, and the sun, APOLLO’S FIRE is the international baroque orchestra based in Cleveland, Ohio.  The GRAMMY-winning ensemble was founded by harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell, and is hailed as “one of the pre-eminent period-instrument ensembles” (The Independent, London).  Apollo’s Fire has drawn international attention for artistic spontaneity and technical excellence.  At home in Cleveland, Apollo’s Fire frequently enjoys sold-out performances at its subscription series, which has drawn national attention for creative programming.

Apollo’s Fire made its London debut in 2010 in a sold-out concert at Wigmore Hall, with a BBC broadcast.  Subsequent European tours took place in 2011, 2014, and 2015.  European performances include sold-out concerts at the BBC Proms in London (with live broadcast across Europe), the Aldeburgh Festival (UK), Madrid’s Royal TheatreBordeaux’s Grand Théàtre de l’Opéra, and major venues in Lisbon, Metz (France), and Bregenz (Austria), as well as concerts on the Birmingham International Series (UK) and the Tuscan Landscapes Festival (Italy).  AF’s London concert in 2014 was chosen by the DAILY TELEGRAPH as one of the “Best 5 Classical Concerts of The Year.”

North American tour engagements include sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall (2018), the Tanglewood Festival (2015 and 2017), the Ravinia Festival, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY (2013, 2014 and 2015), the Boston Early Music Festival series, and the Library of Congress, as well as concerts at the Aspen Music Festival, and major venues in Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The ensemble’s notable U.S. tours include two major tours of the Monteverdi Vespers (2010 and 2014); a 9-concert tour of the Brandenburg Concertos in 2013; and a semi-staged production of Monteverdi’s L’ORFEO in April 2018 (U.S. tour).

Apollo’s Fire has released 26 commercial CDs and recently won a GRAMMY for “Songs of Orpheus,” a vocal album with tenor Karim Sulayman.  AF’s most recent release (November 2018) is Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain, Sorrell’s joyful exploration of the Celtic roots of Appalachian music, which was named “Festive Disc of the Year” by Gramophone Magazine (UK) and quickly hit no. 3 on the Classical Billboard Chart.  Since the ensemble’s introduction into the European CD market in 2010, the recordings have won rave reviews in the London press: “a swaggering version, brilliantly played” (THE SUNDAY TIMES) and “the Midwest’s best-kept musical secret is finally reaching British ears” (THE INDEPENDENT). Eight of the ensemble’s CD releases have become best-sellers on the classical Billboard chart: the Monteverdi Vespers, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos & Harpsichord Concertos, a disc of Handel arias with soprano Amanda Forsythe titled “The Power of Love” (Billboard Classical #3, 2015), and Jeannette Sorrell’s four crossover programs – Come to the River – An Early American Gathering (Billboard Classical #9, 2011); Sacrum Mysterium- A Celtic Christmas Vespers (Billboard Classical #11, 2012); Sugarloaf Mountain – An Appalachian Gathering (Billboard Classical #5, 2015)and Sephardic Journey – Wanderings of the Spanish Jews (Billboard World Music Chart #2 and Billboard Classical #5, Feb. 2016); and Songs of Orpheus (Billboard Classical #5, 2018).  

A documentary film entitled “Playing with Fire: Jeannette Sorrell and the Mysteries of Conducting”, directed by two-time Academy Award winning director Allan Miller, was released in 2019.

For further information, please contact

Angela Mortellaro at 216.320.0012, ext. 6,


Five Laureates invited to compete in the 2020 Indianapolis International Baroque Competition

Five Laureates have been selected from an international field of applicants to perform in the 2020 Indianapolis International Baroque Competition Finals in Indianapolis on July 12, 2020. Each Laureate will lead the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra in performing a high Baroque solo concerto. The Competition Concert is the concluding concert of the 2020 Indianapolis Early Music Festival.

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