The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Guest music director Grant Harville talks about the Madison Savoyards productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Princess Ida.” The show opens this Friday night and runs for six more performances through Aug. 3.

July 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

To loyal and even devout fans, they are known simply as “G&S.”

And since 1963, a devoted group of Madison singers, musicians and stage crafters have produced the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

This summer’s production is “Princess Ida,” one of the later G&S shows by the dynamic duo of satirists who were so entertainingly portrayed in the 1999 film “Topsy-Turvy.” “Princess Ida” opens this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. (It was previously performed by the Savoyards in 1967, 1980 and 1999.)

Savoyards Ida poster

The seven performances, including two SUNDAY (not Saturday, as erroneously first stated) matinees at 3 p.m., take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The hall is located on the UW-Madison campus at the foot of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

Here is a link to the home web page of The Madison Savoyards. You can find more information including: directions and connections to purchase tickets; the dates and times of performances; background about the Savoyards and about Gilbert and Sullivan; reviews of past productions; videos and recordings; pre-performance dinners; information about how to support and participate in the group; and even a newsletter.

http://www.madisonsavoyards.org

Tickets for “Princess Ida” can be purchased at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office, by phone at (608) 265-ARTS, or online at www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

The story, adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic poem, “The Princess,” is set in Medieval Europe. Princess Ida, betrothed in infancy to Prince Hilarion, has forsworn men and is now head of a women’s school that teaches philosophy, science and the fickleness of men. Intent on winning her heart, Hilarion and his friends set out on a quest that involves sneaking into Ida’s school disguised as women, and culminates in an epic sword-wielding battle.

“It’s just good old Gilbert and Sullivan fun,” says stage director Audrey Lauren Wax (below), who works with StageQ in Madison. “Who doesn’t love the fact that there are three siblings who look nothing alike and the only real connection they have is that it takes three of them to equal one full brain!”

Audrey Lauren Wax

Music director Grant Harville assures audiences that “fans of Sullivan’s contributions to these collaborations will hear exactly the sorts of features that attract them to these works.” Musical numbers run the gamut, from silly patter songs including, “Whene’er I Spoke” and “If You Give Me Your Attention,” to more poignant, lyrical numbers such as, “I Built Upon a Rock.”

Action, plot twists and the generous doses of humor sprinkled throughout Princess Ida will certainly keep audience members on their toes.

The cast includes some veterans of the stage, with Milwaukee native Naiza Delica (below left in a photo by Jane Wegenke) as Princess Ida, Donald Dexter (middle) as King Gama and UW-Madison senior William Ottow (below right) as her romantic counterpart, Prince Hilarion.

Ida preview 2

William Rosholt and Donald Dexter appear as the dueling kings Hildebrand and Gama, and Patrick Chounet and Steven Groth play Hilarion’s two loyal friends, Cyril and Florian.

Gama’s three sons are played by Jim Chiolino, Alec Moeser and Matt White, and Rachel Bishop, Ann Baltes and Tiffany Orr appear as Lady Blanche, Lady Psyche and Melissa.

The cast includes over 30 members from the Madison area, including four families.

Music director Grant Harville (below) agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:

Grant Harville conducting 2

Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

I received my doctorate at the UW-Madison School of Music. This is my fourth Madison Savoyards production, and my fifth Gilbert and Sullivan show overall. I’m currently the Music Director and conductor for the Idaho State-Civic Symphony, and I teach at Idaho State University. But my ties to Madison go back a good 20 years now, and The Savoyards have been a rewarding way to stay active during the summer.

How does “Princess Ida” fit into the overall work of Gilbert and Sullivan, especially compared to such famous works as “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” and “HMS Pinafore”? What does it share with the others and what separates it from them?

It’s a testament to the astonishing success of Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration that “Ida” was considered a failure, running for a “mere” 246 performances.

A lot of the characteristics found in their other projects are present here: punny, silly, clever, occasionally slapstick humor; ridiculous, buffoonish characters; and a lifetime’s worth of good tunes. Some of my favorites from “Ida” are “Gently, Gently,” “I Am a Maiden” and “The World Is But a Broken Toy.” (You can hear the opening of “Princess Ida” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sullivan is — and was in his own day — criticized for writing music that was “beneath him,” but I’ve never found that criticism fair. The melodies are perfectly constructed and brilliantly apt text settings; and there are plenty of traps for the company that underestimates the complexities of these scores.

G&S had a formula, to be sure, but there’s enough generic music out there for us to recognize that this is better than that.  There’s a reason the duo has found a permanent place in the repertory while countless other works have gone by the wayside.

What do you find so appealing about the stream of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (below)? Do you find any relevance in “Princess Ida” to society and politics today? Can you elaborate?

I think what keeps bringing me back as a music director is how much I fall in love with the music each summer.  No matter how good the drama is, or how funny the dialogue is, it’s the music that attracts me.

Because of its parody of feminism, “Ida” is perhaps more controversial than others of the operas. The parody that today’s audiences will recognize most readily is probably Lady Blanche, a university professor whose thinking has become so abstract that it no longer makes any sense.

Gilbert and Sullivan

What would you like the public to know about this particular production -– the cast, the musicians, the sets and costumes, whatever?

The Madison Savoyards expects, though certainly doesn’t require, a very high level of familiarity from some of its audience — to the degree that if a few words are transposed in the dialogue, there are people who will notice.  (Not that such familiarity is required; G&S is extremely accessible.)

Because the company is dedicated to this repertoire, they devote all their resources to making the productions as polished as possible. That means beautiful sets and costumes, full orchestra accompaniment, outstanding staff support.

I’m proud of our cast and crew; they make a remarkable commitment to be in the show, and I think audiences will see it manifested on stage.

 

 

 


Classical music: The Madison Early Music Festival turns 15 with a perfect opening concert by the Toronto Consort that explored the Italian Renaissance and the musical legacy of Leonardo da Vinci.

July 15, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Early Music Festival started as an idea.

So, what better way to mark its 15th anniversary than by exploring perhaps history’s greatest Man of Ideas -– Leonardo da Vinci?

Leonardo da Vinci

And that is exactly what happened during the opening concert last Saturday  night by MEMF, which this year is exploring Italian music from 1300 to 1600.

memf banner 2014

The festival — complete with workshops, lectures and concerts -– is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It started as a way to help fill the summertime void of classical music. But now summer is its own season when it comes to classical music in Madison, and much of that success is due to MEMF’s success.

Co-founders and co-artistic directors UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below) had every reason to be proud and moved -– and they were, visibly and audibly.

Paul Rowe, Cheryl Bensman Rowe MEMF 2014

This summer, because Mills Hall is under construction, MEMF has had to turn to other venues, chiefly the nearby Luther Memorial Church at 1021 University Avenue and Music Hall on Bascom Hill.

The opening concert “The Da Vinci Codex” was held at Luther Memorial, and the church seemed close to full, meaning almost 400 listeners attended. This alternative venue actually seemed an improvement in that it offered a warm and acoustically superior environment with sets and a building that complemented the religious beliefs and art of that era’s music and culture.

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience

The program was set up by a fine and well-attended lecture and slide show given by UW-Madison art professor Gail Geiger (below). She examined the heretofore underestimated role of music in Leonardo’s life and career as a painter, drawing master, poet, engineer, inventor and all-round genius.

MEMF 2014 Gail Geiger

MEMF Gail Geiger slide show Leonardo

What the audience then heard was a two-hour concert in which no false note was sounded, no false step was taken.

The performer was the Toronto Consort, making its Madison debut. It proved an outstanding and thoroughly professional group of eight persons (below) who are multi-talented in their ability to sing, to play instruments and to recite narration dramatically, expressively and convincingly. They were not afraid to entertain and as well as to inform. (You can hear a sample of similar music performed by the Toronto Consort in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Toronto Consort MEMF 2014

The Ear was especially impressed by the tightness of the scissors-and-paste presentation and the uncanny way the Toronto Consort spoke to and engaged with the audience, who laughed and applauded thunderously.

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience Toronto Consort

The program’s effectiveness came from the terrifically seamless and smooth narrative thread, the story that centered on the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci. It was unifying and used primary sources (Leonardo’s notebooks and letters) and secondary sources like the proto-art historian Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives” and other historians or critics. (Below is David Fallis, the artistic director, tenor and narrator.)

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial Toronto Consort David Fallis, artistic director, tenor, narrator

The performers moved easily from historical accounts of Leonardo in Florence, Milan and France to contextual music that illustrated Leonardo –- the ultimate Renaissance Man — from birth to death. And it proved thoroughly enjoyable and often deeply moving. You did not have to be a fan of early music to be taken in by the contagious melodies and harmonies, the catchy inflections and rhythms, the facts of an amazing life and career.

Just watching these complete professionals perform took us into their world because they are full-body performers who used hands, feet and facial expressions to convey the emotional meaning of the music and get the audience to connect with the music and with them. It felt like Renaissance jazz, so free and yet also so disciplined and practiced was the performance. It is what The Ear likes to call “the well-rehearsed surprise” and is a hallmark of all great performances that are virtuosic and make what is hard seem easy or effortless. (Below is Katherine Hall, viola da gamba player and soprano, singing.)

MEMF 2014 Toronto Consort Katherine Hill soprano and viola da gamba

There is much more left of the 15th Madison Early Music Festival to hear, including “Songs of Love” by the instrumentalists and vocal ensemble Ex Umbris in Music Hall tonight at 7:30 p.m. tonight; plus other concerts including the second annual Handel Aria Competition in Music Hall on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m., as the MEMF home website mistakenly said at first, and the always impressive All-Festival Concert, which focuses this year on the Trionfi of the poet Petrarch, on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church. FREE pre-concert lectures by experts in art, music and history take place at 6:30 p.m.

Here is a link to a schedule and descriptions of events, with times, places and participants:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

Unlike many of Leonardo’s ideas, which were adventurous and even prophetic if uncompleted, MEMF has moved from idea to reality.

The Ear has no doubt, and every hope, that it is here to stay, and that it will continue to evolve and grow.


Classical music: This year’s second annual Handel Aria Competition is Thursday night at 7:30 p.m in Music Hall with anpre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. in Room 2650 at the nearby Mosse Humanitites Building — and is almost guaranteed to be a sellout.

July 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week, in conjunction with the 15th annual Madison Early Music Festival that is running from Saturday, July 12, to Saturday, July 19, the second annual Handel Aria Competition will take place this Thursday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A free pre-concert lecture will be given at 6:30 p.m. in Room 2650 of the nearby UW-Madison Mosse Humanities Building by John W. Barker, who writes music criticism for Isthmus and for this blog and who is a big and longtime Handel enthusiast.

MusicHall2

NOTE: The Handel Smack-Down will NOT take place in Mills Hall, as it did last summer, because Mills Hall at the UW-Madison School of Music, is closed while it undergoes an upgrading of its electrical system.

The Handel Aria Competition was established in 2013 to encourage emerging singers to explore the repertoire of Handel. Founders Dean and Orange Schroeder (below bottom), who own Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street, are  enthusiasts of the vocal repertoire of George Frideric Handel (below top) and are lifelong supporters of the arts.

Here is a link to the Q&A Dean Schroeder gave The Ear last summer:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/classical-music-qa-organizer-dean-schroeder-talks-about-the-inaugural-handel-aria-competition-at-this-years-madison-early-music-festival-on-monday-night-july-8/

Handel etching

Carol %22Orange%22 and Dean Schroeder

An ongoing partnership with the Madison Early Music Festival has helped to continue the program, which is not actually part of MEMF.

This year over 60 singers applied. Seven were selected as finalists who were then invited to compete for scholarship awards to be used toward their professional development as young artists. That number, by the way, is fewer than last year, which should make the concert more manageable and enjoyable for both the public and the performers.

Handel arias Winnie Nieh

Handel arias all applaud

The live competition of the final round is what is being held Thursday.

The finalists for the 2014 Handel Aria Competition are: Nan Li, Sarah Brailey, Daniel Moody, Chelsea Morris, Michael Roemer, Yukie Sato, and Daniel Shirley. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Elisa Sutherland, who won last year’s competition. You can also hear other competitors on YouTube.)

Full biographies are available on the Handel Aria Competition website. Here is a link:

www.handelariacompetition.com.

This year’s competition is “new and improved,” it seems. Last year, just a solo harpsichord – finely played by two early music keyboard players — accompanied the singers. This time, they will be accompanied by a consort that includes a harpsichord, two violins, a viol and a viola da gamba.

Judges include faculty members and performers from the Madison Early Music Festival: Kristina Boerger, Drew Minter, Ian Pritchard, and Nell Snaidas. (Below are last year’s judges taking notes.)

Handel judges MEMF 14

Tickets are $10 and are available in advance through Brown Paper Tickets and are online at www.handelariacompetition.com.

You can also phone 1-800-838-3006.

On the day of the show, tickets go on sale in person at Music Hall at 6 p.m. – CASH ONLY — with doors to the theater opening at 7 p.m.

Please note: As the event is in Music Hall this year due to renovations taking place in Mills Hall, seating is limited to 375 audience members. Last year nearly 500 people attended the concert. Advance purchase is highly recommended.

For complete information, including performer biographies and qualifications of the judges, visit www.handelariacompetition.com

 


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Music Orchestra (MAYCO) performs music of Haydn and Mendelssohn plus a world premiere of a work by Madison composer Olivia Zeuske this Friday night at the First Unitarian Society.

July 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Few young musicians, or older ones for that matter, lead a busier schedule than the young University of Wisconsin-Madison violist and conductor Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below).

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Recently returned from a stay in Europe, Utevsky will show his latest ambitious achievement in a program this Friday night.

That is when the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, seen below in a performance last year in Mills Hall at the UW-Madison), which was founded by Utevsky while he was still a student at Madison East High School, opens its fourth season on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

MAYCO orchestra close up

The concert will take place in the crisply designed Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below, in a photo by Zane Williams), 900 University Bay Drive, on Madison near west side. Tickets are $7, with donations requested from students.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The gifted pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below), a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studied with Christopher Taylor and where he will return as a graduate student this fall, joins the orchestra for the Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major by Franz Joseph Haydn. (You can hear the legendary Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter play the concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Thomas Kasdorf

You may recall that this spring Kasdorf answered a Q&A for this blog when he performed the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here is a link to Kasdorf’s interview:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/classical-music-qa-native-son-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-talks-about-playing-solo-recitals-chamber-music-and-the-grieg-piano-concerto-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra-which-also-closes-out-i/

And here is a link to The Ear’s positive review of his performance of the Grieg concerto (below):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/classical-music-maybe-its-back-to-the-future-the-classical-music-scene-needs-more-groups-to-act-like-the-middleton-community-orchestra-and-break-down-barriers-between-performers-and-listene/

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

Also on the program are the “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn and the world premiere of the chamber symphony “Experiment No. 1” by Olivia Zeuske (below). Zeuske just graduated from the UW-Madison with a double major in English and music composition, which she studied with professor and composer Steven Dembski.

olivia zeuske 2014

MAYCO’S NEXT CONCERT

MAYCO’s next concert this summer will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 22, 2014. Called “Summer Magic,” it features soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller. The program includes the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” by Samuel Barber: and the Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70, by Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert will be held in UW Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall, at the base of Bascom Hill.

For more information about MAYCO, including background, concerts, programs, photos and how to support and join MAYCO, visit:

http://madisonareayouthchamberorchestra.org/


Classical music: Opera director David Ronis of CUNY is named to succeed William Farlow. University Opera’s production of Hector Berlioz’ charming “Beatrice et Benedict” is a fine and fitting tribute to the longtime tenure of retiring director William Farlow. The last performance is tonight at 7:30 p.m.

April 15, 2014
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

NEWS:  David Ronis (below) of Queen’s College and the Aaron Copland School of Music at the City University of New York (CUNY) has just been named as the interim one-year visiting director of University Opera, to succeed William Farlow. Here is a link to the official press release with his impressive resume on the blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/ronis_press_release/

David Ronis BIG BW USE

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long history of including rarities in its productions, rarities that audiences are not likely to see elsewhere.

For his farewell offering as he retires at the end of this academic year, director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) has put on a particularly enterprising novelty. That “Beatrice et Benedict: — is the last and most successful of the three operas by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Berlioz (below) wrote the libretto as well as the music, freely adapting his stripped-down version from the play “Much Ado About Nothing by” Shakespeare — an author whose works he adored. Berlioz cast it in the form of the opéra comique, combining set-piece musical numbers with spoken dialogue. It was the same form used not only by Jacques Offenbach, but also by Georges Bizet for his “Carmen.” Nevertheless, Berlioz infused the form with his own individual wit, imagination, and personality. The score is full of absolutely beautiful music, with a dip into satire as well. (You can hear the opera’s Overture performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at Carnegie Hall in You Tube video at the bottom.)

berlioz

The UW Opera presented this opera before, in 1988, in the days of Karlos Moser, in a semi-staged concert performance. This time, Farlow has given it a complete staging, employing mostly exemplars of the gifted vocal talent the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has been drawing lately.

(The last of three performances is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall at the foot of Bascom Hill.)

In the performance I attended Sunday night, the feuding lovers, the two title characters, Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, were sung by the agile soprano Lindsay Metzger and high tenor Daniel López-Matthews. (Below right and left, respectively, in a photo by Max Wendt). The other pair of lovers, Hero and Claudio, were portrayed by the powerfully voiced soprano Anna Whiteway and tenor Jordan Wilson. The local commander, Don Pedro, was taken by bass Erik Larson.

berlioz UW Opera Beatrice et Benedict 2 CR Max Wendt

To these the cast added two veterans. Edgewood College teacher and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below) is a long-standing veteran of UW Opera and Madison music-making, always welcome any time, in anything, including the role here of Ursula, Hero’s friend. And baritone Benjamin Schultz, a returned alumnus, sang the comic role that Berlioz invented, Somarone, as a caricature of the pompous rivals and academics who were the composer’s life-long opposition.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Following a frequent practice when this opera is presented outside of France, the vocal numbers were sung in the original French, while the revised dialogue was given in English. It’s a workable solution to a problem for singers who can sing in French, but really can’t speak it well. Fine as the singing was, it was clear that they were not uniformly comfortable singing French.

Still, many moments were truly gorgeous, notably the Hero-Ursula duet in Act I, and the ladies’ trio in Act II, as well as the offstage wedding chorus.

By and large, Farlow’s stage direction was careful: in the vocal set pieces often relatively static, though, that was certainly preferable to too much action. In the case of Somarone’s Act I scene, Schulz was made to go much too far beyond satire, into exaggerated silliness. And Beatrice’s over-acting in Act I really compromised the character’s self-assured sassiness before her “fall.”

Still, even with so much of the dueling wordplay of Shakespeare’s original removed, Metzger and López-Matthews engaged well as the couple who had to be tricked into discovering that their outward hostility covered a profound attraction.

A particular asset was the pit orchestra that conductor James Smith (below) was able to work up very successfully to Berlioz’s tricky requirements.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

William Farlow departs leaving us with many debts to him, including this demonstration that Berlioz’s gem of a comic opera really deserves more regular presentation.

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Classical music: Retiring University Opera director William Farlow bids farewell to the University of Wisconsin-Madison with three performances of Hector Berlioz’s “Beatrice et Benedict” on this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

April 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend’s performances by the University Opera of the charming Shakespeare-based operaBeatrice et Benedict” by the early and influential French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below top) are notable for several reasons.

Some of the rotating cast of student performers include (below bottom, in a photo by Max Wendt) Daniel López-Matthews as Bénédict; Lindsay Metzger as Béatrice, in purple; and Anna Whiteway as Hero, in red.

berlioz

berlioz UW Opera Beatrice et Benedict 2 CR Max Wendt

The new production is the final production by UW Opera director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) before he retires at the end of the semester.

NOTE: From what The Ear understands, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is currently looking to replace Farlow with an interim director for one year, and then next year the school will launch a national search for Farlow’s successor.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Performances will be sung in French with English surtitles created by Christine Seitz. They will be held  in the Rennebohm Auditorium of Music Hall (below), at the foot of Bascom Hill, on this Friday at 7:30 p.m., this Sunday at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m.

MusicHall2

Tickets for general admission are $22; $18 for senior citizens and $10 for students. See below for more details.

I was hoping and planning to have a longer story about the production, but things just didn’t work out.

I did have a brief Q&A with Bill Farlow when he announced his retirement. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/classical-music-university-opera-director-wiiliam-farlow-talks-about-his-retirement-at-the-end-of-this-season-and-the-rewards-and-challenges-of-staging-opera-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison/

But then I thought: Why re-invent the wheel?

It turns out that two terrific sources -– the UW School of Music blog “Fanfare” and critic John W. Barker (below), who writes for Isthmus and for this blog — both had previews and interviews that provided excellent background for seeing and hearing this production.

John-Barker

So here they are, both forming a kind of primer on “Beatrice et Benedict” (below, in a another photo by Max Wendt), which features a lovely duet that you can hear at the bottom in a YouTube video:

UW Opera Beatrice and Benedict photo 1 Max Went

Here is a well done general appreciation by John W. Barker for Isthmus that appeared on that publication’s website The Daily Page:

http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=42432

And here is a link to details about tickets:

http://www.thedailypage.com/theguide/details.php?event=313813&name=University-Opera

Here is another story about the production, with details about the production staff as well as the music staff — including conductor and music director James Smith (below) with the UW Chamber Orchestra — on “Fanfare”:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/farlow/

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

And here another story about Farlow’s tenure at the University Opera, with lots of photos,  which also appeared on the Fanfare blog:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/farlow_beatrice/

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Classical music: Heading into Spring Break, the University of Wisconsin School of Music offers FREE concerts of percussion, vocal music from operas, piano quartets and orchestral music this week.

March 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The headlong rush toward the end of the semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is about to begin with the Spring Break, which runs from March 15-23. After that is over, about six weeks or so of concerts remain, and the UW-Madison School of Music concert calendar will get even more jammed with conflicts.

So here are the events for this week before the break.

TUESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, an Opera Workshop will take place –probably the last one for University Opera to be done by its outgoing director Bill Farlow (below, in a photo by Kathy Esposito), who will retire at the end of the semester.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

The event usually features student singers in scenes from famous operas with piano accompaniment. Sorry, no word yet about the specific performers or works on the program. But the programs and performers usually get high marks from local opera fans.

MusicHall2

Also on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, guest marimba player Andy Harnsberger (below), will perform a FREE concert.

Andy Harnsberg with mallets

Harnberger will perform with members of the UW Western Percussion Ensemble (below), though The Ear has not received word of specific works on the program.

Western Percussion Ensemble

Andy Harnsberger (below) has performed as percussionist with numerous American orchestras, as well as the contemporary music ensemble “Currents”, and has toured extensively as percussionist and xylophone soloist with The Jack Daniel’s Silver Cornet Band. He has also made several guest appearances on NPR, both in interviews and in live performances, to bring public awareness to the marimba as a solo instrument.

andy harnsberger playing

Harnsberger is Assistant Professor of Music and Percussion Coordinator at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee and is active throughout the year as a freelance percussionist and recitalist. He is in demand as a clinician across the country and internationally, presenting clinics and master classes at many universities each year.

His compositions have been performed at PASIC and around the world and he is a recipient of the ASCAP PLUS award for his contributions to American Concert Music. Harnsberger earned his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Performance and Literature at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he also received the prestigious Performer’s Certificate. Andy is a performing artist and clinician for Pearl Drums and Adams Musical Instruments, Innovative Percussion, Inc., Evans Drum Heads, Sabian Cymbals, Ltd., and Grover Pro Percussion.

Andy Harnsberger with instruments

Also on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. but in Morphy Recital Hall, cellist Mark Kosower and his pianist wife Jee-Won Oh (both below) will perform an evening of famous piano quartets: one in G minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (at the bottom you can hear a popular YouTube video the final movement of the Mozart quartet with an intriguing abstract animation or illustration); the other in C Minor by Johannes Brahms.

Mark Kosower and Jee-Won Oh

They will be joined by another wide-and-husband team: UW violin teacher and Madison violinist Eugene Purdue (below top) and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm (below bottom).

Eugene Purdue 1 Thomas C. Stringfellow

Sally Chisholm

Principal Cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Kosower will be at the UW School of Music March 10-12. He is on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and previously taught at the San Francisco Conservatory. He is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and has performed in Madison on many previous occasions.

Kosower will also offer a cello master class on Wednesday, March 12, in the afternoon. The time and place are yet To Be Announced.

Learn more about Kosower at:

http://www.colbertartists.com/ArtistBio.asp?ID=62

mark kosower with bridge

WEDNESDAY

There is an afternoon master class with resident guest cellist Mark Kosower (below). SEE ABOVE.

Mark Kosower with cello

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below), under director and conductor James Smith, will give a FREE concert.

The program includes the “Lucient” Variations by Milwaukee-born composer Michael Torke; “The Birds” by Ottorino Respighi; and
 the Serenade No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.

UW Chamber Orchestra entire

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Classical music: Handel operas are hot again and his “Ariodante” opens University Opera’s fall season this Friday and Sunday, and next Tuesday.

October 22, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a terrifically informative press release about the opening production — with three performances — this coming weekend of the new season at University Opera, an opening that features George Frideric Handel, the famous and prolific Baroque composer who has undergone a major revival and is perhaps the hottest opera composer being performed these days.

“One of the most virtuosic operas by George Frideric Handel (below) takes the stage in University Opera’s fall production of Ariodante. (Editor’s note: At bottom is a YouTube video with an aria from the opera “Ariodante” sung by Anne Sophie von Otter.)

Handel etching

“Sung in Italian with English surtitles by Christine Seitz, the work will be given three performances — Friday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, October 27 at 3: p.m. and Tuesday, October 29 at 7:30 p.m.  All shows will be presented at the Carol Rennebohm Auditorium in Music Hall (below) on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus at the base of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

“Although Ariodante has a happy ending it is a complex, dark work,” says director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Kathy Esposito), who will retire at the end of this season. “Stunningly beautiful music accompanies the characters as they search for the truth. It is a captivating story of betrayal and reconciliation.”

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

“Farlow’s cast includes undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, supported by the UW Chamber Orchestra under the direction of James Smith (below).

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

“The role of Ariodante is shared by Lindsay Metzger (October 25 and October 29) and Susanna Beerheide (October 27). The role of Ginevra is also double cast with Anna Whiteway (October 25 and October 29) and Caitlin Ruby Miller (October 27), as is the role of Dalinda, performed by Christina Kay (October 25 and October 29) and Lydia Rose Eiche (October 27). Spencer Schumann (October 25 and October 29) and guest artist and IW alumnus countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf (below bottom, October 27) share the role of Polinesso. Other cast members include Daniel López-Matthews as Lurcanio, Erik Larson as the King, and William Ottow as Odoardo.

Gerrod Pagenkopf

“Production and music staff includes assistant conductor Kyle Knox (below), costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park, technical director Greg Silver, lighting designer Steven M. Peterson, set designer and scenic artist Liz Rathke, vocal coach and musical preparation Thomas Kasdorf, and chorus master Susan Goeres.

Kyle Knox 2

“Tickets are $22 for the general public, $18 for senior citizens and $10 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at music.wisc.edu.  Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, noon–5 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings. (Below is a photo by Brent Nicastro of singers in title roles in the opera. They are Lindsay Metzger as Ariodante, Anna Whiteway as Ginevra, and Spencer Schumann as Polinesso.)

Ariodante photo Brent Nicastro 1

“Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended.  If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.  The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

“In an effort to help patrons find parking on campus, the Campus Arts Ticketing office is offering prepaid parking permits for a guaranteed parking spot on the evenings of ticketed UW arts events for $5.  Preorder your permit online at http://arts.wisc.edu/map (5 days or more in advance; $1 handling fee) or call (608)-265-ARTS (3 days or more in advance; $1 handling fee). “

For more information, including links to interviews, background stories and samples, visit Public Relations Director and Concert Manager Kathy Esposito’s outstanding blog “Fanfare” at the UW School of Music. Look for the Oct, 10 posting.

Here is a link: http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/ariodante/

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Its mission is to promote professional training and practical performing experience for student singers, conductors and pianists and, when possible, provide opportunities for student designers, actors and dancers.  For more information, please contact Benjamin Schultz at bhschultz@wisc.edu or (414) 899-9570.  Or visit the School of Music’s web site at music.wisc.edu.


Classical music: University Opera director Wiiliam Farlow talks about his retirement at the end of this season, and the rewards and challenges of staging opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

September 5, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

University Opera director William Farlow has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season, after spending 15 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

During his tenure, attendance has grown and the productions have received critical acclaim. (Below is soprano Emily Birsan, who went on to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in the University Opera’s production of Jules Massenet‘s rarely heard opera “Thais.”)

Thais Birsan

The Ear knows Farlow as an amiable man who is always willing to help the local music scene and to promote his own vocal and instrumental students, a number of whom have gone on to important careers.

His productions at the UW-Madison are staged at Music Hall (below) at the foot of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

Farlow’s repertoire choices have ranged from such standards as Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” (below) and Franz Lehar‘s “The Merry Widow,” in a YouTube video at the bottom) to rarities and out-of-the-way works that he felt would be good for students to do. He has used both traditional and updated stagings.

University Opera La Boheme Photo 2

Here is a link to the University Opera home website that incudes productions, dates and times, and other information:

http://music.wisc.edu/opera

And here is a link to Opera Props, the support group that helps University Opera:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/

Farlow (seen below in a photo by Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the UW School of Music) recently gave an email interview to The Ear.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Can you give us some brief personal and professional background including when and why you came to the UW and why you are retiring? 

I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1998 after teaching at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville for five years. I came here because I felt I needed a new challenge -– which it certainly turned out to be!

I am retiring because I have spent the last 50 years of my life doing opera. It started when I was 15 and played in the second violin section for a production of Verdi’s “Aida.” I have continued into my mid-60s and feel it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life. (Below is a photo of William Farlow in a rehearsal.)

Farlowrehearsing Cosi2004

Will you stay in Madison after you retire?

I have no immediate plans to move.

What are your plans for after retirement? Do you have special hobbies or activities you want to pursue? Will you continue to freelance as an opera director?

I will continue as Artistic Advisor to Fresco Opera Theatre and Operations Consultant to the Des Moines Metro Opera as well as continue to judge voice competitions –- I’ve been a judge for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions for 30 years –- and to give master classes.

I do not plan on directing in the future and have turned down all offers for 2014, one of which was a complete “Ring” cycle of Wagner.

I can’t wait to cook more and read.

William Farlow witn roses

What are you most proud of during your tenure at the UW?

The huge variety of repertoire and quality productions we have been able to offer, and the phenomenal younger singers and instrumentalists.

What makes doing opera at a university school of music special or distinctive in your view, and what advice would you pass along to your successor?

There are so many more repertoire choices for university opera than for many professional companies. My advice is “Good luck” and “Leave no stone unturned.”

What was the best part of directing at the UW? The most frustrating part?

The best part was working with the opera’s music director and conductor James Smith (below top), who is such an extraordinary musician and colleague, and with soprano and associate director of University Opera Mimmi Fulmer (below bottom), who is the best everything.

The most frustrating part? FUNDING!!

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Mimmi Fulmer

How healthy is the opera program now at the UW-Madison? What challenges do you see in the future?

The program is in good shape for now, but the challenges will continue to be recruitment and funding.

Why did you choose operas by  George Frideric Handel (“Ariodante” on Pct. 25, 27 and 29) and Hector Berlioz (“Beatrice and Benedict” on April 13, 15 and 19) for your farewell season?

My choices for this season are the same as they always have been — operas that give the most opportunities to the most singers.

Handel etching

berlioz

Is there anything else you would like to say? 

The last 15 years have been the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I have had the great honor of directing so many great works that I wouldn’t have dreamed would be possible at this point in my career.


Classical music: Meet Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. She has big plans to help the school, from securing a new s concert hall to overhauling the website, starting a blog and connecting with other local music groups and media outlets.

September 3, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bascom Hall

That makes it a perfect time for students, both music students and others, to make the acquaintance of Kathy Esposito. Esposito is the new concert manager and director of public relations for the UW School of Music. (That also makes it a good time to subscribe to this blog and to the UW School of Music’s “Fanfare” blog if you are a new or returning student or faculty member.)

Esposito was hired toward the end of last season and has been furiously and energetically on the job all summer, preparing for the fall by redesigning the website at www.music.wis.edu, producing a season brochure and starting the blog “Fanfare” among other accomplishments. This promises to be a year of big challenges, from a new department director to new teachers, at the School of Music.

I asked Esposito to give an interview and to introduce herself.

Here is the introduction she wrote:

“I guess all I would say about me is that I developed my music appreciation through my two sons who are now classical musicians.

“I was a freelance journalist and communications specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for years, but while doing so, we three immersed ourselves in music and theater.

“We listened to CDs at home, attended productions in Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, and the two boys took violin lessons. They eventually auditioned into the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO, below, in a photo by Cheng-Wei Wu).

Thomas Buchhauser  conducting WYSO Philharmonia Cheng-Wei Wu

“Music for me is completely cathartic. I understand well the intense dedication required to excel, and I am always impressed by the maturity of these young players who by some miracle develop an appreciation of something fairly sophisticated.

“I love the classics and believe these should be our foundation, but also understand that some are interested in taking their passion to a different, more contemporary place (whether composing or performing), something untried and not wholly formed, and the university is a perfect place to do that.

My goal is to present their efforts before the Madison community and beyond, not only to bring bodies into our halls (it’s no fun to play to an empty hall) but also to demonstrate that the music school is as deserving of donor support as any other program on campus.

And here is the lengthy and detailed email Q&A that Kathy Esposito (below, in a self-portrait) did for The Ear:

Kathy Esposito

Why did you want the job of concert manager and director of public relations?

My two sons, Ansel and Alex (below), were in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and my elder son Alex graduated from UW as a violinist studying with Professor Felicia Moye and is now at Texas Tech. (As a high school student, my younger son Ansel studied with UW-Madison trumpet professor John Aley. He is now a senior at Northwestern University and also studies with the principal trumpet player of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.)

We made a point of attending music and theater performances in Madison and elsewhere, and I am quite passionate about the marvelous impact that it has had on all our lives. Both are continuing in music and have promising lives as people, not just musicians. That’s what music can do for people.

Alex and Ansel Norris CR Kathy Esposito

Because of these connections, I knew there was much good stuff going on under the roof of the Mosse Humanities Building that others didn’t know about, and it bothered me.

When people think of classical music in Madison, what comes to mind? The Madison Symphony Orchestra. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Concerts on the Square. The Bolz Young Artists Competition. Why is that? It’s because of marketing — plain old honest “getting the word out” any way possible. In this regard, the UW School of Music can do much better.

We offer a hundreds of mostly FREE concerts each year, often featuring the exact same musicians and guests artists who appear elsewhere in town, plus college students about to launch professional careers of their own. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Beverly Taylor performing “He Watching Over Israel” from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”)

But we don’t have a budget for paid advertising, which means we need to be more creative with our publicity: telling people about the accomplishments of students and faculty and offering them a reason to care and be excited about what they will see.

Meanwhile, the School of Music (SOM) offers great training and opportunities for music students, within an environment that is friendly and supportive, allowing these high school grads to mature as people while improving skills. That’s an important point, as some schools are so competitive that students can actually be damaged in the process.  (Below is Music Hall, where the University Opera stages its productions, at the foot of Bascom Hill.)

MusicHall2

I felt that I could help. I have a background in journalism and more recently in business marketing and digital media, and I know the importance of telling stories and being creative, which, nowadays, includes the Internet world as well as print. This new world is a huge, huge area, and I don’t claim to be able to do all of it well, but the truth is that many people who grew up in the world of print are totally overwhelmed by what’s needed now.

So the upshot is that I felt strongly that I had an overall resumé that matched what the SOM needed, and I wanted to help.

What major projects and changes do have in the works, including the website, web streaming for audio and video, spreading the word about the new building and outreach programs, and the like??

We plan to completely overhaul our music school website and will feature prominently the audio tracks that we’ve accumulated over the years, so that when you arrive at our site, your eye will fall upon a “Hear our Sound!” display box that will invite you to listen to one of several performances.

That might include an orchestra, the Perlman Trio (below), the wind ensemble, a jazz septet, a concerto competition winner, or a new piece by one of our resident composers; so many I don’t know how we can possibly choose among them. This is blow-your-socks-off great music.

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

Our current website has never had a page for news; it was fairly “static,” as web designers say. To address this in the absence of a new site, I recently started a blog, “Fanfare,” that provides a place to publicize recent accomplishments, and we also are making great use of our Facebook page. I invite all your readers to sign up for the blog (it’s a free subscription) and to become our Facebook fans.

Future plans include acquiring equipment to video-record and live-stream some concerts, so that parents and alumni (and possible donors) around the country and world can watch in real-time. I know how special this is because my sons perform out-of-town, and I have been able to watch them play from the (relative) comfort of my computer chair. It’s the next best thing to actually sitting in the concert hall seat.

Regarding the new music building, to be located on the open lot on University Avenue most recently occupied by several bars: We are about half way toward our goal of raising about $46 million. The project is actually part of a bigger UW plan that includes the entire East Campus Gateway, so the UW Foundation is in charge of the lion’s share of fundraising, which includes soliciting the largest donations. My role now is to continue to raise the school’s profile so that prospective donors can feel their efforts are going to very good use.

Of course, anyone is welcome to donate to the new performance fund, no matter the size of the contribution.

What are the major challenges you see confronting you and the UW School of Music?

Our biggest challenges right now are securing more money for tuition scholarships and for our new performance space. Of course, better publicity will help here; people are more likely to donate if they see their money being put to good use.

College scholarships are critical. A young violinist may want to study with Felicia Moye (below top), or a young percussionist with Tony di Sanza (below bottom with UW piano pedagogue Jessica Johnson), but if she or he gets an offer from a competing music school that includes funding, and we can’t match it, where do you think that student will go? And yet we want to be considered a top music school, just as UW is tops in so many other ways. And graduating with a degree in violin or trumpet performance but with $30,000 in debt is extremely unwise.

Felicia Moye color

sole nero Jessica Johnson piano and Anthony Di Sanza percussion

The School’s mission is not just performance, but educational. And providing music education is expensive. We have many faculty who don’t play instruments but study the music of other cultures, or study the history of composition, and then we also have many classes that are very small: there is a faculty-student ratio of one. (These are called studio classes, where, for example, a college student studying the cello has a weekly lesson with Uri Vardi (below), one of our cello teachers.)

Vardi

We have several wonderful patrons who understand this and have donated money to fund talented students through their undergrad and grad years. We’d love to discover more people like those. These grateful students have advanced to successful careers as performers and university faculty, and while still here, are more than happy to repay their patrons with private concerts.

Meanwhile, our concerts are presented in a building that is simply worn out, dated and dingy. We have one large hall, Mills Hall (below top) that seats over 700 people, too large for many concerts; and one smaller hall, Morphy Hall (below bottom) that seats about 150, too small for many concerts; and one hall (Eastman) that we don’t use because of problems. We have furniture in the basement Strelow Lounge that I refuse to sit in because the upholstery is so dirty. We have windows that are streaked with grime and cannot be opened or cleaned. It is a distinctly uninviting building.

MIllsHall2

Morphy Hall 2

How do you think you can get the concerts, master classes, etc. at the UW to draw bigger and younger audiences?

Well, there are many things we can do, all of which I am confident would have a cumulative impact.

The most difficult but also the most helpful is a successful story pitch to traditional media outlets like newspapers, TV and radio. We had great crowds here for two concerts this spring that made it into traditional print media: The 40th anniversary of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and oboist Marc Fink’s farewell concert (below bottom). But media space has shrunk, and there’s a lot of competition. So we need to market ourselves, first and foremost, using all the tools of new and old media.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet Cr Katrin Talbot

marc fink big

That means more fully utilizing the venues already available, such as this blog and others like it that are happy to announce or discuss our events. We also are now more active in the area of social media, especially Facebook, and have gained a hundred new fans in just the last month.

Second, I am interested in forming new partnerships that would bring SOM performers into new spaces, place them in front of new audiences, and send concert announcements to new venues.

Some of my ideas are probably crazy, but you have to start somewhere.

–I’d love to see joint WYSO/UW concerts of some sort: perhaps preface a WYSO concert with a UW piano trio or jazz octet.

–I’d like UW ensembles to perform outside of the music building, especially in the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below)/Town Hall.

WID_extr11_1570

–I’d like to start an annual fall music concert that showcases the entire school, including recently written, more avant-garde works, jazz and vocalists.

–I’d like to partner with Wisconsin Public Television to tell a story about our school.

–I’d like to see the new music building include a family-friendly audience space, in the rear of the hall, with a one-way mirror and piped-in sound that would allow the children to watch a concert while being normal children: not always quiet! I’ve never heard of such a space in a concert hall, and we could make our mark here and bring lots of Dane County families in for free performances.

Little pianist

–I also would like the new music building to include a lighted marquee that announces the next night’s concerts, just as we see in larger cities. Now that would attract some notice!

–I’d like our local radio stations to update listeners about concerts just as a friendly service, not as paid underwriting (because we can’t afford it). Minnesota’s public classical music station has a host, John Birge, who very kindly will mention upcoming local concerts just as a part of his between-music banter. That’s part of how we as music lovers can support each other, just by being enthusiastic. (Below is a photo by James Gill of Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom in his studio.)

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

–We also can send concert announcements to school newsletters and music teachers, and emphasize the fact that 99% of ours are free.

–What ideas do you listeners have? I sure can’t think of everything!

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

Well, I’m only one person, so I can’t say that I’ll be able to pull all of this off. However, I do feel committed to UW, committed to music in general as it has done so much for me and my sons, and I enjoy a good challenge.


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