The Well-Tempered Ear

Should the 1812 Overture be played this Fourth of July?

May 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently noticed that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has once again scheduled the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky (below) as part of the finale of its Fourth of July concert on the evening of July 6, 2022.

The performance is part of this summer’s FREE Concerts on the Square (COS) by the WCO that run on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 29 through Aug. 3. Concerts start at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, and will be conducted by Andrew Sewell.

For more information about the series and individual performers and programs, go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

An asterisk says programs are subject to change.

Which got The Ear to thinking: Should Tchaikovsky’s perennial favorite, the flashy and loud  1812 Overture, be played again this year?

It is a tradition that was started on Independence Day in 1974 by Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops, according to reputable sources. 

But this year might be a very different case because of a quandary that might cause organizers, including PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth,” to rethink the program. 

It is a choice that will confront many musical groups across the U.S., given the current unprovoked brutality and and war crimes being committed by Russia against Ukraine.

After all, many music groups, including the Metropolitan Opera, have already banned Russian performers who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unjustified war in Ukraine (below).

So here’s the question: Is it appropriate to play a favorite work celebrating a Russian military victory while Ukraine, the United States and Western allies, including NATO, are desperately trying to defeat Russian forces?

As you may recall, the overture was inspired by Russia’s victory over the invading forces of Napoleon who was attempting go conquer Russia. Like Hitler and the Nazis, Napoleon failed and the Russians prevailed. That is why, in the work, you hear the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” overcome by the chimes and cannons of the Russian victory hymn. (There was no Russian national anthem until 1815.)

Here is a link to more background in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1812_Overture

Will the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or other orchestras as well as radio and TV stations around the U.S. find a substitute piece? Perhaps it could be the Ukrainian national anthem that is performed (as in the BBC Proms concert in the YouTube video at the bottom and as many other orchestras around the world, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain, have done).

What else could the WCO and other groups play — especially since Sousa marches are already usually featured on The Fourth?

Do you have a suggestion?

The Ear will be interested to see how the quandary is solved — with explanations and excuses, or with alternative music?

Meanwhile, as comedian Stephen Colbert likes to say: What do you think?

Should the “1812 Overture” be played on this Fourth of July?

Why?

Or why not?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Check out the 2022 classical music Grammys for trends and suggested listening

April 9, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

No doubt you have already heard about the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which were awarded last Sunday night.

But chances are you haven’t heard much about the classical music Grammys.

That’s just not where the money and publicity are for major record companies and for the music industry in general, compared to other, much more profitable genres such as hip-hop, rock and pop.

But the classical Grammy nominations and winners can be a good source about what composers, performers and music you might want to check out via streaming or by buying a CD.

You can also get a good idea of trends in classical music.

Contemporary or new music is big again this year, dominating the old standard classics.

Just like local, regional, national and international performers, both individuals and groups, the Grammys show an emphasis on female composers and performers, and a similar emphasis on rediscovering composers and performers of color from both the past and the present.

You might also notice that the New Orleans-born, Juilliard-trained jazz pianist and singer Jon Batiste (below) — who plays on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and directs the house band Stay Human and who seems a one-man Mardi Gras — was nominated for a record 11 Grammys and won five in other categories, seems to be the new Wynton Marsalis. Like Marsalis, with whom Batiste worked, Batiste seems perfectly at home in classical music as well as jazz, soul, blues and pop. And his original classical work Movement 11 was nominated for a Grammy this year.

Social activism, in short, has finally brought diversity and inclusion into the Grammys in a way that seems permanent.

Below are the nominations and winners of the 2022 classical music Grammys. Winners are boldfaced. I have also offered a few examples of those musicians who have performed in Madison and for what venue, although there are many more connections than indicated.

If you want to see the nominations and winners in other categories, here is a link:

https://www.npr.org/2022/04/03/1090342877/2022-grammys-full-list-winners-nominees

75. Best Engineered Album, Classical

  • Archetypes — Jonathan Lackey, Bill Maylone and Dan Nichols, engineers; Bill Maylone, mastering engineer (Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion)
  • Beethoven: Cello Sonatas – Hope Amid Tears — Richard King, engineer (Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax) 
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 — Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck, Mendelssohn Choir Of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • Chanticleer Sings Christmas — Leslie Ann Jones, engineer (Chanticleer)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 8, ‘Symphony Of A Thousand’ — Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Luke McEndarfer, Robert Istad, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Children’s Chorus, Pacific Chorale and Los Angeles Philharmonic)

76. Producer Of The Year, Classical

  • Blanton Alspaugh 
  • Steven Epstein 
  • David Frost 
  • Elaine Martone 
  • Judith Sherman (below, who also recorded the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial commissions)

CLASSICAL

77. Best Orchestral Performance

  • “Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives; Harmonielehre” — Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Nashville Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Beethoven: Symphony No. 9” — Manfred Honeck, conductor (Mendelssohn Choir Of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Muhly: Throughline” — Nico Muhly, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
  • “Florence Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3″ — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Philadelphia Orchestra (below)
  • “Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra; Scriabin: The Poem Of Ecstasy” — Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Seattle Symphony Orchestra)

78. Best Opera Recording

  • “Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle” — Susanna Mälkki, conductor; Mika Kares and Szilvia Vörös; Robert Suff, producer (Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • “Glass: Akhnaten” — Karen Kamensek, conductor; J’Nai Bridges, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Zachary James and Dísella Lárusdóttir; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 
  • “Janáček: Cunning Little Vixen” — Simon Rattle, conductor; Sophia Burgos, Lucy Crowe, Gerald Finley, Peter Hoare, Anna Lapkovskaja, Paulina Malefane, Jan Martinik & Hanno Müller-Brachmann; Andrew Cornall, producer (London Symphony Orchestra; London Symphony Chorus and LSO Discovery Voices)  
  • “Little: Soldier Songs” — Corrado Rovaris, conductor; Johnathan McCullough; James Darrah and John Toia, producers (The Opera Philadelphia Orchestra) 
  • “Poulenc: Dialogues Des Carmélites” — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Karen Cargill, Isabel Leonard, Karita Mattila, Erin Morley and Adrianne Pieczonka; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 

79. Best Choral Performance

  • “It’s A Long Way” — Matthew Guard, conductor (Jonas Budris, Carrie Cheron, Fiona Gillespie, Nathan Hodgson, Helen Karloski, Enrico Lagasca, Megan Roth, Alissa Ruth Suver and Dana Whiteside; Skylark Vocal Ensemble) 
  • “Mahler: Symphony No. 8, ‘Symphony Of A Thousand'” — Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Grant Gershon, Robert Istad, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz and Luke McEndarfer, chorus masters (Leah Crocetto, Mihoko Fujimura, Ryan McKinny, Erin Morley, Tamara Mumford, Simon O’Neill, Morris Robinson and Tamara Wilson; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Children’s Chorus and Pacific Chorale)
  • “Rising w/The Crossing” — Donald Nally, conductor (International Contemporary Ensemble and Quicksilver; The Crossing)  
  • “Schnittke: Choir Concerto; Three Sacred Hymns; Pärt: Seven Magnificat-Antiphons” — Kaspars Putniņš, conductor; Heli Jürgenson, chorus master (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir)  
  • “Sheehan: Liturgy Of Saint John Chrysostom” — Benedict Sheehan, conductor (Michael Hawes, Timothy Parsons and Jason Thoms; The Saint Tikhon Choir)
  • “The Singing Guitar” — Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Estelí Gomez; Austin Guitar Quartet, Douglas Harvey, Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and Texas Guitar Quartet; Conspirare)

80. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

  • “Adams, John Luther: Lines Made By Walking” — JACK Quartet
  • “Akiho: Seven Pillars” — Sandbox Percussion 
  • “Archetypes” —Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion 
  • “Beethoven: Cello Sonatas – Hope Amid Tears” — Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax (who have frequently performed individually and together at the Wisconsin Union Theater)
  • “Bruits” — Imani Winds
  •  

81. Best Classical Instrumental Solo

  • “Alone Together” — Jennifer Koh (below, who has performed with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra)
  • “An American Mosaic” — Simone Dinnerstein
  • “Bach: Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas” — Augustin Hadelich (a favorite of the Madison Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Beethoven and Brahms: Violin Concertos” — Gil Shaham; Eric Jacobsen, conductor (The Knights)
  • “Mak Bach” — Mak Grgić
  • “Of Power” — Curtis Stewart 

82. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album

  • Confessions — Laura Strickling; Joy Schreier, pianist
  • Dreams Of A New Day – Songs By Black Composers — Will Liverman (who has sung with the Madison Opera); Paul Sánchez, pianist (below at in the YouTube video at the bottom)
  • Mythologies — Sangeeta Kaur and Hila Plitmann (Virginie D’Avezac De Castera, Lili Haydn, Wouter Kellerman, Nadeem Majdalany, Eru Matsumoto and Emilio D. Miler)
  • Schubert: Winterreise — Joyce DiDonato; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, pianist
  • Unexpected Shadows — Jamie Barton; Jake Heggie, pianist (Matt Haimovitz) 

83. Best Classical Compendium

  • American Originals – A New World, A New Canon — AGAVE and Reginald L. Mobley; Geoffrey Silver, producer
  • Berg: Violin Concerto; Seven Early Songs and Three Pieces For Orchestra — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer
  • Cerrone: The Arching Path — Timo Andres and Ian Rosenbaum; Mike Tierney, producer
  • Plays — Chick Corea; Chick Corea and Birnie Kirsh, producers
  • Women Warriors – The Voices Of Change — Amy Andersson, conductor; Amy Andersson, Mark Mattson and Lolita Ritmanis, producers  (below)

84. Best Contemporary Classical Composition

  • “Akiho: Seven Pillars” — Andy Akiho, composer (Sandbox Percussion)
  • “Andriessen: The Only One” — Louis Andriessen, composer (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Nora Fischer and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • “Assad, Clarice and Sérgio, Connors, Dillon, Martin & Skidmore: Archetypes” — Clarice Assad, Sérgio Assad, Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore, composers (Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion)
  • “Batiste: Movement 11′” — Jon Batiste, composer (Jon Batiste)
  • “Shaw: Narrow Sea” — Caroline Shaw, composer (Dawn Upshaw, Gilbert Kalish and Sō Percussion) 
  •  


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From Beethoven to today: The next five days at the UW-Madison are busy with FREE online concerts of new music, string music, brass music and more

April 8, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

From now through Monday, April 13, there are many FREE online concerts – virtual or pre-recorded – at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The schedule includes three different concerts on Saturday, April 10, alone. (All times are central and many concerts will be available for longer than a day.)

The variety of music is terrific and features all kinds of instruments and genres of music.

Here is a link to all of them, which will appear on YouTube. If your click on “Show More,” you will see more information about the performers and the programs. You can also set a convenient Reminder Timer to help you remember to listen: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZZ2F66Bu2yAfccvsugEtsA

You can read all of them by yourself. But the Ear wants to single out several of special interest.

NEW MUSIC: TONIGHT

If you are a fan of new music, there are two concerts you should consider listenIing to.

TONIGHT, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. and then at 8:30 p.m. are two concerts of new music.

The first concert is by the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble.

Titled “Colors” (below is the poster) the concert features music by Debussy, Lang, San Martin, UW-Madison professor Laura Schwendinger and Edgard Varese.

The performance are by faculty performers violist Sally Chisholm, flutist Conor Nelson and pianist Christopher Taylor, as well as alumni and students Eric Tran, Eric Delgado, Heidi Keener, Ben Therrell and Ben Yats.

Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Gxe7yTWpI

Then at 8:30 p.m., a studio recital by composition students (below) at the UW-Madison will take place. No names of performers or pieces are listed. But here is the link that is given: https://youtu.be/WmTBoLD9IQc

BEETHOVEN QUARTET CYCLE 7: FRIDAY NIGHT

At 7:30 p.m. is the seventh installment of the cycle, which is part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s yearlong retrospective of Beethoven’s string quartets to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Members are David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

The program has two late quartets: the famous last one, Op. 135, in F major (1826) with the :”Muss es sein” (Must It Be?) motif, which can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom of the final movement played by the Cypress String Quartet;  and the famous “Grosse Fuge” quartet and ending in B-flat Major, Opp. 130 and 133 (1825-6).

The Ear — who particularly likes Beethoven’s return to clarity and classicism in his final quartet — has listened to all the installments and they have all been superb. There’s no reason to expect anything different with this installment.

UW professor of musicology Charles Dill will give short introductory talks before each quartet. You can find extended program notes about the quartet and the program here: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-beethoven-string-quartet-cycle-program-7/

And here is the link to the live-streamed concert from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIW_5NVgGaA

UNIVERSITY OPERA SINGS SONGS OF RACIAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE: SATURDAY AND SUNDAY

This spring, University Opera follows up its groundbreaking video production on the life and times of composer Marc Blitzstein with another video.

What’s Past is Prologue: The Unfinished American Conversation, a program of staged and filmed songs and song cycles with social and racial justice themes, will be released on the Mead Witter School of Music YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/7Up_OXD6K2U this Saturday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m., with an encore stream this Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. David Ronis, Director of University Opera, is the director, and Thomas Kasdorf is the musical director, who accompanies the singers on piano.

For more background, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-presents-whats-past-is-prologue-the-unfinished-american-conversation/

For the performance, go to: https://youtu.be/7Up_OXD6K2U


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Starting TODAY, the First Unitarian Society of Madison offers three free, online mini-concerts at noon on Fridays to celebrate Women’s History Month

March 12, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about three free, online mini-concerts to celebrate Women’s History Month through the Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison.

The concerts start today:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCES

•   To celebrate Women’s History Month, the First Unitarian Society of Madison will present three Friday Noon Musicales during March. 

•   All three will be guest produced by Iva Ugrcic. 

•   Iva Ugrcic (below) is Founding Artistic Director of the Madison-based LunART Festival, which supports, inspires, promotes and celebrates women in the arts.  

•   Each program will feature highlights from past LunART Festival performances.

•   Each program will be approximately 45 minutes long.

DATES AND PROGRAMS

Each video will become available at noon on the indicated date, and will remain available for viewing in perpetuity.

This Friday, March 12 — Works by living composers Jocelyn Hagen, Salina Fisher and Missy Mazzoli (below top), as well as Romantic-era composer Clara Schumann (below bottom, Getty Images).  Specific titles are not named.

Performers include: Iva Ugrcic, flute; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Tom Macaluso, trombone; Elena Ross and Todd Hammes, percussion; Kyle Johnson, Jason Kutz, Satoko Hayami and Yana Avedyan, piano; Beth Larson and Isabella Lippi, violin; Karl Lavine, cello (below); ARTemis Ensemble.

Friday, March 19 — Works by living composers Linda Kachelmeier, Elsa M’bala, Doina Rotaru (below top) and Eunike Tanzil, as well as Medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen (below bottom) and Romantic-era Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. Specific works are not named. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear flutist Iva Ugrcic play Doina Rotaru’s haunting “Japanese Garden.”)

Performers include: Iva Ugrcic, flute; Jose Ignacio Santos Aquino, clarinet; Midori Samson, bassoon; Breta Saganski and Dave Alcorn, percussion; Satoko Hayami (below), Jason Kutz and Eunike Tanzil, piano; ARTemis Ensemble

Friday, March 26 — Alexandra Olsavsky, Edna Alejandra Longoria, Kate Soper and Jenni Brandon as well as post-Romantic era American composer Amy Beach (below bottom). Specific pieces are not named. 

Performers include: ARTemis Ensemble; a string quartet with violinists Isabella Lippi and Laura Burns, violist Fabio Saggin, and cellist Mark Bridges (below); Jeff Takaki, bass; Vincent Fuh and Kyle Johnson, piano; Jennifer Lien, soprano; Iva Ugrcic, flute.

THREE OPTIONS FOR ATTENDING

•   Website — https://www.fusmadison.org/musicales

•   Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/fusmadison

•   YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/fusmadison > “Playlists” > “Music at FUS”

ABOUT THE “FRIDAY NOON MUSICALES” RECITAL SERIES

•   The Friday Noon Musicales at First Unitarian Society is a free noon-hour recital series offered as a gift to the community. 

•   Founded in 1971, 2020-2021 is the series’ 50th season. 

•   The series has featured some of the finest musicians in the Midwest, who flock to perform in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium.

•   The music performed is mostly classical, but folk, jazz and musical theater styles are presented on occasion.

•   During the pandemic, the Musicales have largely been on hiatus.

JUSTICE AND MUSIC INITIATIVE (JAM)

•   The Justice And Music Initiative (JAM) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison represents a commitment to more socially equitable and earth-friendly music practices. 

•   This commitment includes music performed on our campus, both for worship and non-worship events. 

•   To help achieve our goal, we recognize and celebrate recognition days and months with our musical selections, such as Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15–10/15), LGBT History Month (October); Native American Indian Heritage Month (November), Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), and African-American Music Appreciation Month (prev. Black Music Month; June).


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Can American film director Ron Howard make a sensitive and accurate biopic of Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang? Or is it a cultural appropriation that deserves to be condemned?

September 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The self-appointed PC diversity police have struck again.

This is getting silly and tiresome, insulting and embarrassing.

Some advocates of cultural diversity are crying foul over the latest project of the American and Academy Award-winning Hollywood film director Ron Howard: making a biopic of the superstar Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang (below).

The script will be drawn from the pianist’s bestselling memoir “Journey of a Thousand Miles” — which has also been recast as an inspirational children’s book — and the director and scriptwriters will consult with Lang Lang.

It seems to The Ear a natural collaboration, as well as a surefire box office hit, between two high-achieving entertainers. Check out their bios:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang_Lang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Howard

But some people are criticizing the project in the belief that because Ron Howard  (below) is white and Western, he cannot do justice to someone who is Chinese or to Asian culture.

Here is an essay, found on the website of Classic FM, by one objector. She is Chinese film director Lulu Wang (below), who says she has no interest in doing the project herself: https://www.classicfm.com/artists/lang-lang/pianist-biopic-ron-howard-faces-criticism-lulu-wang/

Talk about misplaced alarm over “cultural appropriation.”

Don’t you think that Lang Lang will have a lot to say about how he is depicted?

Do you wonder if Wang thinks cultural appropriation works in reverse?

Should we dismiss Lang Lang’s interpretations of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok simply because he is non-Western and Chinese rather than German, French or Russian?

Of course not. They should be taken on their own merits, just as the interpretations of any other Asian classical musician, and artists in general including Ai Weiwei, should be.

But however unfairly, cultural appropriation just doesn’t seem to work in reverse.

Mind you, The Ear thinks that cultural appropriation is a valid concept and can indeed sometimes be useful in discussing cross-cultural influences.

But it sure seems that the concept is being applied in an overly broad and even misdirected or ridiculous way, kind of the way that the idea of “micro-aggressions” can be so generously applied that it loses its ability to be truthful and useful.

Take the example of the heterosexual Taiwanese movie director Ang Lee. He certainly proved himself able to depict American culture in “The Ice Storm” and the gay world in “Brokeback Mountain.”

Let’s be clear. The Ear is a piano fan.

But if he objects to the project, it is because he doesn’t like Lang Lang’s flamboyant playing, his Liberace-like performance manners and showmanship, and his exaggerated facial expressions.

Yet there is no denying the human appeal of his story. He rose from a young and suicidal piano student (below) who was emotionally abused by his ambitious father – shades of the lives of young Mozart and Beethoven and probably many other prodigies – to become the best known, most frequently booked and highest paid classical pianist in the world. 

Yet not for nothing did some critics baptize him with the nickname Bang Bang.

Still, the Curtis Institute graduate does all he can to foster music education, especially among the young and the poor.

And there is simply no denying his virtuosity. (See Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Paganini etude “La Campanella” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So there is plenty to object to about Lang Lang the Piano Star besides the ethnicity of Ron Howard, who also did a biopic of opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, in telling his story.

What do you think?

Is it culturally all right for Ron Howard to direct a film about Lang Lang?

Do you look forward to the movie and seeing it?

What do you think of Lang Lang as a pianist and a celebrity?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Here is music that asks for and then grants the peace we need now

June 2, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Is The Ear alone in being reminded of the year 1968 and its various social, political and personal upheavals?

What explains it?

What are the parallels, if any?

Is it the national and international protests against police injustice and racism (below, in a photo by Getty Images)?

Is it the violence and riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and opposition to the Vietnam War?

Is it the isolation and deaths (below, in a photo by ABC News) brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and the more than 100,000 deaths in just the U.S. from COVID-19?

Whatever you think and whether you agree or not, we all can use some peace.

Here is some music that both asks for peace and grants it.

It is the “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Grant Us Peace) from the “Mass in B Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed in the YouTube video below by Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus with soloists.

If there are other pieces of classical music that serve that same purpose and you would like to hear, leave your suggestion in the comment section.

 


Classical music: The UW Choral Union, UW Symphony Orchestra and guest soloists took the audience on a memorable musical voyage in Ralph Vaughan Williams “A Sea Symphony”

January 30, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

It took a postponement of almost two months before the UW Choral Union (below) finally got to perform last Saturday night in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the new Hamel Music Center.

But the wait was worth it.

The combined forces – conducted by the retiring choral director Beverly Taylor – proved convincing and accomplished in the challenging score of “A Sea Symphony” by the early 20th-century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The performers did justice to the score’s vivid sound painting. You could hear the sea wind whistling through the rigging; you could feel the ship plowing through the swells and waves.

The American poet Walt Whitman (below) – whose epic-like poetry provided the text for this ambitious nautical and musical journey – would have been proud of the performance.

After all, like Whitman’s poetry, Vaughn Williams’ music — his first symphony — can be forceful and spacious at many moments, tender and reflective or even intimate at other times. The music matches the text, and the performers matched both.

The forces were precise under Taylor’s baton, with sharp attacks and no ragged stopping. True, there were a few moments when the balance seemed a bit off, when the UW Symphony Orchestra overpowered the large campus and community chorus, especially in the very brassy and thickly scored first movement. You just wanted to hear the words better and felt frustrated not to.

But for the most part, though, the student orchestra proved impressive. They were tight and crisp, accurate and transparent, allowing listeners to hear the inner part playing and even certain modernist harmonies of the generally conservative Vaughan Williams (below).

Moreover, the symphony, the chorus and the soloists blended especially well and movingly in the symphony’s quieter moments.

Those moments included the second movement, “On the Beach at Night, Alone”; and the quiet, understated ending where the idea of voyage and exploration becomes personal and metaphorical or spiritual as well as literal: “Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me … O my brave soul! O farther, farther sail!”

(You can hear a sample in the hymn-like opening of the fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

In addition, the outstanding acoustics of the new hall – where the chorus sits above and behind the orchestra – brought the performance to life even more convincingly.

There were two soloists (below): soprano Chelsie Propst and baritone James Harrington.

Harrington possessed a pleasing tone, but he seemed to be holding back for some reason. He could have projected more confidence and been more energetic or assertive in his delivery. After all, neither Whitman nor Vaughan Williams is shy in this large-scale work.

Curiously, it was the woman soloist, Propst, who roared like the sea, whose big voice easily soared over the orchestra and chorus. Her singing was thoroughly beautiful and thoroughly engaging.

Unfortunately, the very successful concert was not sold out, but the audience proved attentive and very enthusiastic.

This debut performance in the new hall made one look forward all the more to another big piece and big performance by the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra, one that will wrap up the season and end Taylor’s long tenure at the UW-Madison: the dramatic and operatic Requiem by Verdi on Saturday and Sunday, April 25 and 26.


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Classical music: This weekend guest violinist Rachel Barton Pine solos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in an all-Russian program

October 17, 2019
9 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) makes her debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor.

The concert by the orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) opens with Prokofiev’s Suite from Lieutenant Kijé and concludes with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9.

Performances will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State St., on Friday night, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Oct. 20, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. Tickets are $19-$95. See below for details.

“There will be great discoveries in our all-Russian concert, starting with the MSO debut of virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine playing the Khachaturian Violin Concerto, a big, bold and beautiful work in its MSO premiere,” said MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). Lieutenant Kijé is sure to delight you with its wonderful melodies and infectious rhythms. Shostakovich has become a favorite with our audiences, and his ninth symphony is delightfully upbeat.”

Lieutenant Kijé is the fictional protagonist of an anecdote about the reign of Emperor Paul I of Russia. The story was used as the basis of a novella by Yury Tynyanov published in 1928 and filmed in 1934, with music by Sergei Prokofiev (below). The plot is a satire on bureaucracy and is often parodied in fictional works making fun of bureaucracies, most famously in the form of the M*A*S*H television episode “Tuttle,” featuring a fictional captain of similar provenance. (You can hear the popular “Troika” episode in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Many of the themes in Violin Concerto in D minor are evocative of the native Armenia of Aram Khachaturian (below). Although the folk melodies aren’t played explicitly, one can hear the Armenian roots through the oriental essence of the scales and the rhythmic range of the featured dances. The piece won the Stalin Prize in 1941, becoming one of Khachaturian’s favorites.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 is entirely unlike his other symphonies. In fact, it completely disregards the expectations for its programmatic elements. Shostakovich’s prior two symphonies are thematically tied to the ongoing war, therefore the public presumed that the ninth symphony would be a grand culmination to Stalin and mark the end of World War II. Instead, the composer (below) produced a short, neo-classical work that generated an abundance of controversy.

ABOUT RACHEL BARTON PINE

In both art and life, violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) – who has performed in Madison before with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — has an extraordinary ability to connect with people.

Celebrated as a leading interpreter of great classic and contemporary works, her performances combine her innate gift for emotional communication and her scholarly fascination with historical research. She plays with passion and conviction, thrilling audiences worldwide with her dazzling technique, lustrous tone, and infectious joy in music-making.

A prolific recording artist, she has also championed the works of female composers and African-American composers.

Pine was also recently named the recipient of the Cedille Records Musical Partnership Award for her Rachel Barton Pine Foundation. The Foundation was recognized as an organization that has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the classical music community in Chicago. Cedille noted the Foundation’s “support of the Chicago musical community’s most valuable asset — its musicians and composers.”

Pine was presented with the award by U.S Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose son, Jim Ginsburg, founded Cedille Records. Pine began her Foundation in 2001 to provide instruments and instruction to children who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

You can read the Artist Story online about how Rachel Barton Pine overcame severe injuries and her own personal adversity to achieve her goals: https://madisonsymphony.org/19-20-artist-story-rachel-barton-pine-overcomes-adversity/

CONCERT, TICKET AND EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert.

One hour before each performance, retired MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/msooct19programnotes.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir excelled in Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” despite questionable acoustics and cutting. A second performance is this afternoon at UW-Whitewater

December 16, 2018
3 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

On Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) gave Madison a proper gift for the holiday season with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

Or with four-sixths of it, to be accurate.

Though Bach conceived of it as an integral composition, it is nevertheless cast in the form of six cantatas — one for each of the six days of the Christmas liturgical sequence, from the Nativity through Epiphany. Each cantata was meant to be self-sufficient by itself, in Bach’s conventional form for such works, with numerous chorales (in which the congregation could well have joined).

Artistic Director and conductor Robert Gehrenbeck (below) chose, however, to omit Cantatas 4 and 6. Allowing that the performers could be glad for the extra respite, I think this was an unnecessary omission. The evening would still not be that long, at least for an audience ready to welcome more. (I will note that Gehrenbeck did turn a repeat of the festive opening chorus of Cantata 3 as a makeshift finale of Cantata 5.)

I counted 14 soloists, many from among the choir itself, a few modestly serviceable, but most really very good. Most recognizable would be tenor Wesley Dunnagan, who sang both as the Evangelist and as tenor soloist.

The chorus itself, a total of 51 in number here, was just a bit large for the work, but was handsomely drilled by the conductor. The orchestra of 23 players (11 on strings), called the Sinfonia Sacra, was contrastingly small but played with verve and eloquence. (You can hear the irresistibly energetic opening of the Christmas Oratorio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

I have great praise for the performance itself.  But I fear it was rather compromised by the venue.

Bach intended this cycle of cantatas for his sizable Lutheran church in Leipzig. But the Luther Memorial Church (below) is a much larger and loftier building than that with which Bach worked.  Its acoustics are big and reverberant. The choir, spread out before the altar, and the widely dispersed soloists, were far from much of the audience.

Their sound projected variously, rolling out into the big space in beautiful blurs. For much of the audience, that could well have been enough: lovely sounds and rhythms. But almost all the words were muddled or lost.

Now, words mattered to Bach (below), and to his congregation.  With the presence of the words all but lost, the messages of these cantatas are badly compromised. In that sense, this performance was successful sonically but not as sacred music.

Musicians obviously give thought to the settings for their performances. Their concern is very much about how well they can hear each other. But careful attention to what their audiences hear, and how that does justice to the performances. On that count, then, I found this event a mixed success.

On the other hand, I must praise the splendid program booklet, handsomely laid out, with good information, the full texts and translations, and particularly good notes on the work by J. Michael Allsen, who also did the English translations.

A second performance is this afternoon at 3 p.m. in the Young Auditorium at the UW-Whitewater. For more information and tickets, go to https://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org


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Classical music: Is Prokofiev more Romantic than modernist? Hear for yourself at the concert Friday night by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and violinist Giora Schmidt. Plus, the UW Symphony Orchestra performs a FREE concert Thursday night

February 21, 2018
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ALERTS: This Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under the baton of alumnus and guest conductor Mikko Rankin Utevsky, the founder and director of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO).  The program features the Symphony No. 5 by Franz Schubert; “Entr’acte” by Caroline Shaw; and the “Holberg Suite” by Edvard Grieg.

The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features guitarist Steve Waugh and flutist Sridhar Bagavathula playing music by Frederic Chopin, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla, Francisco Tarrega, Francois Morel and Jerome Kern. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Sometimes the frame helps to define the picture, to reveal or at least reinforce the picture’s meaning.

Such is the case with this Friday night’s appealing and stand-out concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with conductor Andrew Sewell and Israeli violin soloist Giora Schmidt (below, in a photo by David Getzschman).

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in The Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Tickets are $15-$80 with student tickets available for $10. For more information about the performers and the program, as well as how to obtain tickets, go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-3/

The program features the “Petite Symphonie” (Small Symphony) for winds by the Romantic French composer Charles Gounod (below), who is much better known for and more often performed for his operas “Faust” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Then there is the melodic, popular and often performed Serenade for Strings by the Russian arch-Romantic Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below). Like so much Tchaikovsky – both his Piano Concerto No. 1 and his Violin Concerto, now staples of the repertoire, were deemed unplayable when first composed – the Serenade can  sound less challenging than it really is.

In between comes a modern masterpiece that The Ear is especially fond of: The Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor by the Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev (below).

And that is where it gets especially interesting.

Prokofiev is often lumped together with his Russian contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich (below). Both were virtuoso pianists. Both faced hardships from the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. And while it is true that some of Prokofiev’s music shares a certain spikiness as well as harmonic darkness and dissonance with that of his contemporary, the pairing can be misleading.

To The Ear, much more — maybe even most — of Prokofiev’s music shares a lot more with the late Russian Romantics, including Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Roughly and with some exceptions, he sees Prokofiev as modern Russia’s Mozart for his melodic clarity, and Shostakovich as modern Russia’s Beethoven for his harmonic thickness.

The Ear doesn’t know if that same point is intended and was in mind when maestro Andrew Sewell (below) set up the concert, but he suspects it was because Sewell is a canny and intelligent programmer.

But intentional or not, no matter: the point stands.

If a single moment offers proof, The Ear would single out the opening of the slow movement of the Prokofiev concerto.

It has a beautiful melodic line, moving harmonies and a hypnotic clock-like rhythm to a theme-and-variation development that sounds unmistakably modern but accessibly modern in the same way that the never-fail Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber does.

You can hear the second movement in a YouTube video at the bottom and make up your own mind. It is performed by the way by the great David Oistrakh for whom Prokofiev composed the concerto.

Suffice it to say that The Ear has never heard that movement without the little hairs on the back of his neck standing up, much like happens with the famous 18th Variation in Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” or the opening of the first and second movements of the Barber Violin Concerto.

If you know that music by Prokofiev, you will be happy you hear it again. And if you don’t already know it, you will be forever grateful to have made its acquaintance.

Anyway, The Ear will assume that the programming was deliberate and establishes for the audience a context for the Prokofiev, which is the most important and substantial work on the program.

And Giora Schmidt (below),k who is making his Madison debut, certainly sounds like the kind of virtuoso who will do justice to the work. Just read the critics’ raves on his website:

https://www.gioraschmidt.com


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