The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: WQXR names the best classical recording of 2018. Plus, here are other guides to help you use gift cards

January 5, 2019
8 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another gift list that The Ear just found. Even though it was compiled before the holiday, he looked for it but didn’t find it.

It’s another of the top classical recordings of 2018. But this time, the list – with plenty of sound samples — comes from WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City.

It may be too late to use for holiday gift giving – unless it is for yourself. After all, there are a lot of gift cards waiting to be redeemed.

Also below are several other lists so that you can cross-check and compare. The CD of Chopin ballades and nocturnes by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), for example, makes almost all the lists, which is a good sign of quality. (You can hear Andsnes play the Ballade No. 4, The Ear’s favorite, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Here is the link to WQXR:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-releases-2018/

Here is a link to the top picks by critics for The New York Times and the Top 10 for National Public Radio (NPR):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/classical-music-gift-guide-or-gift-or-both-critics-for-the-new-york-times-name-their-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2018-so-does-national-public-radio-npr/

And here are the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/


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Classical music: We need more women conductors. And here is where some of them will come from

March 31, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear bets that most of you have heard of Marin Alsop (below), the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

And he bets that many of you have also heard of JoAnn Falletta (below, in a photo by Cheryl Gorski), who is the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

And then?

How many other women conductors can you name?

So the last day of Women’s History Month seems a good time to take a look at a program that may produce quite a few major women conductors.

Here it is:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/bringing-women-conductors-front-orchestra/


Classical music: Women conductors speak out about breaking the glass ceiling with a baton

September 10, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The time has finally come!

It has been, in fact, long overdue.

The candidacy of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee to be President of the United States is a historic first.

And it is generating a lot of buzz about breaking glass ceilings in politics and elsewhere.

So it seemed very timely when The New York Times reported on women conductors at a conference-festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. The pioneering American woman conductor Marin Alsop (below), who heads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, is among them.

Marin Alsop marching

Among the younger generation included is the Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki (below), who is taking over as the Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra this month. (You can hear her discuss her inaugural season in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

finnish-conductor-susanna-malkki

Here is a link to the story and interviews with four female conductors. They offer some terrific advice and many memorable anecdotes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/arts/music/female-conductors-lucerne-festival.html?_r=0


Classical music: Which great maestro would you be? Take the WFMT quiz and see

June 6, 2016
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Chicago classical music radio station WFMT has come up with a novel idea.

That is the radio station by the way, that brings us “Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin,” which airs every weekday night 8-9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio. The insightful McGlaughlin himself is a former conductor, and The Ear suspects he had something to do with the quiz.

WFMT is the same radio station with The Beethoven Satellite Network that brings us host Peter Van De Graaff who chooses and comments on classical music overnight. A performing baritone singer who has sung George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra several times, the discerning Van De Graaff might also have had something to do with figuring out different and distinctive conducting styles.

Anyway, the WFMT staff devised a quiz and put it on the radio station’s official blog.

You answer questions and then you see which great symphony orchestra conductor you would mostly likely be.

Among the names mentioned are Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Leonard Bernstein (whom The Ear was pegged as!) and the three below (from left): Marin Alsop, Pierre Boulez and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who heads the Philadelphia Orchestra and last week was named the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

WFMT conductor quiz

Here is a link to the quiz and to the comments that its results have inspired:

http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2016/04/22/quiz-which-great-conductor-are-you/

Take the quiz and let The Ear and other readers know the results and what you thought of the quiz.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why couldn’t the New York Philharmonic find an American conductor? Meet Dutchman Jaap van Sweden, its next music director. Plus, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen, is NEXT SUNDAY — NOT TODAY — and tonight’s concert of new music by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig has been CANCELLED

January 31, 2016
4 Comments

ALERT 1: The Sunday Afternoon Live performance by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet at the Chazen Museum of Art is NEXT SUNDAY, NOT TODAY. The Ear apologizes for the mistake.

 ALERT 2: Tonight’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig and pianist Jessica Johnson has been CANCELLED.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week the New York Philharmonic announced its next music director and conductor who will succeed Alan Gilbert, starting in 2018.

He is Jaap van Sweden (below, in a photo by Todd Heiser for The New York Times , a 55-year-old Dutchman, acclaimed for his technical prowess, who now is the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Jaap van Sweden CR Todd Heisler NYT

There are a lot of stories The Ear could link to.

Here is a short summary from NPR (National Public Radio) with audio clips of his conducting:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/01/27/464563264/jaap-van-zweden-named-new-music-director-of-the-new-york-philharmonic

But he found the coverage by the New York Times quite comprehensive and, on balance, fair.

It featured a main news story with some important feature elements, including the critical acclaim van Sweden received for conducting music by Gustav Mahler and Ludwig van Beethoven. (Below, you can see van Sweden conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2014 in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

Jaap van Sweden conducting the NY PHIL cr Horiyuki Ito NYT

And it also featured a column or commentary by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, who spoke in Madison on the occasion of the centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet that was held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Overall, Tommasini’s notebook entry is a fine and insightful piece, even if it gets tiring to hear Tommasini climb up on his high horse and whine yet again about the neglect of new music and contemporary composers – which does not seem fully justified based on the record of this particular conductor.

Tommasini – who himself was trained as a composer — clearly would have preferred former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) as the new music director and conductor. Hmmm – could they be friends?

Esa Pekka Salonen

For his part, it may sound provincial but The Ear is more concerned that the very same symphony orchestra that made history in American culture for hiring the first American-born and American-trained maestro – Leonard Bernstein (below), who also just happened to put Jaap van Sweden on the path to a conducting career – is once again turning to Europe rather to the many fine conducting talents in this country.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

Why was no American conductor chosen. One who comes to mind is Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil who is also a Bernstein protege. And then there is David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia(below bottom).

Seems odd that Marin Alsop is good enough for Brazil and David Robertson is good enough for Australia — but not for New York?

The Ear wants to ask the Philharmonic’s board of directors: Do you really find all American conductors to be that inferior to Jaap van Sweden?

Maybe there were practical considerations — salary, contracts, availability, refusals — that made hiring an American conductor impossible. But the stories suggest that the choice of van Sweden was made early on and the fix seemed in. Too bad. It still seems like a great opportunity that was lost.

Marin Alsop big

David Robertson

You can decide for yourself.

Here is the news story by Michael Cooper:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-taps-jaap-van-zweden-as-its-next-maestro.html?_r=0

And here is Tommasini’s column:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/jaap-van-zweden-and-the-future-of-the-new-york-philharmonic.html

Do you know the work of Jaap van Sweden?

Have you heard him in live or recorded performances?

What do you think?

Here is a sample of Jaap van Sweden conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: A major reassessment of Rachmaninoff is under way. Plus, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez has died at 90 and the Unitarian Society’s FREE Friday Noon Musicales start again this week

January 7, 2016
4 Comments

ALERT: The influential and controversial French avant-garde composer and conductor Pierre Boulez had died at 90. The Ear will feature more about him this weekend. Stay tuned.

ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, start up again this Friday after a break for the holidays. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and features bassoonist Juliana Mesa-Jarmillo and pianist Rayna Slavova in music by Gustav Schreck, Eugene Bordeau, Gabriel Pierne and Antonio Torriani.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear can remember when Sergei Rachmaninoff (below, 1873-1943) was treated as something of a joke by serious classical musicians – especially by the 12-toners and atonalists, who were more into R&D music (research and development) than into offering pleasure and emotional connection.

Rachmaninoff

The academic musicians, and some prominent music critics too, thought that the Russian composer’s music was too Romantic — meaning too accessible, too shallow and even cheap. They just didn’t consider Rachmaninoff a major 20th-century composer or artist.

But time is proving them wrong.

And how!!!

Surely The Rachmaninoff Deniers would like such popularity, durability and enthusiasm for their own music.

Haha.

Not likely.

Because Rachmaninoff had real genius linked to real heart.

So surely The Ear is not the only listener who finds so much of Rachmaninoff’s music -– especially his preludes, concertos, etudes and variations — irresistible and even moving.

Rachmaninoffold

Last fall saw Rachmaninoff’s appealing final work, the Symphonic Dances, performed by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under John DeMain, and the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, under James Smith.

And pianist Joyce Yang played the momentous Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor at her recital in the Wisconsin Union Theater.

This year’s Grammy nominations also include a whole CD of Rachmaninoff’s solo and concerto variations, including the wonderful tuneful and ingenious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Last year also saw “Preludes,” (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times) ) a successful play about the young Rachmaninoff — or Rachmaninov — climbing out of a deep depression with the help of therapist and hypnotist Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who helped him compose again and become world-famous with his Piano Concerto No. 2.

Rac and Rachmaninoff Tina Fineberg NYT

Just this fall and winter, the New York Philharmonic with music director and conductor Alan Gilbert and pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), performed a retrospective featuring the complete cycle of Rachmaninoff piano concertos.

danill trifonov 1

trifonov rachmaninov

And here are some very perceptive and respectful remarks by conductor Marin Alsop (below) about Rachmaninoff’s life and work and about the less frequently played Symphony No. 3 in A minor that she will discuss and conduct.

Marin Alsop big

It comes from an interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition for NPR or National Public Radio. The Ear found her remarks about Rachmaninoff’s life in Beverly Hills and his effect on other exiled European musicians working in Hollywood to be especially perceptive.

Indeed, you may recall that Rachmaninoff was offered a lucrative chance to write a movie score and refused. So the moviemakers hired the British composer Richard Addinsell to write a piece that sounded like Rachmaninoff. The result was the Warsaw Concerto and the result does indeed sound a lot like Rachmaninoff.

Alsop, you may recall, was a student of Leonard Bernstein and is now the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

Here is a link to the NPR story, which has audio samples of the Symphony No. 3, that also features a written essay by Marin Alsop about Rachmaninoff:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/12/28/461281186/rachmaninoff-an-american-without-assimilation

I like a Rachmaninoff tune. How about you?

So here is a YouTube performance, made in 1920, of Rachmaninoff himself playing my favorite Rachmaninoff piece — the wistful Prelude in G Major, Op 32, No. 5:

 


Classical music: Playing musical chairs in The Big Apple: The New Yorker magazine gives you the dirt on who might succeed James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera and Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic.

October 4, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

They are two of the most high-profile jobs in the world of classical music and they are both in New York City: the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the music director of the New York Philharmonic.

And right now candidates are being examined as possible successors to their current heads, James Levine and Alan Gilbert respectively.

According to a story in The New Yorker magazine, one major player reportedly is the acclaimed firebrand and openly gay French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for Getty Images), who currently heads the Philadelphia Orchestra. Guess which post he is a candidate for?

yannick20141031-04.jpg

Another major candidate seems to be the conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below). Can you guess for which post?

esa-pekka-salonen-goes-multimedia-philharmonia-Esa_Pekka_Salonen_Philharmonia

The Ear asks: Whatever happened to American candidates?

Are we going backwards from the Leonard Bernstein achievement of putting American maestros on a par with European or other foreign conductors?

To be fair, though, some report that Bernstein protégée Marin Alsop, currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, could be a contender for the New York Philharmonic post.

Anyway, the recent New Yorker magazine had a very good take on the game of musical chairs being played around the two major vacancies.

The story shows careful research and excellent deep sourcing. But it also reads a bit like an engagingly conversational gossip column.

Maybe that is because it is written not by music critic Alex Ross but by Russell Platt, who is the classical music editor for the Goings On About Town column that starts the magazine.

Here is a link to an excellent read and what seems to be a pretty good crystal ball about the future leaders of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

It’s great reading for a Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/musical-chairs-conductors


Classical music: Meet Marin Alsop, the pioneering American maestra who will conduct the closing concert of the BBC British Proms concerts this Saturday night.

September 11, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you listen regularly to NPR, or National Public Radio, you will often hear stories featuring the American conductor Marin Alsop (below) and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra she leads on Saturday mornings. That is when Scott Simon interviews her about her latest projects for Weekend Edition.

Marin Alsop big

And you may know Alsop’s name as a student and protégée of the legendary Leonard Bernstein and as the music director and conductor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

Marin Alsop marching

You might also know that Alsop thinks classical music has become elitist and so she works hard for educational programs and community outreach.

But you may not know that in 2013 Alsop was the first woman chosen to conduct the mammoth closing night of the popular Proms concerts (below) in London’s Royal Albert Hall for the BBC in England. (You can hear the rousing and popular speech she gave then in a YouTube video at the bottom. And be sure to read some of the sexist and homophobic reader comments.)

BBC Proms

This Saturday night she returns to the United Kingdom to conduct the closing concert of this summer’s Proms, which will have a huge audience of over 40 million listeners worldwide via TV, radio and the Internet.

Here is a link to the portal for listening to the concert:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/6vczskH1yMvp1bRKpDpnq4/last-night-of-the-proms-and-proms-in-the-park-2015-how-to-watch-and-listen

Thanks to a story and a Q&A interview in The Economist, here is a chance to meet Marin Alsop and learn more about this impressive musician:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2015/08/bbc-proms

 

 


Classical music: Amateurs who dream of playing with a professional orchestra should listen to this story.

July 19, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Violinist Tanesha Mitchell (below in a photograph by Richard Anderson) isn’t alone.

Academy Week  tanesha mitchell CR Richard Anderson

Like her, there are many string and brass players, wind players and percussionists, who have studied music and have become pretty accomplished amateurs.

And many of them, The Ear, suspects, dream of playing even just one concert with a professional orchestra.

Enter the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and its famed music director and conductor Marin Alsop (below bottom).

Baltimore Symphony November 20, 2008

Baltimore Symphony November 20, 2008

Marin Alsop big

Talk about community outreach!

Each year, the BSO holds an amateur week – it is called Academy Week — in which 80 talented amateurs get to play with and under the tutelage of professionals in the symphony orchestra and its conductor. Participants get seven rehearsals and a full concert as well as private lessons.

The Ear wonders how much it costs and how they choose participants.

You can hear more about it in a YouTube video from 2011 at the bottom.

It seems kind of like Interlochen summer music camp, but for adults instead of teens.

Here is a story that aired Saturday on NPR or National Public Radio.

For those amateurs with dreams of professional music-making glory – for even just a week – it is a must-hear story.

And it makes you wonder if it could help the future of classical music if more symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras – including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra – adopted something similar.

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/07/18/423591573/amateur-musicians-go-pro-with-the-baltimore-symphony


Classical music: The Wisconsin State Capitol will mark Earth Day this Saturday and next Wednesday with music by Wisconsin composer John Harmon plus words by Wisconsin figures responsible for the environmental tribute. Plus, the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra performs Mozart, Debussy and Stravinsky this Sunday afternoon. And don’t forget about WYSO’s “Art of Note” fundraiser Saturday night and two performances on Friday night and Sunday afternoon of Rameau’s opera-ballet “Pygmalion” by the Madison Bach Musicians.

April 17, 2015
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REMINDERS: This Saturday night from 6 to 10 p.m., the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will hold its annual “Art of Note” fundraiser at CUNA Mutual. Auctions, fine food and live music will be featured.

For more information visit: http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/artofnote/ and https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/classical-music-education-wysos-art-of-note-benefit-on-april-18-seeks-to-raise-50000-to-benefit-music-education-in-greater-madison-area/

Art of Note logo copy

Also: The Madison Bach Musicians presents two performances of “Pygmalion” by Jean-Philippe Rameau It’s a 1784 Baroque opera-ballet done in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison.

The first performance is tonight with a 6:45 p.m. lecture and 7:30 p.m. concert. The second is on Sunday afternoon with a lecture at 2:45 p.m.  and a 3:30 p.m. concert.

Internationally recognized UW-Madison early-music specialist Marc Vallon will direct a full baroque orchestra, dancers and an outstanding vocal cast as they tell the tale of a sculptor who falls in love with his beautiful creation—and then, through the power of Venus, the statue comes to life. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door.

For more information, go to: http://madisonbachmusicians.org/concerts/current-concert-season/

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

ALERT: At 2:30 p.m. this Sunday afternoon, in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will give its Spring Concert.

Admission for the public is $5 and will benefit music scholarships. Admission is FREE with an Edgewood College ID.

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will play under the director of Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci). Included on the program are the Symphony No. 32 in G by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” by Claude Debussy and the Pulcinella Suite by Igor Stravinsky.

blake walter john maniaci

Also being performed is the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19, K. 459, featuring pianist Stephanie Crescio (below), the winner of the Edgewood College Music Department Student Concerto Competition.

Stephanie Crescio

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison-based music publicist and activist Jon Becker writes:

Wisconsin’s Earth Day Heritage will be celebrated in music and words this Saturday, April 18, and on next Wednesday, April 22. (You can hear a short history of Earth Day in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Music broadcasts will feature the voices of the descendants of
John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Earth Day Founder U.S. Senator and former state Governor Gaylord Nelson, set to the symphonic music of Wisconsin composer John Harmon.

There will be several opportunities to hear a “sneak preview” of Earth Day Portrait, music celebrating Earth Day values, before its international release on CD later this year.

For the third year, the music will be “broadcast” in the Rotunda of Wisconsin’s State Capitol building (below). Listeners should gather at the bust of “Fighting Bob” La Follette (the East Gallery entry is closest).

Wisconsin Capitol

Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda

On Saturday, April 18, the music will be broadcast 10 times on the half hour, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m.

On Wednesday,  April 22 — which is Earth Day — there will be broadcasts at 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Earth Day 2015

Earth Day Portrait is a symphonic setting of eco-moral texts of John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Earth Day founder, former Wisconsin Gov. and U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (below). For the CD recording, the words of these environmental legends were read by their descendants: William (Muir) Hanna, great-grandson; Nina Leopold Bradley, daughter; Gaylord Nelson Jr., son; and Kiva Nelson, grand-daughter.

Gaylord Nelson

Patty Loew, an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, narrated connecting texts that paint intimate, personal portraits of Muir, Leopold, and Nelson, while recalling their unique mutual connection to Madison, Wisconsin.

All this is woven together by the story of the passenger pigeon’s extinction. Members of the Madison Youth Choirs (below, in a photo by Karen Holland) recorded a call-and-response part that -– at concert performances -– is spoken by audience members.

Madison Youth Choirs boychoirs Purcell, Britten and Holst CR Karen Holland

Earth Day Portrait was composed in 2001 by John Harmon (below), who graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., and who makes his home on the Wolf River, near Winneconne.

Harmon’s music was recorded in Glasgow by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, led by conductor Marin Alsop, the first conductor to win a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. London’s EMI-Abbey Road Studios produced the master recording. Voiceovers were recorded at Audio for the Arts in Madison and at Umbrella Studios in Los Angeles.

John Harmon

For the forthcoming Earth Day CD, Harmon’s composition will be paired with Hymn to the Earth, by American composer Edward Joseph Collins (1886-1951, below). Composed in Door County, and inspired by Wisconsin’s seasons and landscapes, Collins’s ode to nature also may well be the first Western classical composition to refer to our home planet as “Mother Earth.”

Edward Joseph Collins

 

 

 


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