The Well-Tempered Ear

YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

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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The UW Symphony strings and Pro Arte Quartet team up Thursday night for a free online MUST-HEAR concert of Shostakovich, Elgar and Caroline Shaw. TONIGHT you can hear free piano and percussion recitals

April 21, 2021
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All times are Central Daylight Time.

ALERTS: Tonight from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Collins Recital Hall of the Hamel Music Center, the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music will present a departmental piano recital with undergraduate and master’s students. There is no listing of performers and pieces yet. One assumes they will be announced during the live-stream. Here is the link to take you to the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7muCH_gupA

Then from 7:30 to 9 p.m., the UW Chamber Percussion Ensemble will live-stream a concert from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall. Here is the YouTube link. If you click on Show More, you will find the details of the program and composers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWv285nZutI

By Jacob Stockinger

This Thursday night, April 22, you can hear two of the musical groups that The Ear found most impressive and consistently excellent during the Pandemic Year.

At 7:30 p.m., the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra’s string section (below) and the Pro Arte Quartet will team up to perform a free 90-minute, live-streamed concert online.

It is one of the last major concerts of this school year and will be conducted by the outstanding music director and conductor of the orchestra, Professor Oriol Sans (below).

For The Ear, it is a MUST-HEAR concert.

Here is a link to the YouTube site where you can see and hear it: https://youtu.be/TN2PftBJ4yg. If you click on Show More, you can see the members of the orchestra’s strings along with a list of the graduating seniors.

All the works on the innovative program are closely informed by the string quartet.

The program includes the darkly dramatic five-movement Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, based on the famous and popular String Quartet No. 8, by Dmitri Shostakovich; the orchestral version of the entrancing and quietly hypnotic “Entr’acte” — heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — that was originally written for string quartet by the Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary American composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Kait Moreno); and the Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar.

The UW-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet (below) is the soloist and will join forces with the orchestra for the Elgar work. Quartet members are: David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

And here is a link to more information about the program and to more extensive program notes: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra-8/


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New York Times critics choose 10 online classical music concerts to stream in February, starting this Thursday

February 2, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

As they have done for previous months during the coronavirus pandemic, the classical music critics for The New York Times have named their top 10 choices of online concerts to stream in February, which is also Black History Month, starting this Thursday, Feb. 4.

Also predictably, they focus on new music – including a world premiere — new conductors and new composers, although “new” doesn’t necessarily mean young in this context.

For example, the conductor Fabio Luisi (below) is well known to fans of Richard Wagner and the Metropolitan Opera. But he is new to the degree that just last season he became the new conductor of Dallas Symphony Orchestra and its digital concert series.

Similarly, the Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg (below top, in a photo by Saara Vuorjoki) and the American composer Caroline Shaw (below bottom, in a photo by Kait Moreno), who has won a Pulitzer Prize, have both developed reputations for reliable originality.

But chances are good that you have not yet heard of the young avant-garde cellist Mariel Roberts (below top) or the conductor Jonathon Heyward (below bottom).

Nor, The Ear suspects, have you probably heard the names and music of composers Angélica Negrón (below top), who uses found sounds and Tyshawn Sorey (below bottom). (You can sample Negrón’s unusual music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of course, you will also find offerings by well-known figures such as the Berlin Philharmonic and its Kurt Weill festival; conductor Alan Gilbert; pianists Daniil Trifonov and Steven Osborne; violinist Leonidas Kavakos; and the JACK Quartet.

Tried-and-true composers are also featured, including music by Beethoven, Schnittke, Weber, Ravel and Prokofiev. But where are Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and Handel? No one seems to like Baroque music. 

Here is a link to the events with links and descriptions. All times are Eastern: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/arts/music/classical-music-streaming.html

Do you have other virtual and online concerts to suggest? Please leave details in the Comment sections.

 


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The eighth annual UW Schubertiade is this Sunday afternoon. It features a FREE online retrospective of the past seven years plus a new four-hand piano performance

January 29, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin has posted the following announcement:

For the eighth consecutive year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music will present its annual Schubertiade — a special concert celebrating the music of Franz Schubert (below).

Traditionally these concerts have been held around the composer’s birthday. This year’s concert will in fact occur on his birthday — this Sunday, Jan. 31, at 3-4:30 p.m. CST. The pre-recorded premiere is at: https://youtu.be/7sshhKiFPAg

You can also use the link to prepare for the concert before or during the concert. You will find the program with song titles, the original German texts and English translation, and biographies of the performers by simply clicking on “SHOW MORE” on the YouTube website and follow the links to PDFs.

BECAUSE THERE ARE NO COPYRIGHT ISSUES, ACCORDING TO UW OFFICIALS, THE POST SHOULD BE UP AND AVAILABLE INDEFINITELY AFTER ITS PREMIERE.

As in past years, founders and performers Martha Fischer (below left), professor of piano and head of the collaborative piano program at UW-Madison, and her husband Bill Lutes (below right), an independent piano teacher, and UW emeritus artist-in-residence, will host the program.

These concerts have been presented in the sprit of the first Schubertiades (below, in a painting by Julius Schmid) that took place during the composer’s lifetime (1797-1828) in the homes of his friends and fellow artists, poets and fans.

These were social as well as musical occasions with Schubert himself presiding at the piano, giving his audience a chance to hear his latest songs, piano duets and chamber music, as well as pieces that had already become favorites.

This year’s Schubertiade will be different in response to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be an online look back — or Rückblick — at past concerts, with songs chosen from performances that have been preserved in the audio and video archive.

The featured performers will include faculty members, students and alumni from the Mead Witter School of Music, along with special guests.

In addition, pianists Fischer and Lutes will give a “new” performance recorded for this occasion of the great Fantasie in F minor for piano duet. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that work, performed by Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen and recorded live in Seoul, South Korea.)

The songs have been chosen to reflect themes that were not only relevant to Schubert and his circle, but also to all of us in the midst of this challenging time: hope for a brighter future; the need for connection with others; remembrance of happier times; and the consolation to be found in nature.

Schubert left a vast and precious legacy of beauty — an enormous output of music that he composed in his short lifetime.

In a sense, each time his music is performed and heard, it is a journey from the past to our own time, the sounds speaking to us today as vividly and consolingly as they did when they were created 200 years ago.

Performers

Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes, pianists

Alumni:

Jamie-Rose Guarrine, soprano (below, in a photo by Peter Konerko)
Emily Birsan, soprano
Michael Roemer, baritone
Jennifer D’Agostino, soprano
Daniel O’Dea, tenor
Wesley Dunnagan, tenor
Sarah Brailey (alumna and current DMA student)
Sara Guttenberg

Guests:

Marie McManama, soprano
Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, mezzo-soprano

Faculty:

Mimmi Fulmer, soprano
Paul Rowe, baritone (below)
Julia Rottmayer, soprano

Staff

David Alcorn, videographer, editor, etc.
Katrin Talbot, images for audio only tracks

 


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Pianist Jeremy Denk combines first-rate playing with innovative programs. He performs a virtual online recital this Friday night for the Wisconsin Union Theater

December 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Jeremy Denk (below) is not only one of the top pianists on the concert stage today. He is also one of the most interesting and thoughtful pianists when it comes to original, innovative and eclectic programming.

Denk will display his talents again when he performs his third solo recital in Madison this Friday night, Dec. 11, for the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The concert of music by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Missy Mazzoli is at 7:30 p.m. and will be preceded by a public Q&A at 7 p.m. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, both the discussion and the concert will be virtual and online.

Access to the online posting is $20 for the general public, $17 for Wisconsin Union members, and $10 for students.

Denk’s performance, which is part of the Theater’s 101st Annual Concert Series, will include “Papillons” (Butterflies), Op. 2, by Robert Schumann; Three Romances, Op. 21, by Clara Schumann; “Bolts of Loving Thunder” by the contemporary American composer Missy Mazzoli (below); and Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 119, by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear Denk play the lyrically introspective first intermezzo of Brahms’ late Op. 119 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To purchase tickets to Denk’s performance, visit https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/jeremy-denk/

Ticket buyers will receive an email from the box office approximately 2 hours before the event begins that will contain their link to view the performance. Anyone who purchases a ticket within 2 hours of the event’s start time will receive their email within 15 minutes of purchase. 

To The Ear, Denk’s well-planned and fascinating program seems like a probing contrast-and-compare, narrative exploration of the musical styles and close personal relationships – a kind of love triangle — between Robert and Clara Schumann (below top); between Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, whom Robert Schumann championed; and between Brahms and Clara Schumann, who also championed Brahms (below bottom) but rejected him as a lover and suitor after the premature death of her husband Robert.

One of America’s foremost pianists, Denk is a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and the Avery Fisher Prize, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In the United States, Denk has performed with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra and frequently performs at Carnegie Hall. Internationally, he has toured with the world-famous Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and performed at Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms. 

Denk’s talents include writing about music. Some of his stories about music have been featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review as well as in The New Yorker, The New Republic and The Guardian. Many of those writings form the basis for a forthcoming book.

His passion for composing both music and writing compositions is evident in his music-based blog “Think Denk” — “to think” in German is “denizen” — which dates back to 2005.

“Jeremy Denk is one of the greatest pianists of our generation,” says WUT director Elizabeth Snodgrass. “While many pianists specialize in a particular period or composer, Jeremy is a musical omnivore whose wide-ranging interests span centuries and styles, and he is exceptional at playing all of them. As The New York Times said, he is  ‘a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs.’” 

Proof of that can be found in the program “c. 1300-c. 2000” he toured with and recorded last year for Nonesuch, which features a sampling tour of 700 years of keyboard compositions.

Said a critic for the Boston Globe: “Denk has “an unerring sense of the music’s dramatic structure and a great actor’s intuition for timing.” 


This performance was made possible by the David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Endowment Fund.

Learn more about Jeremy Denk at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Website

For more information and a video clip of Denk playing different Brahms, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/jeremy-denk/

 


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The Madison Symphony Orchestra cancels the remaining orchestra and organ concerts of the 2020-21 season and postpones its Beethoven celebration until next season

December 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has canceled the remaining orchestral and organ concerts of the 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A free online performance of “A Virtual Madison Symphony Christmas” will take place on Dec. 16 and stay posted through Dec. 31. For more information about the program and performers, plus a link to register and to hear that performance, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org

Plans for others online events – free or paid – have not been announced, although the MSO seems to be considering such steps. It also suggests that the 2021-22 season will be a postponed version of the same concerts planned this season to celebrate the Beethoven Year.

Here is the email from executive director Richard H. Mackie that the MSO sent out Monday:

Dear Friends of the Madison Symphony Orchestra,

As you know, the continuing COVID-19 crisis has curtailed planned performances of orchestras all over the world.

As more and more orchestras face the almost certain prospect that well-attended, full-orchestra concerts indoors will not be possible for the foreseeable future, at least until a successful vaccination program has brought COVID-19 under control, the remainder of many symphony concert seasons across America are now being cancelled
.

We have previously cancelled our live, main stage concerts and education performances through January 2021 due to public health restrictions and the closure of Overture Hall.

Public Health Madison and Dane County restrictions continue to prohibit publicly attended indoor concerts. As a consequence, we have faced a painful decision in recent months regarding the fate of the rest of our 2020–2021 season.

I am grieved to announce that, under the present conditions — which offer no reasonable prospect of abatement until the summer, at least — we deem it an unfortunate necessity to cancel all previously scheduled Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts, Education and Community Engagement Programs, and Overture Concert Organ performances through May 2021.

Our June 2021 Concert on the Green remains on our schedule at this time.

We are prepared to issue refunds to our subscribers as we did in the fall. We will be communicating directly with our subscribers to provide options, including the option to donate the value of their tickets.

As we consider alternative programming opportunities for the spring, we will continue to welcome donations to our Musicians’ Relief Fund.

When we planned a joyous celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday, we could scarcely have imagined the devastation of the coronavirus in almost every aspect of our lives. But we are finding solace in successfully rescheduling this epic season just one year hence.

The emerging promise of vaccine development has rekindled our enthusiasm for making great music on a grand scale for our community with our Beethoven celebration. We all look forward to a new beginning with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) and the orchestra in September 2021. (You can hear the original promotional preview in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Please stay tuned for some exciting news about next season. In the meantime, should there be a breakthrough opportunity to restore any of the cancelled orchestra or organ concerts, or educational and community services to the schedule, we will be prepared to do so.

We are committed to helping our orchestra and keeping great music alive in Madison. Thank you for your interest and continuing support.

Sincerely,

Richard H. Mackie, Executive Director

 


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University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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The third LunART Festival celebrates Black women in the arts with FREE streaming concerts and events this Saturday night, Oct. 10, and next Saturday night, Oct. 17

October 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The LunART Festival is back for its third season, continuing its mission to support, inspire, promote and celebrate women in the arts, with a special presentation, “Human Family,” available via two FREE video livestreams on LunART’s website and Facebook page on Saturday, Oct. 10, and Saturday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. CDT. 

The events will be co-hosted by LunART founder and flutist Iva Ugrcic (below top), and by vocalist and art administrator Deja Mason (below bottom).

In response to the most recent and ongoing racial inequality and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, LunART will present the “Human Family” virtual festival featuring art created by Black women.

These FREE streamed events will feature a palette of emerging and established artists drawn from Madison’s rich arts scene, while also celebrating those who have paved the way for generations to come.

Radical inclusivity has been part of LunART’s mission from its conception. While women have historically been underrepresented in the arts, we cannot deny that there are segments of women that have been doubly marginalized, including women of color, women in the LGBTQIA+ community, older women and women with disabilities. 

Part of creating a more just, inclusive world means recognizing that even within the space of underrepresentation, there remain disparities.

Works from the past include Florence Price’s “Five Folksongs of Counterpoint” for string quartet (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom), which is deeply rooted in the African-American spiritual tradition; Margaret Bonds’ Spiritual Suite for solo piano, written in a neo-Romantic classical style infused by jazz harmonies and rhythms; Afro-American Suite for flute, cello and piano by Undine Smith Moore, based on authentic spiritual songs used to express and record everyday life of slaves in America. 

Florence Price (below), Margaret Bonds and Undine Smith Moore all fought against both racial and gender discrimination throughout their lives. To be a woman composing classical music in the mid-20th century was unusual; to be a Black woman composer was even more so. And yet, these women forged ahead, making history and paving the way for the women who would follow them.

Along with these pioneers of the past, LunART will also celebrate contemporary Black women who are making a big impact in the world of arts, culture, advocacy and activism, following the footsteps of their predecessors. 

“Voodoo Dolls” for string quartet by Jessie Montgomery (below in a photo by Jiyang Chen) is influenced by West African drumming patterns that are interwoven with lyrical motifs in the improvisatory style. 

“Fanmi Imen,” a work for flute and piano by Valerie Coleman (below) — LunART’s 2019 Composer-in-Residence) — is based on a powerful poem by Maya Angelou, “Human Family.” Angelou calls for peace and unity, while acknowledging differences due to ethnic and cultural background in her famous refrain: “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

The chamber music will be performed by Madison’s finest musicians: Isabella Lippi, Karl Lavine, Peter Miliczky, Magdalena Sas, Marie Pauls, Satoko Hayami, Yana Avedyan and Iva Ugrcic.

Celebrating women’s creativity across many art forms has been a core component of LunART’s artistic mission from its inception, and this year is no exception. While music will create a sound painting, “Human Family” will also feature women who use words and movement to tell their story.

Enter a world of phenomenal talent with emerging singer-songwriters Danielle Crim and Akornefa Akyea performing their most recent original songs; magically moving poems and spoken-word pieces by Jamie Dawson and Shasparay Lighteard; and join dancer and choreographer Kimi Evelyn in self-exploration of what happens when the body and the soul are left in complete solitude through her powerful piece “Body, Sweet Home.”

To commemorate the Festival events, LunART has commissioned digital artwork (below) by local artist and activist Amira Caire, which is inspired by the “Human Family” concept. This stunning piece of art will be available for purchase in printed form on LunART’s website. 

We are calling our community to eat local, drink local and support local. By supporting LunART, you are also supporting local nonprofits and small businesses. 

This project would not be possible without the generosity of Madison’s creative media agency Microtone Media, The Piano Gal Shop from Sun Prairie, Dane Arts and a grant from the Madison Arts Commission at  https://www.cityofmadison.com/dpced/planning/madison-arts-commission/1580/, with the additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Events are free and available for anyone to watch online, and donations are welcomed. For more details about the artists, events, programs and links, and donation methods, please visit https://www.lunartfestival.org


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Did Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony foster racism, exclusion and elitism in the concert hall? The Ear thinks that is PC nonsense. What do you think?

September 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Controversy has struck big among classical music critics and fans — just in time for the Beethoven Year that will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth this December. Plans call for celebrations by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, and others. 

At question is what seems yet another fallout and dust-up from the Black Lives Matter movement and the current struggle to foster social justice and racial equality.

In some ways, it all seems inevitable.

Now the history-denying advocates of cancel culture are suggesting that Beethoven (below) and his music – especially the popular Fifth Symphony (you can hear the famous opening in the YouTube schematic video at the bottom)  –  fostered white privilege and the rise of racism, sexism and homophobia in the concert hall.

That seems like quite an accusation for a single composer and a single piece of music that was premiered in 1808.

The assertion is food for thought. But not much.

In the end The Ear finds it a stretch and a totally bogus argument. He thinks that Beethoven attracted far more performers and audiences than he repelled. Others, including famed critic Norman Lebrecht in his blog Slipped Disc and a critic for the right-wing newspaper The New York Post, agree:

https://slippedisc.com/2020/09/beethovens-5th-is-a-symbol-of-exclusion-and-elitism/

https://nypost.com/2020/09/17/canceling-beethoven-is-the-latest-woke-madness-for-the-classical-music-world/

The Ear also thinks it is political correctness run amok, even for someone who, like himself, advocates strongly for diversity of composers, performers and audiences – but always with quality in mind — in the concert hall.

Just because Beethoven was such a great creative artist is hardly cause to blame him for the inability of other artists to succeed and for non-white audiences taking to classical music. Other forces — social, economic and political — explain that much better.

Yes, Beethoven is a towering and intimidating figure. And yes, his works often dominate programming. But both musicians and audiences return to him again and again because of the originality, power and first-rate quality of his many works.

Beethoven himself was deaf. That would certainly seem to qualify him as inclusive and a member of an important category of diversity.

No matter. The writers are happy to blame Ludwig and his work for exclusion and elitism. They argue that people of color, women and LGBTQ people have all felt alienated from classical music because of Beethoven’s legacy.

Of course, there is elitism in the arts. People may be equal, but creative talent is not.

And clearly, Beethoven was a towering and intimidating figure – more for the quality of his music than for the simple fact that it exists. Such exclusion and elitism have to do with other factors than the composition of the Fifth Symphony.

If The Ear recalls correctly, when he died Beethoven was given the largest state funeral up to that time for a non-royal, non-politician or non-military person.

And how do you explain that Beethoven’s music, so representative of Western culture, appeals deeply to and attracts so many Asians and Asian-Americans, and became both banned and symbolically central to those opposed to Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China?

But these days being provocative can become its own reward.

You can read the analysis and decide about its merits for yourself, then let us know what you think in the Comment section.

Here is a link to the opinion piece in Vox Magazine, a free online journal: https://www.vox.com/switched-on-pop/21437085/beethoven-5th-symphony-elitist-classism-switched-on-pop

What do you think about the idea that Beethoven played a large and seminal role in fostering an elitist and exclusive culture in classical music?

Did you ever feel alienated from classical music because of Beethoven or know others who have?

What is your favorite Beethoven composition?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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