The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open their second promising season with another dazzling concert of music by Mascagni, Tchaikovsky and Caroline Shaw.

July 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

You had to be there to believe it.

That’s just how good the Willy Street Chamber Players are. (Actually, this season the music is being streamed live, so you don’t have to be there, and Rich Samuels of WORT-FM 89.9 recorded this concert for later airing.)

The Willys, as critic John W. Barker of Isthmus likes to call them, set themselves a high bar to clear, given the spectacular debut they made last summer in a series of July concerts that propelled them to the top of the list of classical music news in the area for the entire season.

The Ear is happy to report that in last Friday night’s opening concert of their second season, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) met and surpassed that bar.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

There was really only one small disappointment: Despite promises to bring the concert in with enough time to allow people to get over the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition at the UW-Madison, they ran late.

But at least they tried. And an effort at cooperation seems in perfect keeping with the nature of this outstanding ensemble. So do the local post-concert treats of food and sweets they offer.

Willy Street snacks 2016

The concert started with a piece that reminds one how a beautiful melody sticks in the ear and is never out of date, no matter what some modernists say.

In this case, it was the Intermezzo from the Romantic opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” (1880) by Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, as arranged for string sextet by Beth Larson (below, front left), the group’s own violist and violinist. As a welcoming opener and mood-setter, it proved a sheer delight.

Willy Steet Mascagni 2016

Let’s jump to the end, which was a stupendous reading of the Big Work: the “Souvenir de Florence” (Memory of Florence) by Peter Tchaikovsky that featured guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below, front left).

Beia, you may recall, is a concertmaster with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as member of the Pro Arte Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. And this summer, she sizzled in her virtuosic reading of “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi for the closing concerts of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. And boy, can she fiddle!

Willy Street Tchaikovsky 2016 with Suzanne Beia left

In the Tchaikovsky, there was plenty of lyricism. But the force and energy of the brisk, upbeat tempi kept the work from becoming the kind syrupy and repetitive sentimentalism that inferior Tchaikovsky playing can produce.

It was an exciting and dynamic, even thrilling, performance. The audience leapt to its feet with good reason.

But for The Ear, the standout piece was the centerpiece: the “Entr’acte” for string quartet (below) by the young American composer Caroline Shaw.

Willy Street Caroline Shaw 2016

This is The Ear’s kind of new music. Inspired by a minuet from an Op. 77 string quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn, Shaw’s work quietly pulsed and throbbed with a hypnotic rhythm. (You can hear a different performance of the work in a the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There were some dissonances and some strange sounds made by rubbing strings as well as plucking and snapping strings. But overall this was new music that had melody, rhythm and harmony, and it proved accessible on the first hearing. Plus it was short and possessed both emotion and elegance. Eat your hearts out, Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen!

The Ear hopes that the Willy Street Chamber Players continue their exploration of works by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Shaw (below) in future summer seasons and prove to be her ambassador to Madison audiences.

Caroline Shaw CR DASHON-BURTON

In any case, based on last season and now this concert the Ear has no reluctance in recommending the four concerts by the Willys that remain, three on Friday nights at 6 p.m. and one at noon.

NOTE: A word of warning is in order. Give yourself extra time to get there. Construction downtown plus major construction and street repairs on the streets around the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight St., pose obstacles.

Here is a link to the rest of the season:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

All The Ear can add is that last summer’s success was no fluke.

So let’s hear a Big Bravo for the fact that the Willys are Winners!


Classical music: Next Friday night starts the second season of the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players. This afternoon you can hear Norwegian music performed live at the Chazen Museum of Art

July 3, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear reminds you that TODAY is the monthly “Sunday Live From the Chazen” chamber music concert. The program today features UW-Madison soprano Mimmi Fulmer, violinist Tyrone Greive  (retired concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra) and pianist Michael Keller in music by Edvard Grieg and other Norwegian composers, including songs and sonatas. The live concert starts at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3. Admission is FREE. You can also stream it live by using this link:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-july-3-with-mimmi-fulmer-michael-keller-and-tyrone-gr

By Jacob Stockinger

Probably the premiere musical event of 2015 was the summer debut of the new group the Willy Street Chamber Players (below).

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

The critics and audiences agreed: The programs and performances were simply outstanding. Many of the players perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, there Middleton Community Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians and other acclaimed local groups.

Now the second season of five concerts – including one noontime lunch concert — will begin on this coming Friday night, July 8, at 6 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, on Madison’s near east side.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

The first program features regular members and guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below).

Beia plays second violin in the Pro Arte Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and also serves at concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. In addition, she performs in the Rhapsodie Quartet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

suzanne beia

The program includes the lovely “Souvenir of Florence” (1892) by Peter Tchaikovsky and the haunting Entr’acte for String Quartet (2011) by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a  photo by Dashon Burton). You can hear the Entr’acte in the YouTube video at the bottom. (The Ear hopes one day the group will do Shaw’s “By and By” with strings and a vocalist.)

Caroline Shaw CR DASHON-BURTON

It’s too bad that the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition is on the same night. You would hope that such conflicts could be avoided in the summer.

Theoretically you can make it to both concerts since the aria competition starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. But it will probably be a hectic scurry from one to the other.

Here is a link to more information about the Handel Aria Competition:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/classical-music-handel-aria-competition-announces-2016-finalists-to-sing-next-thursday-night/

In any case, here is the schedule of the entire second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players.

It is varied and impressive, especially in how it combines old masterpieces with modern and contemporary works. It features pieces by Philip Glass, Arnold Schoenberg, UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger, George Crumb, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arcangelo Corelli and Georges Enescu :

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/events1.html

A season subscription is $50. Individual concerts are $15 except for the Black Angels video art concert, which is $20.


Classical music: A world premiere and outstanding performances bode well for the 25th anniversary season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

June 13, 2016
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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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Performance photos are by Margaret Barker.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is now into its 25th anniversary season, its Silver Jubilee. It opened last Friday at the Stoughton Opera House with a program of Kevin Puts, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Fauré.

BDDS 25th poster

I attended the second program, given at the Overture Center’s Playhouse on Saturday night.

The distinctive feature of that program was the official world premiere of a song cycle by Kevin Puts, the American composer with whom the BDDS folks have been forging a close friendship. Indeed, the ensemble is a co-commissioner of this cycle.

The work in question is In at the Eye: Six Love Songs on Yeats’ Poetry. The composer himself (below) was on hand to introduce this.

Kevin Puts BDDS Margaret Barker

It was then performed by bass-baritone Timothy Jones, with a quartet of flute (Stephanie Jutt), Violin (Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio), viola (Sally Chisholm), cello (Kenneth Olsen), and piano (Jeffrey Sykes).

The poems are varied in character, most of them in free form, and Puts has responded to them with a flexibility of vocal line that closely inflects the words. Only the last poem is in rhyming strophes, and there Puts is able to develop a lyricism that brings the cycle to a warm conclusion. The instruments add a mixture of accompaniment and commentary, and their work was done handsomely.

Jones himself (below, with the quartet), who has a suave and mellow voice, showed notable sensitivity to words and diction in an ideal performance. This cycle’s future is still to be seen, but it holds good prospects for being taken up by singers and players around the country, especially given Puts’ enhanced reputation as a recent Pulitzer Prize winner.

Timothy Jones sings Puts BDDS 2016 Margaret Barker

The concert opened with a transcription of a Mozart piano sonata (K. 570) for transcribed flute, violin, viola and cello (below). It was a strange choice, since Mozart left us four flute quartets of his own devising. Still, it was delivered with flair and polish.

BDDS 2016 Mozart Flute Quartet Margaret Barker

The grand finale was the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, for violin, viola, cello and piano by Johannes Brahms. (Much was made of the appropriateness of an Op. 25 masterpiece to mark the silver anniversary.)

Like so much of Brahms’ music, this is brawny, muscular stuff. The four players (below) responded with appropriate energy, matched by a wonderful intensity of feeling.

BDDS 2016 Brahms Piano Quartet 1 Margaret Barker

The fast sections of the “Hungarian Rondo” finale — which you can hear with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a YouTube video at the bottom — were brought off at a truly breakneck speed, without missing a note.

I must say, too, that, as I listened to Sykes in his role, it struck me that the piano part in the slow (third) movement could almost be played by itself as an independent keyboard piece. Brahms was, after all, a strong hand at the piano, and had himself in mind in what he wrote for the instrument.

This was a performance that allowed you to get so much out of this score at just one sitting.

As always, the BDDS programs are stimulating and wonderfully brought off. The concerts this coming weekend feature music by Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, and Astor Piazzolla, among others.

For details, visit:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

And there is a third week after that — of which, more to follow.


Classical music: What makes the 25th anniversary season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society special? The three-week annual summer season opens this Friday night and runs for the next three weekends in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green.

June 7, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The big classical music event this week is the opening of the 25th anniversary season of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

BDDS 25th poster

It was co-founded and is still co-directed by pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkeley; and by Stephanie Jutt, professor of flute at the UW-Madison School of Music who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Here is a link to the BDDS website with information about tickets, programs, venues and performers:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Recently, Jutt (below) spoke to The Ear about the upcoming season, which runs June 10-26:

StephanieJuttNoCredit

“This silver anniversary season has something for everybody, and we’ve made it extra special in every way, with personnel, with repertoire and with audience favorites that we’re bringing back.

“In the first week, we have two short pieces by our featured composer, Kevin Puts “Air for Flute and Piano” and “Air for Violin and Piano,” and the world premiere of “In at the Eye: Six Love Songs on Yeats’ Poetry,” a piece we co-commissioned, with several other participating festivals, from the American composer Kevin Puts (below).

We commissioned him just before he won the Pulitzer Prize, luckily for us! We have performed several works by him in the past (“Einstein on Mercer Street,” “Traveler” and “Seven Seascapes”), and he will be here for the premiere performances at the Overture Playhouse and the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen compound in Spring Green.

(NOTE: Composer Kevin Puts will speak about “How Did You Write That?” at the FREE family concert on this coming Saturday, to be held 11-11:45 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.)

Kevin Puts pulitzer

“In Week 2, we have three crazy, inspired works by Miguel del Aguila (below), a Uruguayan composer from Montevideo, who now lives in Los Angeles, that we commissioned and premiered. We’ll be performing “Salon Buenos Aires,” the piece that we commissioned, along with “Presto II” and “Charango Capriccioso.”

Miguel del Aguila

During Week Two, we are also bringing back the amazing pianist, arranger and raconteur Pablo Zinger (below), also originally from Uruguay and a longtime New Yorker, to perform his arrangements of movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and others, as well as some of Pablo’s brilliant arrangements of tangos by Astor Piazzolla.

Pablo Zinger at piano

“In Week 3, we are bringing back the “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla and the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. People have begged us to repeat this program for years. It’s one of the most thrilling programs we’ve done, and this seems like the perfect time to return to this beloved repertoire. (You can hear the Summer section of Piazzolla’s Four Season of Buenos Aires in the youTube video at the bottom.)

“In the same Week Three, you will also hear some favorite works, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and, in Week 1, Franz Schubert’s final song cycle, “Schwanengesang” (Swan Songs”) with one of our favorite artists, bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top). That third week also features the Ravel Piano Trio with the San Francisco Trio (below bottom), comprised of Axel Strauss on violin, Jean-Michel Fontaneau on cello, and JeffreySykes on piano.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

BDDS 2014 San Francisco Trio

“We wanted to repeat special things and also do new pieces. Some of the music has links to the number 25 for our 25th anniversary – like Opus 25 for the Piano Quartet by Johannes Brahms or the Piano Concerto No. 25 by Mozart.

“We’re spending a lot more on artist fees this summer – it increases our budget by a lot, but it makes for a very special 25th season. We will have special mystery guests and special door prizes, as we love to do, and some special audience participation activities. (Below is a standing ovation from the audience at The Playhouse.)

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

“Did we think we would reach 25 years when we started? Of course not! We didn’t even think we’d reach two. It was started on such a lark.

“But the festival resonated with the summer audience and has every single year. I think we’ve been a success because listeners love to approach serious music with a light touch. You don’t have to behave very seriously to play serious music in a serious way. Artists from all over the United States come to play with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and it’s what draws them back year after year.

“We make a huge effort to make the music approachable, for ourselves as well as the audience. We talk about the music itself, about what it is like to learn it, and what it’s like to be together in such an intense way during the festival.

“We try to share the whole experience with the audience, and it’s something you just don’t find anywhere else. The concert doesn’t just go on in front of you, presented on a fancy plate. It surrounds you and you are a part of it.”


Classical music: Mixing old and new music. Violinist Hilary Hahn talks about the works she commissioned and will play alongside classics when she performs Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger 

There are many great violinists playing today. But arguably the most important and innovative is 36-year-old Hilary Hahn (below), the thoughtful virtuoso who returns to perform a MUST-HEAR recital in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday night.

The last two recitals there by Hahn were two of the most memorable live chamber music performances The Ear has ever heard.

Hilary Hahn 2016

Tickets are $27.50 to $50.50. UW-Madison students are $10.

Here is a link to information about tickets, the program and audio samples:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/hilary-hahn.html

During her 20-year career, Hahn – who often mixes the old and new both in live performances and on recordings — has consistently turned in astounding performances of the violin repertoire, including classics. Those works include concertos and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein and others.

But she also frequently commissions and adds new works to the repertoire, including a concerto by Edgar Meyer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who teaches composition at the Curtis Institute of music where Hahn studied. Plus, she is a talented and charming “postcard” blogger and interviewer.

Both sides of Hilary Hahn’s artistry – the classic and the contemporary — will be on display during her Madison recital. The very busy Hahn (below, in a photo by Peter Miller) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Hilary Hahn 2016 CR Peter Miller

You have long been known as an innovative artist. What are your new and upcoming projects, including recordings and commissions?

I’m in the middle of a 14-month-long artist residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It’s my first such experience, so I feel like a kid in a candy store, getting to try out ideas sequentially that I would otherwise have to stretch over several years.

I’m excited to include among my residency performing as soloist with five different orchestras in the same hall, as well as giving a recital there and developing local initiatives to bring the community and classical music even closer together. Next year, I will be in residence in Seattle and Lyon. It’s been fun seeing what residency activities I want to carry over and what I can add that is specific to each city.

As far as commissions go, over this season and next, I’m world-premiering and touring a significant new contribution to the solo violin repertoire, Six Partitas by Antón García Abril (below), written for me.

That is a meaningful project for me, because I sensed that Mr. García Abril would write a fantastic set of pieces if I could convince him to take on the assignment. He decided to do it and the music turned out to be more wonderful and inspiring to play than I could have imagined. It feels like those phrases breathe with me and the notes fit in my hands.

In addition, I am in the process of wrapping up the original trajectory of my project, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. After some concerts on this upcoming tour, as encores, my recital partner Cory Smythe and I will be giving world premieres of the Honorable Mentions from my Encores contest.

Finally, in the fall, the complete edition of the sheet music for all 27 original works will be published as a single edition, with my fingerings, bowings and performance notes.

Anton García Abril BW

Is there an underlying unity or purpose to your program of works by Mozart, Bach, García Abril, Copland and Davidson?

I hope the listeners will find their own versions of unity and purpose in the program. The pieces weren’t assembled randomly, but then again, everyone listens differently.

García Abril’s Six Partitas, of which I will play No. 1, entitled “Heart,” are solo polyphonic works. The violin alone carries multiple melodic lines, as well as providing its own harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) wrote his polyphonic Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1720. I felt it was important to carry forward this particular type of composition into the present day, so I commissioned Mr. García Abril (below bottom, in a photo by Julio Ficha) to create this set of works. (You can hear Hilary Hahn interview Anton Garcia Abril in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

His writing for violin is compelling, fluid, emotional, clever and expressively rich in a way that I felt needed to be explored further. Especially as this is the premiere tour of his Partita No. 1, I wanted to juxtapose the new work with one of Bach’s, namely the Third Sonata with its complex and multifaceted fugue.

As for the duo pieces on the program, the compositional styles — though they span 250 years — have a certain openness in common: the writing is not densely layered, leaving lots of room for imagination.

Bach1

Anton García Abril CR Julio Ficha

What about the works by Mozart and Copland?

Mozart’s set of sonatas for keyboard and violin is one of the most extensive for this instrumentation, and since I was a student, I’ve been adding at least one to my repertoire annually. It’s wonderful to explore such a prolific composer’s work over a long stretch of time. This particular sonata vacillates among stormy drama, lyricism and playfulness.

The piece by Aaron Copland (below) is gorgeous, revealing. In this sonata, Copland’s musical language is clearly recognizable, but the texture is more sparse than in his famous larger-ensemble works, making it boldly direct and engrossing to listen to.

aaron copland

And the music by Tina Davidson?

The work by Tina Davidson (below) follows on the tonality of the Copland, but the composer’s treatment of the music goes in an entirely different direction. “Blue Curve of the Earth” was written in Wyoming during an artist residency, and was inspired by a photo of the edge of the Earth from space. The music is dreamy yet dimensional, angular yet lush. “Blue Curve of the Earth” is from the Encores project.

Tina Davidson

What would you like the public to know about composers Antón García Abril and Tina Davidson and their violin music or music in general?

I like to picture where pieces were written; the surroundings can add another dimension to the music. Environment influences the creative process. The studio is the private stage. Antón works in a studio outside of Madrid that his son, the architect by the same name, designed for him. Tina is based out of a refashioned church in Pennsylvania, with vaulted ceilings and a garden.

Both write beautifully for voice. Since violin can be a lyrical instrument and is tonally varied, capable of both sustaining and articulating, the ability to write expressively for voice transfers to the violin. Also, I have the impression that both composers start from a strong conceptual point with their works. When I play their music, the big line is the first thing that jumps out at me; the myriad fine details support the gestures.

Hilary Hahn playing 2 horizontal

If you play an encore or two, will they be from the ones you commissioned a couple of years ago and won a Grammy for?

That’s the plan! I feel very close to those pieces. Great encores exist from previous centuries, too; I never rule out the classics.

Why did you commission 27 short encores?

I began to notice that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. Shorter pieces remain a crucial part of every violinist’s education and repertoire, and I believed that potential new favorites should be encouraged and performed as well.

How successful have they been with the public and with other artists?

The public embraced the project. The music contained within the Encores is varied and imaginative. Each composer had a different concept of what an encore can add to today’s musical landscape.

I think every listener can find at least one work that is particularly poignant. I want the audience to discover these pieces for themselves. It is thrilling to listen to music that you have never heard before and, uninfluenced by other people’s opinions, be free to feel your own response.

This project is something I’ve been working on for a long time; I would estimate that my direct involvement in all of the different parts will wind up having a 15-year arc. What I have learned on musical and creative levels from working with the composers will stay with me for my whole career, and the logistical lessons from organizing such a big project will influence my future work.

Most importantly, I hope the Encores themselves will continue in the active repertoire beyond my lifetime. That will be up to other performers, of course.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

You have played here several times, both concertos and solo recitals. Is there anything you would like to say about performing in Madison and about Madison audiences?

I really enjoy Madison itself. It’s in a beautiful part of the country. I’ll never forget the first time I visited, in the winter, when the city was covered by snow and one of the sidewalks featured a table topped by a tower of knit hats and sweaters. As for the Madison audience, their curiosity and involvement are energizing.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Hello, everyone!


Classical music: The critically acclaimed vocal group Cantus sings about four kinds of love at the Stoughton Opera House this Saturday night. The Stoughton High School Concert Choir is a special guest performer.

March 30, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received word about an intriguing and appealing performance this weekend:

On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Cantus (below top, in a photo by Curtis Johnson), the critically acclaimed, nine-voice men’s vocal ensemble based in the Twin Cities, will perform at the Stoughton Opera House (below middle and bottom), known for its historical restoration and its fine acoustics.

Cantus Railing Clustered

Stoughton Opera House ext

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Love has been the inspiration for artistic expression since the dawn of time. It is such a complex idea that the ancient Greeks broke it down into four different kinds: romantic, familial, friendly and unconditional or spiritual love.

Weaving together repertoire and interstitial remarks, Cantus regards this unquantifiable emotion from all sides.

The program spans multiple historical eras and cultural traditions.

It features music by Francis Poulenc, Edvard Grieg, Ludwig van Beethoven and Bobby McFerrin.

Each of those works is paired with newly commissioned works exploring each of the four loves (romantic, familial, friendly and spiritual) by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang (below top, in a photo by Peter Serling) as well as Roger Treece (second below), Joseph Gregorio (third below) and Ysaye Barnwell (below bottom).

david lang CR peter serling

Roger Treece

Joseph Gregorio

Ysaye Barnwell

The program brims with Cantus’s trademark programming juxtaposition, including pairing the Beach Boys’ “Their Hearts were Full of Spring” with  “Wedding Qawwali” by the Grammy Award- and Academy Award-winning Indian composer A. R. Rahman (below) and Michael McGlynn’s setting of the traditional Gaelic “Ceann Dubh Dilis (Her Sweet Dark Head)” in a set about romantic love.

A. R, Rahman

While seemingly disjointed on its face, the variety of repertoire throughout blends seamlessly and highlights the universality of Love – our greatest and most fragile gift.

For more information about Cantus, including biographies, photos, videos and audio samples, visit this link:

http://www.allianceartistmanagement.com/artist.php?id=cantus&aview=dpk

Here is a YouTube video about the program, with musical samples, to be performed in Stoughton:


Classical music: Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky performs Samuel Barber’s beautiful and popular Violin Concerto this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which also celebrates spring with works by Beethoven and other composers. Plus, University Opera’s production of “Transformations,’ which ends Tuesday night, gets a rave review from Isthmus

March 14, 2016
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ALERT: University Opera’s production of “Transformations,” with dark and adult takes on fairy tales by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton and music by Conrad Susa, gets a rave review from critic Jay Rath writing for Isthmus. It calls the production breath-taking and an astonishing success. It also gives you tasty morsels of the show to whet your appetite.  The last performance is this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m in Music Hall. Here is a link:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/university-opera-transformations/

And here is a link to the A Tempo blog, with more information, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform a captivating concert this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

As usual, longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below) has pulled together an arresting program of both well-known and rarely heard works.

Indeed, Sewell seems to have an endless knack for finding modern music that is not well-known but nonetheless appeals on first hearing.

andrewsewell

Not that he neglects tried-and-true masterpieces.

Take the famous Violin Concerto by American composer Samuel Barber — most famous for his “Adagio for Strings” – which will feature the return of the young European prize-winning soloist Alexander Sitkovetsky (below).

alexander-sitkovetsky

The Ear always finds the work by Barber (below) absolutely riveting. It takes all of about 10 seconds before you realize you are hearing a beautiful masterpiece that will endure. And then it just gets better. (You can hear the slow second movement — performed by James Ehnes who has played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Samuel Barber

The concert opens with a work by Irish composer, Joan Trimble (below), specifically her ethereal Suite for Strings from 1955.

joan trimble

That work proves a perfect complement to the popular Pastorale by Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (below).

Lars-Erik Larsson

The Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) is like his Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” in that it celebrates the joy, fullness and robust qualities of life. The slow movement has an other-worldly beauty. With its driving finale, the symphony packs a punch.

Yet wedged in between the three of Beethoven’s most famous symphonies – Nos. 3 “Eroica,” 5 and 6 “Pastoral” – the Symphony No. 4 often gets overlooked. Sewell’s mastery of the Classical style should bring it to life in a memorable performance.

Beethoven big

Tickets are $15-$80 with student rush tickets for $10, available on the day of the performance. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141 or visit www.wcoconcerts.org

ABOUT ALEXANDER SITKOVETSKY

Alexander Sitkovetsky, 32, was born in Moscow into a family with an established musical tradition and made his concerto debut at the age of eight. That same year he went to study at the Menuhin School in England.

Lord Yehudi Menuhin (below) was his inspiration throughout his school years and they performed together on several occasions, including the Double Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach and Duos for Two Violins by Bela Bartok at the St. James Palace, and he played the Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn under Menuhin’s baton.

Yehudi Menuhin

Since then, Sitkovetsky has gone on to perform with the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, London Mozart Players, Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin, Brussels Philharmonic, the European Union Chamber Orchestra, Malmo Symphony Orchestra, Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony, Welsh National Opera and the BBC Concert Orchestra among many others.

This season, Alexander Sitkovetsky will make his debut in Brussels, Poznan, Santa Cruz in Bolivia and St. Petersburg and will go on two nationwide tours of the UK with the Brussels Philharmonic and St. Petersburg Symphony. He will also tour Australia with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sitkovetsky will return to the Kuhmo and Cheltenham Festivals and make debuts at the Verbier and Lockenhaus Festivals

Sitkovetsky, an avid chamber musician, has recorded for Angel/EMI, Decca, Orfeo, Onyx, BIS and Avanti Classics including the Bach Double Concerto with Julia Fischer.


Classical music: University Opera will stage three performances of “Transformations” this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

March 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Take children’s fairy tales – such as “Sleeping Beauty” (below) — and recast them through adult reinterpretations. You can get some pretty weird and dark and humorous results.

Henry Meynel Rheam painting Sleeping Beauty

That is not only the formula for Stephen Sondheim’s popular Broadway musical and later Hollywood movie “Into the Woods.”

It also worked for the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton, who grew depressed and killed herself at age 45. Her versions then became an opera.

anne sexton

The music, described as tonal and accessible, is by Conrad Susa (below), who taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The contemporary opera has been popular and widely staged.

Conrad Susa

This weekend and early next week, University Opera – the opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music – will give three performances in Music Hall of the work on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (NOT 3:30 as first posted here mistakenly) and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOTE: An ad on Wisconsin Public Radio erroneously lists the performance times on Friday and Tuesday nights as 7 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.)

Admission is $25, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.

Members of the cast even posted an invitation video on YouTube:

For more information, visit the A Tempo blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which features remarks from interim opera director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), who is based in New York City, and details about the pre-concert discussion on Friday night from 6 to 7 p.m. (There will also be talk back sessions after each performance.):

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/university-opera-presents-spring-show-transformations/

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

The music director is graduate student in conducting Kyle Knox (below), who recently conducted Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” for the Madison Opera and who conducts ensembles at the UW-Madison and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Kyle Knox 2

For even more background, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/02/12/university-opera-presents-transformations/

Here is a sample, a YouTube video of the “Hansel and Gretel” section of “Transformations”:


Classical music: This is your brain on music! New scientific research shows that the human brain evolved special channels for hearing music. Read all about it!

February 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

What is your brain like on music? (The illustration below is by Marcos Chin.)

music and brain CR Marcos Chin

One of the most fascinating stories The Ear has ever read about music and science came last Tuesday in this week’s Science Times section of The New York Times.

The “Music Channel” story was reported by the acclaimed science writer  and journalist Natalie Angier (below), who won a Pulitzer Prize and has been nominated for a National Book Award She also included a sidebar story about her own experience undergoing the kind of MRI scan that helped researchers.

natalie angier

The upshot is this: No matter what kind of music you like – classical, jazz, folk, country, rock, pop – the human brain has developed special neural pathways to perceive the music.

In short, the human brain seems to have its own music room.

The story says this may help to explain why music seems a universal, cross-cultural phenomenon and why the first music instruments, such as the vulture bone flute found in Germany (below, in a photo by Jensen of the University of Tubingen) date back 42,000 years — some 24,000 years before the first cave painting appear in Lascaux, France.

Vulture bone flute CR Jensen:University of Tubingen

Plus, the story points out that the scientists and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) do not get the same result with non-musical noises. The special nerve pathways or circuits seem to have evolved specifically to receive musical information.

There is a lot more fascinating information in the story.

For The Ear, the bottom line is that we are closer to knowing why music has such deep appeal in so many different ways. And the researchers say that this study is just the beginning. (You can hear more about the effects of music on the human brain and body in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear looks forward to seeing more research about why music is special to the human brain: Is it the structure of music? The logic and intellectual content? Primarily the melody or harmony or rhythm? The emotional content?

Here is a link to the must-read story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/science/new-ways-into-the-brains-music-room.html?_r=0

And here is the sidebar story, “Lending Her Ears to MIT Experiment,” about Natalie Angier’s own experience with the MIT research study about music and the human brain. It explains the research methods in details from a subjective point of view:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/science/lending-her-ears-to-an-mit-experiment.html


Classical music: The new Grammy nominations can serve as a holiday gift guide.

December 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year at holiday time, The Ear offers a series of roundups of the best recordings and classical music gifts of the past year. The idea is to use them as holiday gift guides.

Today is Grammy Day.

grammy award BIG

So far, The Ear has listed choices made by the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

And another roundup of book and videos as well as CDs by critics for The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/classical-music-its-small-business-saturday-here-are-classical-music-gift-suggestions-from-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times/

Now he adds the 58th annual Grammy nominations of 2016 that were announced this past Monday. The winners will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 15, on CBS television network. The telecast will be live and feature live performances.

The Ear likes to see if he can predict the winners. Outguessing the industry can be a fun, if frustrating, game to play.

He also notices two items of local interest.

The late Twin Cities composer Stephen Paulus, whose works were often commissioned and premiered in Madison by the Festival Choir of Madison and groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, has been nominated for several work.

stephen paulus

In addition, producer Judith Sherman, who has several Grammys to her credit, is nominated again. She is also the producer of the two recordings of the centennial commissions by the Pro Arte Quartet.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

Here are the 58th annual Grammy nominees for Classical Music:

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

Ask Your Mama: Leslie Ann Jones, John Kilgore, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Justin Merrill, engineers; Patricia Sullivan, mastering engineer (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) Label: Avie Records

Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Alexander Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot, Augustin Hadelich & Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria: Robert Friedrich, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Martin Pearlman, Jennifer Rivera, Fernando Guimarães & Boston Baroque) Label: Linn Records

Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Beyong Joon Hwang & John Newton, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale) Label: Chandos

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3, ‘Organ’: Keith O. Johnson and Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony) Label: Reference Recording

Ask Your Mama CD Cover

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

Blanton Alspaugh: • Hill: Symphony No. 4; Concertino Nos. 1 & 2; Divertimento (Peter Bay, Anton Nel & Austin Symphony Orchestra) • Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale & Kansas City Chorale) • Sacred Songs Of Life & Love (Brian A. Schmidt & South Dakota Chorale) • Spirit Of The American Range (Carlos Kalmar & The Oregon Symphony) • Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony)

Manfred Eicher: • Franz Schubert (András Schiff) • Galina Ustvolskaya (Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Markus Hinterhäuser & Reto Bieri) • Moore: Dances & Canons (Saskia Lankhoorn) • Rihm: Et Lux (Paul Van Nevel, Minguet Quartet & Huelgas Ensemble) • Visions Fugitives (Anna Gourari)

Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin: • Dances For Piano & Orchestra (Joel Fan, Christophe Chagnard & Northwest Sinfonietta) • Tempo Do Brasil (Marc Regnier) • Woman At The New Piano (Nadia Shpachenko)

Dan Merceruio: • Chapí: String Quartets 1 & 2 (Cuarteto Latinoamericano) • From Whence We Came (Ensemble Galilei) • Gregson: Touch (Peter Gregson) • In The Light Of Air – ICE Performs Anna Thorvaldsdottir (International Contemporary Ensemble) • Schumann (Ying Quartet) • Scrapyard Exotica (Del Sol String Quartet) • Stravinsky: Petrushka (Richard Scerbo & Inscape Chamber Orchestra) • What Artemisia Heard (El Mundo) • ZOFO Plays Terry Riley (ZOFO)

Judith Sherman: • Ask Your Mama (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) • Fields: Double Cluster; Space Sciences (Jan Kučera, Gloria Chuang & Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra) • Liaisons – Re-Imagining Sondheim From The Piano (Anthony de Mare) • Montage – Great Film Composers & The Piano (Gloria Cheng) • Multitude, Solitude (Momenta Quartet) • Of Color Braided All Desire – Music Of Eric Moe (Christine Brandes, Brentano String Quartet, Dominic Donato, Jessica Meyer, Karen Ouzounian, Manhattan String Quartet & Talujon) • Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Ursula Oppens) • Sirota: Parting The Veil – Works For Violin & Piano (David Friend, Hyeyung Julie Yoon, Laurie Carney & Soyeon Kate Lee) • Turina: Chamber Music For Strings & Piano (Lincoln Trio

Manfred Eicher

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4: Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) Label: Reference Recordings

Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphony No. 10: Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Spirit Of The American Range: Carlos Kalmar, conductor (The Oregon Symphony) Label: Pentatone

Zhou Long and Chen Yi: Symphony ‘Humen 1839’: Darrell Ang, conductor (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) Label: Naxos

nelsons-shostakovich

BEST OPERA RECORDING

Janáček: Jenůfa: Donald Runnicles, conductor; Will Hartmann, Michaela Kaune & Jennifer Larmore; Magdalena Herbst, producer (Orchestra Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin) Label: Arthaus

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria: Martin Pearlman, conductor; Fernando Guimarães & Jennifer Rivera; Thomas C. Moore, producer (Boston Baroque) Label: Linn Records

Mozart: Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Diana Damrau, Paul Schweinester & Rolando Villazón; Sid McLauchlan, producer (Chamber Orchestra Of Europe) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Ravel: L’Enfant Et Les Sortilèges; Shéhérazade: Seiji Ozawa, conductor; Isabel Leonard; Dominic Fyfe, producer (Saito Kinen Orchestra; SKF Matsumoto Chorus & SKF Matsumoto Children’s Chorus) Label: Decca

Steffani: Niobe, Regina Di Tebe: Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Karina Gauvin & Philippe Jaroussky; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra) Label: Erato

ozawa ravel

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis: Bernard Haitink, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Anton Barachovsky, Genia Kühmeier, Elisabeth Kulman, Hanno Müller-Brachmann & Mark Padmore; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) Label: BR Klassik

Monteverdi: Vespers Of 1610: Harry Christophers, conductor (Jeremy Budd, Grace Davidson, Ben Davies, Mark Dobell, Eamonn Dougan & Charlotte Mobbs; The Sixteen) Label: Coro

Pablo Neruda – The Poet Sings: Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (James K. Bass, Laura Mercado-Wright, Eric Neuville & Lauren Snouffer; Faith DeBow & Stephen Redfield; Conspirare) Label: Harmonia Mundi

Paulus: Far In The Heavens: Eric Holtan, conductor (Sara Fraker, Matthew Goinz, Thea Lobo, Owen McIntosh, Kathryn Mueller & Christine Vivona; True Concord Orchestra; True Concord Voices) Label: Reference Recordings

Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Charles Bruffy, conductor (Paul Davidson, Frank Fleschner, Toby Vaughn Kidd, Bryan Pinkall, Julia Scozzafava, Bryan Taylor & Joseph Warner; Kansas City Chorale & Phoenix Chorale) Label: Chandos

paulus far in the heavens

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

Brahms: The Piano Trios: Tanja Tetzlaff, Christian Tetzlaff & Lars Vogt. Label: Ondine

Filament: Eighth Blackbird. Label: Cedille Records

Flaherty: Airdancing For Toy Piano, Piano & Electronics: Nadia Shpachenko & Genevieve Feiwen Lee. Track from: Woman At The New Piano. Label: Reference Recordings

Render: Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth. Label: New Amsterdam Records

Shostakovich: Piano Quintet & String Quartet No. 2: Takács Quartet & Marc-André Hamelin. Label: Hyperion

Hamelin Takacs Shostakovich quintet

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

Dutilleux: Violin Concerto, L’Arbre Des Songes: Augustin Hadelich; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Track from: Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’. Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Grieg & Moszkowski: Piano Concertos: Joseph Moog; Nicholas Milton, conductor (Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern). Label: Onyx Classics

Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vol. 7: Kristian Bezuidenhout. Label: Harmonia Mundi

 Rachmaninov Variations: Daniil Trifonov (The Philadelphia Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Ursula Oppens (Jerome Lowenthal). Label: Cedille Records

trifonov rachmaninov

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

Beethoven: An Die Ferne Geliebte; Haydn: English Songs; Mozart: Masonic Cantata: Mark Padmore; Kristian Bezuidenhout, accompanist. Label: Harmonia Mundi

Joyce & Tony – Live From Wigmore Hall: Joyce DiDonato; Antonio Pappano, accompanist. Label: Erato

Nessun Dorma – The Puccini Album. Jonas Kaufmann; Antonio Pappano, conductor (Kristīne Opolais, Antonio Pirozzi & Massimo Simeoli; Coro Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia) Label: Sony Classical

Rouse: Seeing; Kabir Padavali: Talise Trevigne; David Alan Miller, conductor (Orion Weiss; Albany Symphony) Label: Naxos

St. Petersburg: Cecilia Bartoli; Diego Fasolis, conductor (I Barocchisti). Label: Decca

jonas kauffmann puccini

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

As Dreams Fall Apart – The Golden Age Of Jewish Stage And Film Music (1925-1955): New Budapest Orpheum Society; Jim Ginsburg, producer. Label: Cedille Records

Ask Your Mama: George Manahan, conductor; Judith Sherman, producer. Label: Avie Records

Handel: L’Allegro, Il Penseroso Ed Il Moderato, 1740: Paul McCreesh, conductor; Nicholas Parker, producer. Label: Signum Classics

Paulus: Three Places Of Enlightenment; Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto: Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer. Label: Naxos

Woman At The New Piano: Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers. Label: Reference Recordings

Paulus Three place of Enlightenment

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

Barry: The Importance Of Being Earnest: Gerald Barry, composer (Thomas Adès, Barbara Hannigan, Katalin Károlyi, Hilary Summers, Peter Tantsits & Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) Label: NMC Recordings

Norman: Play: Andrew Norman, composer (Gil Rose & Boston Modern Orchestra Project) Track from: Norman: Play. Label: BMOP/Sound

Paulus: Prayers & Remembrances: Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Holtan, True Concord Voices & Orchestra). Track from: Paulus: Far In The Heavens. Label: Reference Recordings

Tower: Stroke: Joan Tower, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance. Label: Naxos

Wolfe: Anthracite Fields: Julia Wolfe, composer (Julian Wachner, The Choir Of Trinity Wall Street & Bang On A Can All-Stars) Label: Cantaloupe Music. (Note: You can hear a haunting part of the work that won a Pulitzer Prize in the YouTube video below.)

Julia Wolfe Anthracite Fields

 


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