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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus onstage in March 1959. Also pictured is chorus director Margaret Hillis, music director Fritz Reiner, and associate conductor Walter Hendl.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus onstage in March 1959. Also pictured is chorus director Margaret Hillis, music director Fritz Reiner, and associate conductor Walter Hendl (Oscar Chicago photo).

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first performed Sergei Prokofiev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky at Orchestra Hall on March 5, 6, and 10, 1959. Fritz Reiner conducted and Rosalind Elias was the mezzo-soprano soloist.

“The fever and excitement latent in this muscular music originally part of the score for the Sergei Eisenstein movie was brought out by Reiner gradually with a slow-fuse sort of detonation,” according to Donal Henahan in the Chicago Daily News. “The climactic Battle on the Ice was approached with expansive calm and deliberation, and thus aroused the audience’s martial blood properly. A conductor who tries to pile climax after climax into this work can never achieve the hair-raising thrust that Reiner drew from Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus [singing in English] at such a moment. No one can write a march like Prokofiev, and it was grand to hear this one played with power but without hysterics. The Chorus, although called on for less heroic vocal effort than in some other works it has sung, produced a pleasing sound in all voices and a more homogeneous tone than at any time since Miss Hillis began her missionary work in Chicago.”

Nevsky album cover

The subsequent RCA release—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—was made on March 7, 1959, at Orchestra Hall.

This article also appears here.

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biography

April 7 and 8, 1960

Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on April 7 and 8, 1960, performing Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner conducting. On April 12 he was soloist in Schumann’s A minor concerto with the Orchestra, also with Reiner on the podium.

“Van Cliburn cannot be accused of looking for the easy road to success,” wrote Donal Henahan in the Chicago Daily News following the first performance of Brahms’s concerto. The twenty-five year-old pianist gave “a performance of glitter and grace, and one that was breathtakingly well played . . . perhaps no one but Horowitz today could play those double-note scales in both hands with as much apparent ease.”

recording

RCA’s release of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, recorded in Orchestra Hall on April 16, 1960

Cliburn would appear four more times during Reiner’s tenure, and their performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in April 1963 were Reiner’s last public appearances. Cliburn later appeared in Chicago under Jean Martinon as well as at the Ravinia Festival with Georges Prêtre, Seiji Ozawa, Donald Johanos, Bruno Maderna, and James Levine. His final appearance with the Orchestra was on July 16, 2005, at Ravinia in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, under festival music director James Conlon.

On the RCA label, he made several recordings with the Orchestra, including Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth concertos, Brahms’s Second, Rachmaninov’s Second, and Schumann’s concerto with Reiner; and MacDowell’s Second and Prokofiev’s Third concertos with Walter Hendl.

A complete list of Van Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.

This article also appears here.

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Bartok album cover

At the third annual Grammy ceremony on April 12, 1961, the Orchestra’s recording of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta received the award for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra. Fritz Reiner had conducted the RCA release. That same evening, the Orchestra’s recording of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto—also on RCA and with Erich Leinsdorf conducting—earned the award for Best Classical Performance–Concerto or Instrumental Soloist for Sviatoslav Richter. These were the first two Grammy awards earned for recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Reiner’s commitment to the music of Bartók—one of his teachers at the Liszt Academy in Budapest—was “unmatched by any other contemporary composer, for Reiner had an understanding and devotion of Bartók’s music that no other conductor of his time equaled,” according to Philip Hart in Fritz Reiner: A Biography. He and the Orchestra had first recorded music by Bartók on October 22, 1955: the Concerto for Orchestra. Along with the composer’s Hungarian Sketches, Reiner and the Orchestra recorded the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta at Orchestra Hall on December 28 and 29, 1958.

Richter album cover

Richter made his U.S. debut with the Orchestra on October 15, 1960, in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, and the work was recorded in Orchestra Hall two days later with Leinsdorf conducting. Reiner originally was scheduled to lead both the concert and recording; however, he suffered a heart attack in early October, forcing the cancellation of several concerts and recording sessions (including MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Van Cliburn, also for RCA and ultimately led by associate conductor Walter Hendl). Reiner returned to the podium in January 1961.

Since 1961, recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have earned sixty-two Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This article also appears here.

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Ozawa headshotAs a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16 in Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the Orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Between 1965 and 1970—at both Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple— Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Some of this content was previously posted here; this article also appears here.

Ozawa headshot

Congratulations to Seiji Ozawa—the Ravinia Festival‘s first music director from 1964 until 1968—who will be a recipient of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors! Additional honorees, announced today, include American rock band the Eagles, singer-songwriter Carole King, filmmaker George Lucas, actress and singer Rita Moreno, and actress Cicely Tyson.

The gala event will be broadcast on CBS on December 29, 2015.

As a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16, leading Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

June 16, 1964

June 16, 1964

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Ozawa LP

Between 1965 and 1970—both at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple—Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, among numerous others.

Ozawa most recently appeared in Chicago at Orchestra Hall on February 9, 1996, leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), Heidi Grant Murphy, and Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Second Symphony; and on January 10, 2001, conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the Saito Kinen Orchestra.

Congratulations, Maestro Ozawa!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus onstage in March 1959, with Margaret Hillis, Fritz Reiner, and Walter Hendl.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus onstage in March 1959, with Margaret Hillis, Fritz Reiner, and Walter Hendl (Oscar Chicago photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first performed Sergei Prokofiev‘s cantata Alexander Nevsky at Orchestra Hall on March 5, 6, and 10, 1959. Fritz Reiner conducted and Rosalind Elias was the mezzo-soprano soloist. The original program note is here.

Following the first performance, Dan Tucker in the American reported that Prokofiev’s score “may well be the finest movie music ever written. That does not mean it’s great music: you can’t write great music for a film because it would distract the audience’s attention and ruin the film. Prokofiev did a wonderful job, though, in writing music to heighten the moods of somber grandeur or heroic fervor. If it isn’t ‘great’ in itself, it is admirably suited to a great subject. There is a splendor about the mere sound of massed chorus and orchestra that this core exploits to the full.” The complete review is here.

In the Chicago Tribune, even though Claudia Cassidy lamented the absence of the film, she praised the work of the Chorus (only in its second season), “at its best in the enthusiasm of attack, a fresh, accurate, all-out attack which might actually have been defending Mother Russia.” The complete review is here.

And in the Daily News, Donal Henahan added: “The fever and excitement latent in this muscular music originally part of the score for the Sergei Eisenstein movie, was brought out by Reiner gradually with a slow-fuse sort of detonation. The climactic ‘Battle on the Ice’ was approached with expansive calm and deliberation, and thus aroused the audience’s martial blood properly. A conductor who tries to pile climax after climax into this work can never achieve the hair-raising thrust that Reiner drew from Margaret Hillis‘s Chicago Symphony Chorus [singing in English] at such a moment. No one can write a march like Prokofiev, and it was grand to hear this one played with power but without hysterics. The chorus, although called on for less heroic vocal effort that in some other works it has sung, produced a pleasing sound in all voices and a more homogeneous tone than at any time since Miss Hillis began her missionary work in Chicago.” The complete review is here.

Alexander Nevsky

The subsequent recording—the first collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—was made on March 7, 1959, at Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer. It recently was re-released as part of a comprehensive box set of Fritz Reiner’s complete recordings with the CSO on RCA.

There will be a free screening of Eisenstein’s film on Tuesday, January 20. Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Prokofiev’s cantata on January 22, 23, and 24 at Orchestra Hall and on February 1 at Carnegie Hall.

Just before the opening of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth season, our sixth music director Fritz Reiner suffered a heart attack on October 7, 1960. He had been scheduled to conduct the first four weeks of concerts, but his recuperation forced the cancellation of his remaining appearances for the calendar year.

Maria Callas with Antonino Votto

Antonino Votto was one of Maria Callas‘s integral collaborators, leading many of her important productions at La Scala in the 1950s. He also was conductor of several of her landmark recordings on EMI including Puccini’s La bohème, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Bellini’s La sonnambula, and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.

Replacement conductors included CSO associate conductor Walter Hendl, Robert Shaw (leading Beethoven’s Missa solemnis), Erich Leinsdorf (to conduct a special Saturday evening concert on October 15 featuring the U.S. debut of Sviatoslav Richter as soloist in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto), and Antonino Votto (who would soon become Riccardo Muti‘s conducting teacher).

Votto was in Chicago to make his debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago and (according to their Performance + Cast Archive) he led the season opening performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo on October 14, 21, and 24. The cast included Giulietta Simionato, Margherita Roberti, Richard Tucker, Tito Gobbi, and Boris Christoff. Votto also conducted performances of Verdi’s Aida on October 17, 19, 22, and 28, with a cast that included Leontyne Price, Simionato, Carlo Bergonzi, and Robert Merrill.

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes's program book biographies

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes’s program book biographies

According to an October 16, 1960, CSO press release: “Antonino Votto will conduct the subscription concerts in the third week of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s current season. The concerts of Tuesday afternoon, October 25, and the subscription pair of Thursday-Friday, October 27-28, originally scheduled for music director Fritz Reiner, will be directed by the Italian conductor who is currently in Chicago for his first season with the Lyric Opera. A leading conductor of both opera and symphony concerts at La Scala in Milan, Maestro Votto’s appearance with the Orchestra has been made possible through the courteous cooperation of Miss Carol Fox, General Manager of the Lyric Opera.”

October 25, 1960 - revised program

October 25, 1960 – revised program

October 25, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 25, 1960 – original program advertisement

Both programs were modified (see images right and below) to accommodate conductor and soloist. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune regarding the first concert on October 25: “From the start of Haydn’s London Symphony thru the Mozart with Guiomar Novaes and Debussy’s Faun to the perfectly planned and executed climax of a stunning Pictures at an Exhibition this was a major concert on the sounder shores of style” (complete review is here). Also according to Cassidy, word traveled fast and the following two concerts on Thursday and Friday quickly sold out: “. . . Votto is a man to respect a score, an orchestra and a soloist. When you add that to knowing your business and you can work with other musicians on a high level remarkable things can happen. Such as orchestral equilibrium, a sense of proportion in displaying a soloist, a mounting excitement on the stage and in the audience. In other words, quite a concert” (complete review is here).

October 27 & 28, 1960 - revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 – revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 27 & 28, 1960 – original program advertisement

According to a newspaper account, Reiner—from his hospital bed at Presbyterian/Saint Luke’s—was able to hear a portion of the Friday afternoon matinee via “telephone from a remote pickup thru a microphone in the concert hall to a loudspeaker in the manager’s office.” Reiner’s statement: “Please convey my warm compliments on the splendid performance of Mme. Novaes and Maestro Votto. I enjoyed very much the finesse and style of the orchestra, which has been inoculated in the years of our association.”

Votto was re-engaged at Lyric the following season for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on October 14, 16, and 18, 1961 (with Joan Sutherland, Bergonzi, and Tucker); Giordano’s Andrea Chenier on October 20, and 25, 28 (with Shakeh Vartenissian and Jon Vickers); and the company premiere of Boito’s Mefistofele on October 21, 23, and 27 (with Ilva Ligabue, Christa Ludwig, Christoff, and Bergonzi).

Votto returned to Italy and in November 1962, twenty-one-year-old Riccardo Muti met him during his first year as a student at the Milan Conservatory. Muti remembers: “And then there was Votto, whom I recall so vividly. He was solemn and incredibly strict, and had worked with [Arturo] Toscanini during his years at La Scala. . . . Within a few days, however, I realized that Votto had taken a liking to me, to the point of giving me—as if to prefer me over less talented students, or ones he didn’t like as much—some pieces to conduct for the performances the following year. Not only did I take a class with him, but I also attended some of his rehearsals at La Scala. . . . I was particularly struck when he did Falstaff: he didn’t have the score! Now, it’s one thing to conduct from memory, but to try that with Falstaff is one of those things that just leaves you flabbergasted and makes you think that maybe, with such experts around, you’d best find another job. I asked him something along those lines, and he replied: ‘If you had worked with Him, you would do the same.’ ‘Him,’ of course, meant Toscanini, with whom such work was an intense, special months-long undertaking; after that, going on memory became spontaneous, the natural result of having complete mastery of the score. . . .

“Votto’s approach was based on conductorial efficiency, music for music’s sake, no frills, no bells and whistles, going straight to the heart of opera, only essential gestures, nothing more than was absolutely necessary. In his classes he’d often repeat, ‘Don’t annoy the orchestra.’ To the uninitiated that phrase might seem absurd or misleading, calling into question the orchestra conductor’s usefulness. In reality he just wanted to advise us that, once the orchestra was on an orderly, rhythmic path (the obvious outcome of long rehearsing), the maestro mustn’t disturb that natural gait, and must therefore avoid rash gestures while on the podium, steering clear of any temptation to become a court jester; basically, he mustn’t alter what the nature of the piece itself had established. And such a position was a clear, complete reflection of Arturo Toscanini’s.”

Their friendship continued well beyond the conservatory, and when Muti married Maria Cristina Mazzavillani on June 1, 1969, in Ravenna, Votto was best man (“while Sviatoslav Richter became our ad hoc photographer and took some of the best photos”).

Excerpts from Riccardo Muti, An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words.

Van Cliburn and Fritz Reiner in 1960

Van Cliburn and Fritz Reiner in 1960

We’ve just heard news of the death of the remarkable American pianist Van Cliburn, as reported in the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Cliburn made his first appearance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Fritz Reiner conducting. Cliburn would perform four more times during Reiner’s tenure, and their performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in April 1963 were Reiner’s last public appearances.

Complete lists of Van Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are below.

Appearances (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

April 7 and 8, 1960
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83
Fritz Reiner, conductor

April 12, 1960
SCHUMANN Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
Fritz Reiner, conductor

October 20 and 21, 1960
MACDOWELL Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26
Walter Hendl, conductor

March 29 and 30, 1962
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
Fritz Reiner, conductor

April 18, 19, and 20, 1963
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Fritz Reiner, conductor

April 23, 24, and 25, 1964
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Jean Martinon, conductor

July 24, 1965 (Ravinia Festival)
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83
Georges Prêtre, conductor

August 11 and 13, 1966 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

January 12 and 13, 1967
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
Jean Martinon, conductor

August 1, 1967 (Ravinia Festival)
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Donald Johanos, conductor

June 29, 1971 (Ravinia Festival)
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23
Bruno Maderna, conductor

July 17, 1974 (Ravinia Festival)
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
James Levine, conductor

July 16, 2005 (Ravinia Festival)
GRIEG Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16
James Conlon, conductor

Recordings:

BEETHOVEN Concerto for Piano No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, April 1963
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RCA

BEETHOVEN Concerto for Piano No. 5 in E flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, May 1961
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RCA

BRAHMS Concerto for Piano No. 2 in B flat Major, Op. 83
Recorded live in Orchestra Hall, April 8, 1960
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Testament

BRAHMS Concerto for Piano No. 2 in B flat Major, Op. 83
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, May 1961
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RCA

MACDOWELL Concerto for Piano No. 2 in D Minor
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, October 1960
Walter Hendl, conductor
RCA

PROKOFIEV Concerto for Piano No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, October 1960
Walter Hendl, conductor
RCA

RACHMANINOV Concerto for Piano No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, March and April 1962
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RCA

SCHUMANN Concerto for Piano in A Minor, Op. 54
Recorded live in Orchestra Hall, April 12, 1960
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Testament

SCHUMANN Concerto for Piano in A Minor, Op. 54
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, April 1960
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RCA

Updated to include Testament recording release of two live performances — FV

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Theodore Thomas

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Last night - Maestro Riccardo Muti and the CSO with pianist Kirill Gerstein (@kgerstein) perform Puccini’s Preludio sinfonico, R. Strauss’ Suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. Photos by @toddrphoto.

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