Salzburger Zeitung – 2013 – Second Edition

Dateline:  May 20, 2013:

I first saw this skyline when I was 19 years old – in the intervening 47 years
this view has never ceased to give me a small thrill of satisfaction.

Well its been a busy few days since we arrived in Salzburg. Fortunately we arrived a day early and settled into our usual room at the Hotel Bristol – the Tuscany. There had been a few changes in decor but it was still the same comfortable room we had enjoyed on our previous stay.  And though there have been some changes at the Bristol there is much that is familiar: Herr Lackner is still the gracious host, Peter is still overseeing the restaurant and bar,  Florian is doing his usual wonderful job as concierge, the ladies in the breakfast room are welcoming and Gabor has our table in the corner of the Sketch Bar prepared and waiting after the performance.  I guess I’m just turning into an old fart who loves the comfortable and the familiar.

Our home away from home at the Hotel Bristol in Salzburg – the Tuscany.
And returning to the Bristol is like coming home.

It has also been good to see old friends like Dr. M. from Toronto at his usual table and people we recognize from other years and now exchange hellos with at the Mozarteum and Haus für Mozart.  And this year some new acquaintances have been made – the Schmids a wonderful couple from Salzburg who motioned us to join them on the terrace of the Cafe Sacher at lunchtime on a busy Whitsun Saturday.  Their son Benjamin Schmid is a well-known violinist and they regaled us with stories of their travels and his path to a career as a musician.  And just this evening we met a lovely couple from England who have suddenly discovered opera and are indulging their passion for travel and music in their leisure years.

Sidd and another distinguished guest of the Hotel Bristol.

The main topic of conversation amongst us has been the centre piece of this year’s Festival _ Bellini’s Norma with Cecilia Bartoli.  We were all in agreement – it was of a piece musically and dramatically and one of the most moving and riveting evenings spent at an opera in a long time.  It is an evening I am going to have to take my time and write about with some thought.

Saturday 18:  Musikalisches Opfer
Grosser Saal – Mozarteum: 1100

I’ve always loved the gold and white, slightly over-the-top Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum.
At times the seats may be a trifle uncomfortable and the room a bit overheated but the acoustics are remarkable. 

It is often possible to be in awe of the artistry and ability of both a composer and a performer but to find them emotional unmoving: I’m afraid that is how I feel about both Bach and András Schiff.  Bach is undoubtedly one of the greats of Western music and I would be a fool for thinking otherwise but as much as I can listen in admiration I find that I can’t become involved with his works. I’ve tried – lord knows I’ve tried but it just doesn’t happen – and emotional response to music can’t be forced.

With Schiff I find much the same – he is one of the great pianists of our time and I would be a fool for thinking otherwise and on Saturday morning I sat in awe of what he accomplished in a programme of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. But I was left largely unmoved at the end of the programme. With the Festival theme of Sacrifice in mind he had chosen pieces in the Key of C minor.  According to the notes this is the key that has always been associated with lamantation – Johann Joachim Quantz, the flute teacher of Frederick the Great said that it is used for “the miserable affect”.  Though he did admit that it could be used to  express “the affect of love, tenderness, flattery”.  But also it could be used to express “an angry emotion, such as recklessness, rage and dispair”.  Quite the choice there!

Another view of the beautiful Grosser Saal – one of my favourite concert venues.

So perhaps it is pushing the envelope a bit to maintain that Bach sacrificed to his art when he took it upon himself to meet Frederick the Great’s challenge to create a six part improvisation on a theme the King had set out during Bach’s visit to his court in 1747.   That theme from Musikalischen Opfer BWV1080 was to show up again at Monday morning’s concert by the Mariinsky Orchestra in Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium.

Schiff’s Bach was slow, reverential and frankly dull. A friend remarked in passing that listening to Schiff play Bach extended your life time by a third – I’m not sure how true that is but I certainly found the Ricercare a 6 more fascinating when Angela Hewitt played it a few months ago as part of her programme at the NAC.  With Schiff it had all the excitement of an exercise with Hewitt it had a sense of passion and commitment.

András Schiff accepts the applause of an appreciative audience at
sold out concert at this year’s Whitsun Festival.

Schiff’s Mozart is seen through his closeness to the Romantic rather than the Baroque and though again the artistry is impeccable only the Adagio of the Klaviersonate c-Moll KV 457 seemed to take wing.   Not so the Beethoveen Sonata op. 111. Here Schiff seemed to come into his own and the music had an emotional bite to it that made me aware that I was listening to a great pianist. There was real communication here and in the short Schumann piece he gave as an encore.  I only wish he had caught that fire a bit earlier.

Perhaps after the Italianate passion of the previous evening anything would seem a bit cool, perhaps even passionless but I had honestly hope for a bit more excitement from Schiff. What we got was an amazing display of artistry if not of heart.

22 May – 1813:  Richard Wagner is born in Leipzig. 

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Mercoledi Musicale

I know I haven’t written much about our cultural life in Ottawa since our return so you could be forgiven for thinking that I have been musically/theatrically/terpsicordilly deprived in the winter wasteland that is Ottawa.  And if you have that impression then it is entirely my fault.

Granted there is one ..lly missing from the list and that would be operatically but we will let that pass for the moment.   But for the other “arts” the calender – though perhaps not as crowded with big names – is still a crowded one.  Between our subscriptions for the NAC orchestra, two dance series, the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Chamberfest, the Cantata Singers and other groups here in Ottawa we are out often twice a week to concerts, recitals or plays.  In February we’ve had the National Ballet of Canada with their new production of Romeo and Juliet; unfortunately a late work day and exhaustion meant missing the Brahms Alto Rhapsody with the NAC Orchestra; Ballet BC in a programme of modern dance – the William Forsythe piece beautifully done, the rest… boh!; the NAC theatre company in a fascinating staging around and in  a swimming pool of Ovid’s Metamorphosis; and last evening a piano concert by Angela Hewitt.

Miss Hewitt appears in Ottawa frequently – she is after all a hometown girl – and the concerts always have a special, almost familial, air to them.  She appeared here last year twice – once in the Chamberfest Winter series with The Chamber Players of Ottawa.  That evening one of the players had taken sick and the substitute did not have time to feel comfortable with the second piece of the evening so we had to make do with (!) Miss Hewitt playing Le tombeau de Couperin.  Several months later she appeared with the NAC orchestra for the Ravel Piano Concerto and hosted a small coffee reception afterwards.  She proved as gracious a host as she was a brilliant musician.

This time it was a solo concert with, on paper at least, an unusual programme of Bach and Debussy. It seemed an unlikely combination but the Bach French Suites 5 and 6 with their dance movements dovetailed with Debussy’s Baroque influenced Pour le piano and the dance tempi of Suite bergamasque.  Even the encore – Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte – kept us in the realm of Baroque-influenced dance.

I will be the first to admit that Bach does very little for me.  I can admire the musicality, the originality, the line of Bach’s music however I find that it very seldom moves me.  I recognize that Miss Hewitt is considered the preeminent keyboard interpreter of Bach and even her playing gives rise to only admiration for the genius of Bach on my part.  However last night her playing of the Sarabande in the Suite No. 5 gave me an emotional charge that both surprised and delighted.

I don’t normally associate Debussy with passion – romance yes passion not so much.  But passion was a quality that Miss Hewitt brought to all three Debussy pieces.  It is always fascinating to watch the body language of pianists and, if possible, to watch their hands.  From our seats Mezzanine-left we had a perfect view of Miss Hewitt and the keyboard.   Though she is never less than elegant there was a marked difference in the way her arms were held and her body moved between the Bach and Debussy.   For the one more formal – I wont’ say ridged – and for the other her body seeming to flow with the music.  For the Bach the hands moved majestically over the keys; for the Debussy they often seemed to flow and even the complex cross-hand playing had a remarkable fluidity.

She took the Clair de lune movement of the Suite Bergamasque the slowest I have ever heard it played.  There is always a danger with choosing that sort of tempo that things sound dragged or  fall apart and become disjointed but last night the risk paid off.  In a word it was “sublime” and I was as carried away as Miss Hewitt obviously was in this clip from a recent performance at CBC Toronto.

In a previous post I mentioned that Miss Hewitt will be giving a benefit concert at the newly re-built St Jude’s Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit this summer.  The original cathedral, and many of the native tapestries and art work that adorned it, was destroyed by fire – reportedly arson – in 2005.  The long struggle to rebuilt has been completed and the cathedral was consecrated in June 2012.  Angela Hewitt has strong ties to the Anglican church and promised to go to Iqaluit and give a benefit concert when the building was completed.  And on June 12 she will make good on that promise and I am sorely tempted to join her and a party of her Ottawa fans on the 2000 km journey to the North.  We shall see.

The original St Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit was built in the shape of an igloo and the new Cathedral
follows that design concept.  The sanctuary (above) was hung with native tapestries from the regions
of the Arctic and the altar cross was made of narwhal bone – sadly most of the artifacts were lost in the fire.

20 February – 1959: The Avro Arrow program to design and manufacture supersonic jet fighters in Canada is cancelled by the Diefenbaker government amid much political debate.


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Salzburger Zeitung – Busy Day, Busy Day, No Time to Make Desert

The second day of the Whitsun Festival (May 22) was going to be a busy one no matter how you looked at it – a morning concert at 1100, a late afternoon concert at 1830 and a movie at 2200. Plus we had to work getting ourselves watered and fed in between. Fortunately food is never a problem in Salzburg because of all else fails we simply settle into our table at the Sketch Bar at the Hotel Bristol bar and let Gunther, our favourite bartender look after us.

The lovely Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum – even with its slight air of faded gilt and velvet it remains a wonderful venue for concerts.

The two concerts were in the lovely Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum just around the corner from the hotel so a brief sun shower – yes it was actually sunny on Saturday – was not a problem. The Grosser Saal is surely one of the prettiest if not always the most comfortable of venues for concert going. Laurent has already commented on it but I am always surprised in Salzburg when the ushers don’t check your tickets at the door – they are there to help you find your seat or for the elderly, and there seem to be more and more elderly people at these events, to assist you to it. But verifying your ticket – why that would suggest you would try and enter without one and they know that no one would be dishonest enough to do that!

Sonata da camera

The morning programme was a concert of sonatas for violin and a continuo of cello, lute and harpsichord featuring the renowned Italian violinist Giuliano Carmignola (left). I had never heard him and was not familiar with his work but a friend had mentioned that he was a performer who, in younger days, had taken many risks often with less than favourable results.

That was certainly not the case on Saturday morning, he played sonate by Porpora, Geminiani, and Scarlatti with finesse and a sense of baroque style that left no doubt as to why he is considered a master of music of the period. If he did let loose it was during the Fantasia from the Ayres for the Violin by Nicola Mattheis– a brilliant piece of solo playing. The later selections along with Emmanuele Barbella’s Arlecchino Suite were the most interesting music of the morning and I’ve been investigating a few recordings of them. The Mattheis is a particularly interesting set of pieces written between 1676 and 1685 as a series of volumes and intended for both listening pleasure and as a way of teaching the Italian style of violin playing. It was often thought at his concerts that he was playing two violins at once – and that was the impression I had when listening to Carmignola played the Fantasia. I am still nonplussed at how it is done technically. It was a brilliant display of period violin playing.

Master of the Baroque violin Giuliano Carmignola with cellist Francesco Galligioni, harpsicordist Riccardo Doni and on the lute Ivano Zanenghi taking their bows.

Alte Salzburg is made up of a series of passageways that connect one main street to the other – often with an open courtyard breaking up or diverting the passageway. Most are lined with small shops selling some very high end items though there is the odd place that proudly displays the china cow dressed as Mozart with a clock on its haunches in its front window. Laurent wanted to buy one but I convinced him otherwise. As we wandered through one of those passages in search of lunch we happened upon a Sushi restaurnt – Sushi in Salzburg? Sounds like a movie title but why not? The people running it were actually Japanese, the fish was fresh and the rice of good quality – what more could you ask. Though as Laurent noted the Kirin Ichiban beer is now owned by Heiniken and made under license in Russia – ah the glories of globalization.

Piramo e Tisbe

Last year Fabio Bondi had pulled Nicola Fago’s Il faraone sommerso out of his hat and revealed a small jewel of a music drama from an obscure composer (I am still waiting for a recording Mr Bondi??????) I had been hoping the same would occur this year when he gave us Johann Hasse’s Piramo e Tisbe. Once again he was conducting his marvellous Europe Galente with two very bright stars of the operatic firmament: Vivica Genaux and Désirée Rantecore as the protagonists. As I remarked again later in the weekend, if a work has been left largely unperformed for 300 years there is often a very good reason.

Now I am will admit that I am basing my opinion on hearing only the first part as I left at the interval, not something I do either lightly or often. Before the performance indulgence was asked for Ms Genaux who was fighting a cold – though to be honest from what I heard no indulgence was necessary. I sympathized with her completely I was also fighting a cold, the hall was unbearably hot, I was feeling woozy (cough syrup and cold pills will do that) and had already almost strangled myself in an effort to control a coughing fit during the first act. It wasn’t fair to the performers, the people around me or me for that matter. Perhaps the second part took wing but despite the obvious dedication that Biondi and his Ensemble put into it, unlike last year I didn’t feel that spark that makes you question why a work has been neglected.

Vivica Genaux (Piramo), Désirée Rancatore (Tisbe), Fabio Bondi and Emanuele D’Aguanno (The Father)take their bows with members of Europa Galante at the end of Saturday evening’s concert of the Hasse opera.

Napoli è una canzone

The movie was a real oddity and looked intriguing when it was announced as part of the programme. A classic of the Italian cinema Napoli è une canzone was a silent movie made in 1927 by Eugenio Perego and filmed in the streets of Napoli, the ocean around Capri and on the approaches to a smoking Mount Vesuvius.

The story is slight: an adorable Napoletana – she rescues kittens and releases dogs from the dog catcher’s wagon – befriends the unhappy daughter of an American millionaire, falls in love with her friend’s brother and goes with them to America. The brother, aside from being made up to look like the poor man’s Rudolph Valentino, is a bit of a cad; brokenhearted and home sick she returns to her nonna, nonno and Napoli. But never fear the cad repents and everything ends in a gay tarantella. It all very silly but all very wonderful as it captures a world that has vanished in many ways but also in others has remained the same.

Of course the performances are stylized and, to our eyes, a bit over the top but it is hard not to be captured by the charm of leading lady Leda Gys. A great star of the Italian cinema she is a touch on the chubby side and has a fine sense of comic timing. Even after 80 years her lively eyes reach into the darkness and bring a smile and on one occasion a tear.

The movie has been restored though at several points reel damage is apparent and, as so often happens when different stock was used, film tint changes from reel to reel but it all adds to the charm of the film. As do the Italian title cards. I was rather pleased that I was able to read most of them but just as I was getting smug about my linguist prowess realized that they were written, as were all movie titles at the time no matter the language, to reach the broadest audience possible. And that they were displayed for sufficient time to allow someone who was educated (in small towns probably the village priest) to read them out for the less literate.

The greatest charm of the film was seeing Napoli as it was before the Second World War. Even with his primitive equipment Emilio Guattari captured wonderful scenes in small neighbourhoods, the Spanish Quarter, the Festival of San Geronimo, the waterfront, Capri, The Blue Grotto and particularly the scenes of Vesuvius smoldering and sending forth plumes of smoke as the actors cavorted in front of it.

When it was first presented in film houses back in 1927 there would have been at the least the local piano teacher plunking out a accompaniment to punctuate the action and at the most a small orchestra (in the finer cinemas of the day). At the Salzburg Keno – a strange building which I have passed more times than I can remember and never noticed – background sounds were provided by a team of “techno” composers. Their stated purpose was to provide a counterpoint to the action and in all probability they did – I sort of shut it out and when it became unbearable put my fingers in my ears. I can’t say I thought it added anything to the film and was best ignored. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to have that local piano player at the keyboard guiding us through the action. Never the less it was a lovely way to spend the late evening – a look into the past with a connection to the present.

And the evening ended back at the Sketch Bar where Gunther whipped up a hot toddy to help knock the cold out of me.

08 giugno – San Medardo

You Can Tango, But Don’t Tangle With the Lady

I mentioned a few posts ago that Ute Lemper was appearing here last week and appear she did. I had put off buying tickets as both of us where feeling a bit under the weather – that bloddy rain in Spain!!!!. Wednesday evening, after a rather eventful day, I decided I was up to it – Laurent had just spent his first day back at work and was beat – so I headed off to the Auditorium to get a last minute ticket. After all how popular would someone like her be here in Roma?

Well from the back row of the seats at the back of the stage as I looked over an almost full house (the Salla Santa Cecilia seats 2,700) I got the answer to my question. Very popular grazie! So popular, in fact, that an episode with a heckler led to a spontaneous display of support and affection.

Her latest programme, Last Tango in Berlin, is an eclectic mix of her repetory with the emphasis on the music of the tango and more particularly Astor Piazzolla. The programme began with Piazzolla’s Balada paro mi muerte which sequed into a Piaf standard L’Accordéoniste. The two numbers showed Lemper at her best and, for me at least, her worst. The first number has all the trademarks of her style and range, the second showed the extremes that she can go to in trying to make a number “dramatic”. L’Accordeoniste does not need that sort of overstatement – the built in staccato of the lyrics and music do that for the singer.

Her last number three numbers were requests – Lili Marleen, a medley of Yiddish songs and to end another Piaf favorite Milord and again my feeling was that here she showed her best and worst. Lili Marleen was iconic, the Yiddish songs having a particular drive and with some interesting vocalise but the Moustaki penned Milord being overwrought to the point of being unintelligible. But between the two we got a selection of Piazzolla – Balada para un Loca translated into a hymn to the crazy people of her adopted New York, Brecht/Weill – Moritat von Mecky Messer another iconic performance stripped of its Americanized jazz frills, some incredible scat including a Louis Armstrong inspired trumpet rift – I honestly thought it was a real trumpet for a minute and a gripping Ne me quitte pas. As a tribute to her host country she sang, for the first time, Nino Rota’s hauting theme from Amarcord. She also hinted that the music of Rota deserves a closer inspection – as indeed it does.

Though at times her interpretations may be questionable what is never in question is her charisma as a stage animal. Her patter in English and French weaves in and out of the music and sometimes becomes music in itself. This is a performer who knows how to play an audience and deal with a heckler if need be.

Given that the audience was predominately Italian perhaps a cut in some of the chatter would have been in order. In fact one of the audience took exception to the lengthy introduction of the bandoneón and yelled out: Less talk more songs! Within seconds I’m sure he was regretting his spontaneous outburst. The audience was entirely with Lemper and made it more than obvious. Her response – a suggestion that she could sing longer than he could control his bladder – was greeted with hoots, whistles and prolonged applause. She good-naturedly returned to her heckler several times throughout the evening including asking him to suggest an encore. She gave him the requested Lili Marleen.

Lemper has a fine backup trio playing with her for this stint. Vana Gierig on piano had several opportunities to show his stuff particularly during the Cabaret number. And bassist Steve Millhouse gave strong backup but the gem of the evening was Tito Castro a bandoneón player in the great Argentine tradition.

Here’s a sample of Lemper doing, what for me at least, was one of the best numbers of the evening:

23 gennaio – Sant’Emerenziana

Things to Come – Musical

I wrote this introduction back on September 5 – and never got around to completing the post. Thought I’d keep it and finish off what I was going to say.

Now that feragosto is over things are returning to normal – or a least normal for Rome. Over the past week shops, bars, trattorias and super markets have been reopening or going back to regular hours, though a few places are still doing half-day Saturdays. Just a word on shop hours here – most places are open from 1000 until 1300 or 1330 then open again at 1530 or 1600 until 2000. Many places close on Saturday at 1300 or 1330 and most are not open on Sunday. Trattoria and restaurants are open from 1230 until 1500 for lunch and 1930-2000 often until last guest for dinner. It takes some getting use to – and we have had colleagues who just never catch on – but after a while it makes perfect sense.

Traffic has also returned to normal. During feragosto it was quiet, there were days when you could cross Via Nomentana and not see a car from Porta Pia to the bend at the Russian Embassy – about 3 kms; the hornet hum of motorinos was a mere buzz and the blaring sirens of ambulances heading to near-by Policlinico were few and far between. This morning as we sat with our friend Walter on Regina Margherita everything was as it is for 11 months of the year.

It is now a month later and believe me everything is really back as it was – for better or for worse. But what is for better is that the music season has started. Both the ballet and the opera are back in operation – if on reduced schedules because of the budget cuts. So here’s a few things on my calender for the next little while.

  • La Gitana, a 19th century ballet premiered in 1836 in St. Petersburg, is on the cards for this weekend. One of the fine things that former Prima Ballerina Carla Fracci has done with the company here is to revive or re-stage some works that are known only from the history books. They are presented at the small Teatro Natzionale with a reduced company of dancers and orchestra but with fine production values. Next in the series will be August Bournenville’s La Sylphide (Maria Taglioni as the Sylph 18th century print) which I recall seeing many years ago in Toronto with the magnificent Eric Bruhn. As well come November we will get a full staging of The Red Poppy – one of those ballets from the Soviet era about the poor Chinese girl trapped in the Western-based opium trade but saved by the love of a Soviet sailor. I recall the Bolshoi performing it – to general derision – when they first toured North America in 1959.
  • The fall season at the Teatro dell’Opera has opened with Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande – and I just saw the cast list and we are getting the second cast. As I have mentioned before most operas here are double cast and you pays your money and takes your chances. That is not to say second casts are bad casts just not necessarily the ones you want to see. And this time around I am frankly disappointed: all the singers are Italian in what is one of the quintessential French operas. The first cast was a top notch French one – this is one time when I honestly feel double casting is a rip off. And it will interesting to see how Maestro Gelmetti and his orchestra handle a work that is really not in their blood.
  • Then I’ll be off to Athens in mid-month to visit my friends Yannis and Fotis and go to the … wait for it… opera. I shouldn’t feel ripped off there, one of my operatic idols Anna Caterina Antonacci (left) – who I saw this time last year in Medea – will be singing Gluck’s Alceste. And American tenor Gregory Knude is in the cast as well – he was so remarkable in Zelmira at this year’s Rossini Fesival. They are doing the French version which I’ve never heard and Fotis promises me that there may be a chance of making a fool of myself over Mme Antonacci after the performance. He made good on his promise with Agnes Baltsa so… problem is that I am known for saying the wrong thing as I abase myself before celebrities. I will have the infamous Marilyn Horne Ottawa 1986 exchange forever on my conscience.
  • I’m hoping to get up to the Verdi Festival for the Nabucco but tickets are currently not showing as available but I’ll keep trying. I always enjoy Parma – the city, the food (yes Dora the ham!) and the Festival.
  • Our concert season starts at the Academia at the end of the month and though it may not be as starry a season as last year its still a pretty good line up. A Russian mini-Festival, under the rather romantic title Passione Russa, will be highlighting some of the better and lesser known works of Čajkovskij, Rachmaninoff and company. Most will be conducted by music director Antonio Pappano (left, photo courtesy OC) though Opera Chic’s Uncle Solly – Yuri Termirkanov – is going to show us how the natives do it on at least one occasion. Michael Tilson Thomas will give us his thoughts on the 9th as part of an on-going Beethoven Fest. And Wayne Marshall, who blew us out of our seats literally last year with a very loud Porgy and Bess, is returning to try his hand at Bernstein and Broadway. Claudio Abbado plans to be a bit more traditional with his Mozart and Mendelssohn’s Italian. Vladimir Jurowsky with take us to Firezne with a concert performance of Gianni Schicchi starring Juan Pons. Pappano comes back in his yearly foray into Mahler and Georges Prêtre promises to take us through some Brahms. And that’s just our subscription, there’s a whole pile of other stuff going on throughout the season.
  • The rest of the season is up in the air where opera is concerned. The budget cuts mean that many of Italy’s opera houses have no idea what will be happening come the new year. Rome has given hints but a recent letter from Genova suggested they may have to close the house for the rest of the season. La Fenice still hasn’t said anything about the new season nor has San Carlo. Bologna and La Scala have both put out their calenders but without much to raise the old opera queen’s operaphile’s interest though I will definitely go up to Milan to see From the House of the Dead. Palermo may have some interesting things coming up and we are planning to go to Sicily at some point in the new year but other than that nothing else has captured my attention. But then, of course my dear Opera Chic will probably write about something and I’ll be rushing to Termini to catch a train to Cremona or Bolzano or Trieste.

Other than that nothing much planned musically over the next little while.

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