Archive for the “Premieres” Category

Fresh off its German premiere, composer and S21 blogger Lawrence Dillon‘s newest string quartet begins making its rounds of the U.S. this week, under the completely able fingers and bows of the Emerson String Quartet.

From the Invisible Cities String Quartet Cycle, String Quartet No. 5 combines elements of chaconne, passacaglia and theme-and-variations. The piece takes the Welsh tune “All Through the Night” through, as the Lawrence writes, “a dizzying and dazzling journey from twilight to twilight.”  The movements are Twilight – Variations; Dream – Chaconne; Dream – Passacaglia, and Variations – Twilight. The piece was commissioned by the Emerson Quartet and an anonymous donor, in honor of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

The U.S. premiere performances will happen Saturday, April 10, 7:30 PM at Watson Chamber Music Hall of University of North Carolina School of the Arts (1533 S. Main Street in Winston-Salem) and then Wednesday, April 14 at Meany Hall, the University of Washington (15th Ave, NE and NE 40th St., Seattle). The programs will also include works by Schubert, Barber, Ives and Dvorak.  Future performances of the Quartet are scheduled for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Here’s wishing this particularly well-travelled baby a bright future.

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Gyan RileyThe 15th Other Minds Festival kicks off this evening, offering San Francisco a three-day immersion in contemporary music from around the world.  One of the locals headlining this year is Gyan Riley, who’ll premiere his new quartet work commissioned by Other Minds, entitled When Heron Sings Blue.

Equally well known as a classical guitar virtuoso and as a composer, Gyan will take on his own guitar part in the quartet on the third festival night, joined by his Gyan Riley Trio bandmates Timb Harris (violin & viola) and Scott Amendola (percussion).   Electric bassist Michael Manring will complete the quartet.

Concert Three of the Other Minds Festival begins at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 6 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Full details and tickets are available here.

Gyan naturally had a lot going on this week but I was still able to get a few questions in front of him for the readers of Sequenza21.

S21:  How did the quartet instrumentation of When Heron Sings Blue come about? What was it about the piece that wanted an electric bass underpinning, and specifically Michael Manring?

GR:  As a guitarist, my early works consisted of primarily solo guitar writing.  In the last several years, however, my compositional output has shifted in the direction of ensemble writing.  One medium that is particularly enticing to me is that of violin, guitar, and percussion, and I assembled my trio as an ongoing project to satisfy this interest.

There are several reasons why I chose the violin.  To begin with, it was my first instrument (I played violin for five years, beginning at age 6).  As an element in the ensemble, the two main assets of the violin are the potential to slide between the notes, and the ability to crescendo on a given note (things that the guitar cannot accomplish without electronics).  Composing for violin has allowed me to vicariously express these musical desires.  Additionally, I’ve learned that these two qualities are wonderfully complimentary to the guitar, creating a uniquely beautiful composite sound.

The other reason that the microtonal possibilities of the violin are important to me is their close association with Indian music, which has been in my ears literally since birth.  (As a vocalist, my father has studied North Indian raga for nearly 40 years.)   Timb Harris, the violinist in my trio, although classically trained, has long since been fascinated with the music of Eastern Europe, and has traveled extensively in Romania to pursue this interest.  One of the reasons I invited him to join this project was his understanding non-Western idiom, and there is an audible and historical connection between the sentiment of Indian music and that of Romania.

Although Scott Amendola’s main instrument is the drum set, using chopsticks, brushes, mallets, and even his hands, and supplementing that with a variety of hand percussion instruments, he creates a plethora of sound unlike that of any other drummer I’ve heard.  His breadth of experience and understanding of jazz, avant-garde, and experimental improvisatory idioms contributes a vast array of possibilities to this project.

I have worked with bass guitarist Michael Manring on and off for about two years.  He has a unique ability to seamlessly drift in and out of the foreground, occasionally drawing from his vast repertoire of extended techniques, yet always in service of the musical objective.  In working with this ensemble, I grew to greatly enjoy the broad timbral spectrum and solid rhythmic foundation that the bass guitar provided—qualities that I now know would be fruitful additions to the existing trio, greatly benefiting our overall sonority. Read the rest of this entry »

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hersch1There was a fair amount of buzz a couple years ago (including here at s21), when composer Michael Hersch‘s enormous piano canvas The Vanishing Pavilions was released on CD. What the New York Times has written about Hersch’s work in general seems to apply quite well to this two-hour-plus piece: “If the symmetries and proportions of Mr. Hersch’s music evoke the grounded fixity of architecture, its dynamism and spontaneous evolution are those of the natural world. Its somber eloquence sings of truths that are personal yet not confessional… Within the sober palette, the expressive power and range are vast.

Turns out that this evening-length piece was only the first part of a trilogy of evening-length works — or rather, a “tet-trilogy”… The second part, Last Autumn, is a duo, and it exists in two versions: one for horn and ‘cello, the other for saxophone and cello. The horn/cello version was premiered in Philadelphia back in October last year, at the able hands of hornist (and Hersch’s brother) Jamie Hersch and cellist Daniel Gaisford. About that premiere, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns wrote:

“As great as [The Vanishing Pavilions] is, Last Autumn eclipses it. In the airier, more distilled Autumn, whose emotional riches defy the harmonic limitations of the instruments, the music exploits the instruments in every imaginable way. …Idea and sound were inextricably one, and more viscerally exciting for it. … Long, vigorous applause indicated that Hersch’s more personal and demanding works are no longer appreciated by only a few.”

And now the saxophone and ‘cello version of Last Autumn is getting its premiere this Saturday, Feb 27 at 8pm in Merkin Hall here in NYC. Once again Gaisford is cellist, joined this time by saxophonist Gary Louie.

I had a chance to ask Hersch some questions about the work, the trilogy as a whole, and his motivations. I was also able to get a few questions to Louie, about what it feels like to be involved in a piece of this scope:


S21: Michael, being a composer myself I know better than to ask you about why these enormous musical expanses have become necessary in your work. Still, even when following what we can’t help feel is the absolutely right path this music is leading us, short (Webern) or long (Wagner, Morton Feldman, Andrew Violette, David Toub, you), was there ever a moment where you had to look at the sheer size of these visions and think “is this crazy or what”?

Michael Hersch: When I first began to compose, many of the works I wrote were quite long. Most of these earliest efforts however are now withdrawn, including my undergraduate recital work which consisted of a single program-length piece (a work for trumpet and strings).  As I progressed through my twenties I felt that I should try and broaden, or in this case contract, the canvasses which I was working with. While there are a few works still in my catalog from those years, most of the pieces I wrote during this period I also am not satisfied with. It wasn’t until my thirties that I felt able to begin to naturally express myself in works of varying lengths – especially in pieces under thirty minutes. It was at this point however that I decided to begin work on The Vanishing Pavilions, which seemed a natural outgrowth of what I had done before. I also recognized that beginning this project was a decision that would necessarily have deep implications on how and what I would write for the foreseeable future. I certainly knew that a work of this scale would have little chance of ever being programmed. That said, most anything a composer writes in our age suffers this reality. If their were performers who could play this particular work or its later siblings, they would have to commit vast amounts of time and energy to learning a piece that they rarely, if ever, would be asked to perform. For The Vanishing Pavilions, my intention was to write, premiere and record the work myself. For Last Autumn, I was remarkably fortunate to have found performers beyond myself willing to commit the necessary time to the piece. It has been a surreal experience to witness the kind of selflessness they have brought to the task of learning the music.

You asked if I thought it crazy to write music on this scale. There is certainly precedent for composers embarking on journeys like this in the past. In my case, I think I felt at a certain point that due to life’s uncertainty, my time was best spent following what seems that absolutely right path you mentioned.

S21: Do you see the piece as an evening-length work from the outset, or does it only become apparent after starting the composition?

MH: I knew that the three works of this cycle would be in the neighborhood of 3 hours each from the outset. Writing each piece has been a slow, deliberate, years-long process, with unexpected turns along the way. The Vanishing Pavilions took over four years to write, Last Autumn three years. When I complete the last work in the cycle, the entire undertaking will have taken some ten years.

S21: Certainly unique among ‘epic’ compositions has to be that the whole almost-three hours of Last Autumn is a duo for two solo melodic instruments. Was there ever a temptation along the way to add another voice or two to the mix?

MH: When I decided to write the work, I knew that the specific performers I was writing for were capable of remarkable things on their respective instruments. The cellist, Daniel Gaisford, is able to solidly convey the resources of a cello, viola and violin, creating if called upon the illusion of a string trio.  In saxophonist Gary Louie, I knew I essentially had access to a quartet made up of horn, saxophone, clarinet and oboe. In the case of my brother Jamie, I knew he was capable of creating the illusion at different times of a bass trombone, tenor trombone, horn and trumpet. Ultimately, in both cases I felt I was writing for not a duo of two melodic instruments, but in fact a septet.

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Head’s up on a couple things this coming week that caught my eye:

WPRB’s Marvin Rosen is doing a special edition of his Classical Discoveries radio show this Wednesday, Jan. 27th. From 5:30 until 11:00 AM EST. Titled “East Meets West“, the entire five-and-a-half  hours will be devoted to works by Middle and Far Eastern Composers, as well as to works by Western composers inspired by these regions. A special treat in the 10-o’clock hour will be the world premiere broadcast of the Sonata for solo viola Op. 423 (1992) by Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), performed by Christina Fong (from a brand-new OgreOgress release).  Then from 11AM until 1PM, Marvin’s guest will be composer/improviser/percussionist Lukas Ligeti. A swell time all around, and as always no matter where you are your computer can bring you the broadcast live.

If you happen to be on the other coast that same day (Jan. 27th), you’re in for a treat if you head to the Pasadena Central Library (Donald R. Wright Auditorium, 285 E. Walnut St.) at 6PM PST, for a concert presented by Cellogrill (über-cellist Jessica Catron) and the Pasadena Creative Music Series.  The concert opens with the world premiere of composer Cat Lamb’s Branches for just-intoned female choir assembled especially for this occasion. Next up, MISSINCINATTI follows with folk songs of land and sea; forgotten tales about fantastical crocodiles, maritime ghosts and work in the mines illuminated before your very eyes with the assistance of many special musical guests. And finally, the compositions of RATS can confound and delight like a musical retelling of The Wizard of Oz by Captain Beefheart. And all this for the princely sum of FREE.

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The S.E.M. Ensemble will open its 40th anniversary season with its annual Christmas concert at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City on Tuesday, December 15. SEM has performed a holiday concert at the gallery for the last 25 years, and this year’s program will feature two N.Y. premieres by new-music icon Christian Wolff (above left), the first public performance of Petr Kotik‘s (above right) new percussion work performed by TimeTable Percussion, and Lejaren Hiller‘s rarely heard String Quartet no. 5, along with a work by J.S. Bach.

Christian Wolff is also marking his 75th birthday this year, and has put together a kind of celebratory all-Wolff concert at Roulette on Dec 12th. Christian was kind enough to write a bit about  his music on both of these concerts:

On December 15, the S.E.M. Ensemble will perform two New York premieres of my work: “Flutist (with percussionists)” and “For John”, as part of their annual concert at Paula Cooper Gallery (NYC). This will be one more in a long line of performances of my music by Petr Kotik and the S.E.M. Ensemble, beginning, I think, in the early 1970s, not long after Petr came to Buffalo – he had already organized the first performance of an early piece of mine in Prague in the 60s. There has been an extraordinary continuity of support. And, with this encouragement, I’ve also written pieces for the ensemble, as well as for the orchestra associated with it (the S.E.M. Orchestra in New York).

“Flutist (with percussionists)” came about when Chris Nappi, longtime percussionist for the SEM ensemble and friend, asked me for a piece – in exchange for music copying he had done for me. He wanted something to play with another percussionist, so the music is for more than one player. Then Petr Kotik, composer, conductor and excellent flutist, had me at his Ostrava (Czech Republic) New Music Days in 2003. I can’t exactly remember, but I think he was looking for some additional music for one of the concerts, so I made solo flute music for him, and then, since Chris was also there, it occurred to me the two pieces could be done simultaneously. Each piece has pauses of free duration, determined in the process of playing by the performers, so that they can be free to space their material in relation to one another, improvisationally. In addition, the flute material consists of a collection of shorter units which can be played in any sequence, as the player decides, and sometimes repeated, so that’s another element in ‘improvising’ the relation of the two pieces.

“For John” was written as part of a collaborative piece titled “For John” in celebration of John Cage at Bard College a few years ago (when the John Cage Archive was relocated at Bard). My contribution was a small set of piano nocturnes and “Material”, music playable by any smaller collection of performers (instrumentation not specified). The others collaborating were David Behrman, John King and Takehisa Kosugi, who played their own work simultaneously with mine, and intermittently we all played from the “Material”.

Then on Saturday, December 12, at 8:30 pm there will be a concert of my music at Roulette. The main item on the program will be the premiere of a new piece “Quintet”, written especially for this occasion.

After an earlier New York concert of my music, which was ok, but not quite ideal, I thought why not try to collect some of my favorite musicians who might be available in the New York area. 2009 is also the year of my 75th birthday, so this might also be a kind of celebration. The musicians are Larry Polansky, composer, long-time friend and colleague in Hanover, New Hampshire (but we both grew up in New York), and fine guitar player; Robyn Schulkowsky, also a longtime friend with whom I’ve done a lot of music, regarded in Europe as the premiere percussionist for new music, but also long associated with people like John Cage and Morton Feldman, and a great improviser; Robert Black, double-bass, also someone with whom I’ve worked over a long time, probably best known as an anchor of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. We also have all been involved in recordings of my music (Robert a CD of all my music involving double-bass, Robyn a solo percussion CD and she and Larry more recently on a recording of 10 “Exercises”). The other player, along with myself (on piano and melodica) will be Joey Baron, drummer, associated for years with John Zorn, but even better known as jazz drummer in his own right. Joey had been hearing my music in the last years and said he liked it, so it occurred to me to ask him to join us, and he agreed – a challenge for both us, me writing for a ‘non-classical/new music’ performer, him playing such music. The element of improvisation, or structural flexibility in my music I hope will provide a bridge.

The rest of the program will consist of earlier pieces, a double-bass solo “Look She Said”, a solo snare drum “Peace March”, and an electric guitar piece “Another Possibility,” written to make up for my losing (it was stolen) the only existing copy of a piece by Morton Feldman, “The possibility of a piece for electric guitar.”

Thanks Christian, Happy (late) Birthday, and have a great show or two!  More information for the S.E.M. concert can be had here; for the the Roulette gig click here.

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deChellywebDoes anyone remember the early August announcement that the American Composers Orchestra was going to begin a partnership with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to “Commission and Premiere New Music by Emerging American Composers”?  Well, whether you can wrap your head around that pairing or not, the first concert is happening on Monday night (November 30th) in Zankel Hall with Erin Gee’s Mouthpiece XIII: Mathilde of Loci, Part 1. Erin is the lucky recipient of the first commission through this new partnership.

There are two other world premieres on the program:

1)    Donal Fox: Peace Out for Improvised Piano and Orchestra.  Mr. Fox was the first African-American composer-in-residence with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and he will perform as soloist, improvising his part along with a fully composed score for the orchestra.
2)    Curt Cacioppo: When the Orchard Dances Ceased. The work includes parts for Native American folk voice and percussion instruments, both of which will be performed by the composer.

And, of course, there’s more… there will also be two New York premieres:

1)    Huang Ruo’s piece, Leaving Sao, is written for soprano or high male voice in folk style and chamber orchestra in memory of his grandmother. Sao in Chinese means sorrowful predicament.  I’m not totally sure, but I think he will also be the one singing this vocal part.
2)    Charles Ives: Tone Roads Nos. 1 & 3.  It looks like this will be the only piece on the program in which the composer is not also performing.  Couldn’t the ACO find a way to get Charles there as well?!

You can also find lots of video and audio content about all of these works here.

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I’ve just been informed via press release, that our s21 blogging regular Lawrence Dillon is a “mid-career composer.”  It’s nice to know that he’s only half-done making great music and not already washed-up!

Said release was about the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts LINKS Commissioning Awards, and the four composers who’ll be getting premieres thanks to it, at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in Winston-Salem — whose composer-in-residence just happens to be… yes, Lawrence Dillon. And one of which is by… yes, Lawrence Dillon. But since his is the odd man out location-wise and not first up, I’ll hold off that one to tell you about a couple others:

First up is Laura Kaminsky‘s Wave Hill, in Watson Hall at UNCSA Saturday, November 7, 2009 with pianist Allison Gagnon and Violinist Kevin Lawrence.  The composer writes: “Wave Hill is a multi-movement work inspired by the eponymous 28-acre public garden and cultural center in the Bronx overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. Wave Hill’s mission is to celebrate the artistry and legacy of its gardens and landscapes, to preserve its magnificent views, and to explore human connections to the natural world through programs in horticulture, education and the arts. Celebrating this special place through music, the piece evokes the garden’s changing landscape at different times of day and throughout the four seasons.”

Then on January 12, 2010, again in Watson Hall, David Maslanka will offer up an as-yet-untitled new work for two pianos and percussion, to be performed by The CanAm Piano Duo (Christopher Hahn and Karen Beres).

OK, now we can take a quick jaunt out of town and meet up with… yes, Lawrence Dillon. On January 15th, 2010 his brand-spanking-new String Quartet No. 4: The Infinite Sphere will be heard in Wolf Trap, Virginia, performed by The Daedalus String Quartet. The latest in Dillon’s Invisible Cities string quartet cycle, the fourth takes its inspiration from Pascal’s reference to an “infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” The piece taps the potentials of classical circular forms and techniques to create an exuberant, wheels-within-wheels showcase for a virtuosic ensemble.

Leaving… yes, Lawrence Dillon… and rounding out this little tour of “mid-career” folk, we need to get back to Winston-Salem and then the Stevens Center by May 21, 2010, when Randall Woolf‘s new work Native Tongues will see light of day under conductor Ransom Wilson, the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra and “beatbox flutist” Greg Pattillo. Even the orchestra will be getting their chance to rap & scratch on this one, so it promises to be one lively affair.

To purchase tickets for these UNCSA concerts, or for more information, call (336) 721-1945 or visit

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New ring!

New ring!

I’m in Baltimore covering the world (intergalactic) premiere of Judith Lang Zaimont‘s piano concerto, “Solar Traveller” with Timothy Hoft and the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble led by Harlan Parker. I caught the dress rehearsal yesterday and a composer masterclass, and will do some interviews today and film the concert tonight. (There is also Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 and Carolyn Bremer’s Early Light [based on the Star Spangled Banner] on the program!)
So I was amused to find this as I was checking news this morning:

(CNN) — Scientists at NASA have discovered a nearly invisible ring around Saturn — one so large that it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it. Its diameter is equivalent to 300 Saturns lined up side to side. And its entire volume can hold one billion Earths, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said late Tuesday. The obvious question: Why did it take scientists so long to discover something so massive?
The ring is made up of ice and dust particles that are so far apart that “if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn’t even know it,” Verbiscer said in a statement. Also, Saturn doesn’t receive a lot of sunlight, and the rings don’t reflect much visible light. But the cool dust — about 80 Kelvin (minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit) — glows with thermal radiation. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, used to spot the ring, picked up on the heat.

Coincidence? Maybe not. And of course, Zaimont has a charming piano suite “Callisto” based on the moons of Jupiter, as well as other astral works: ASTRAL… a mirror life on the astral plane…; Sky Curtains: Borealis, Australis; and Chroma: Northern Lights. Look for video of the new concerto in an upcoming Composing Thoughts.

Here are the program notes supplied by Zaimont about the new concerto:

I. Outward Bound (10:00)
II. Nocturne (Lunar) (8:40)
III. Ad astra per aspera (6:50)
Concerto “Solar Traveller” is absolute music, following no implicit program. Yet the work and its individual movements carry descriptive titles rather than the more traditional tempo markings. This is because the Concerto is one of several of my works drawing inspiration from the impress upon our consciousness and imagination of the vastness, wonder and beauty of the natural world of sky, season and space. These pieces (all instrumental works) share a dramatic and coloristic emphasis, and their forms are far from traditional. (This inspirational thread began with the twelve solo-piano preludes of A Calendar Set, and continues in similar works, including the orchestral Chroma – Northern Lights and the piano trio ZONES.)
While the Concerto outwardly observes the usual three-movement large form, its individual movements digress in key ways from an orthodox ‘concerto’ template. “Outward Bound” contrasts two themes, one heroic, energetic and the second inward and moody. The motive-filled first theme is announced by the piano and soon becomes a communal statement for soloist and ensemble. When the second theme enters, it too is stated by the piano alone and it remains predominantly soloist’s terrain throughout. Extensive development centers on extrapolations of the heroic theme; to balance, the cadenza is devoted entirely to the second theme. The movement concludes heroically .
“Nocturne (Lunar)” is the soloist’s terrain, punctuated and frequently partnered by the ensemble in music largely expansive, as if in ‘stopped’ time. As it proceeds a tune arises (heard first as a flute solo above quiet piano accompaniment), fashioned from the simplest of materials; each of the tune’s appearances anchors the movement, calming the mercurial, fragmentary outbursts from the piano. At times as desolate and unfamiliar as a lunar landscape, the nocturne eventually calms, concluding serenely.
A driving sprint, “Ad astra per aspera” grows from an insistent rhythmic cell freshened by hemiolas and other cross-rhythms and chromatic clashes. Percussion is spotlighted throughout, and the soloist shifts frequently from foreground to combining with the ensemble — a change of function which in itself becomes textural counterpoint to the forward thrust. A brief respite (trumpet solo) occurs during which the incessant beating disappears, but the essential rhythm returns shortly in full force. Towards the end the Nocturne’s theme enters in the ensemble, in overlapping meter with the soloist, who continues the main drive; just prior to the vehement close a fragment of the heroic first movement is again heard.
The work ties together through a technical feature: Each movement is built from the raw material of a progressively smaller interval.
Outward Bound’s themes are built from 3rds and all of the development highlights that consonant interval. (At one point there is a scale upwards across two-thirds of the keyboard in parallel thirds, played entirely by the left hand). Built from 2nds, the Nocturne achieves its uneasy, fragmentary quality from the clash of 2nds hammered loudly or (stretched to 7ths and 9ths) in glittering scherzo filigree. “To the stars, through adversity” is formed by ultimate compression: pounding unisons. Thus, the Solar Traveller pianist physically experiences the compressive forces and increased tensions we associate with space travel’s incredible speeds, through the analog of progressive intervallic compression throughout the piece.

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ninakotovaNina Kotova premieres a new work by Christopher Theofanidis this weekend in Dallas. In the second part of looking at the new work, I spoke with the soloist about the piece, and learned more about how the piece came into being. Listen to our conversation:

mp3 file
The concert takes place Thursday, Friday & Saturday – and more performances coming up in Asia & Europe.

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Chris Theofanidis

This week, the Dallas Symphony premieres a new concerto written for cellist Nina Kotova. Christopher Theofanidis is teaching at Yale and about to embark on two new operas for Houston and San Francisco. He took some time out last week to let me know more about the work and what he’s been up to!
Listen to the conversation:

mp3 file
Tomorrow, a post with the soloist, who also composes…

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