Upcoming Performance: Crystal Kaleidoscope for Horn and Vibraphone by Ken Davies

IMG_20190320_141315964In addition to the Dana Wilson song cycle performance mentioned in my earlier post, I’ll be performing another brand new work in April at the Society of Composers, Inc. Region VI Conference at Texas A&M University—Commerce. The composition is by Ken Davies, and is entitled Crystal Kaleidoscope for horn and vibraphone. My colleague Mel Mobley and I commissioned it with assistance from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. This is a fantastic initiative by the IHS, and well worth applying for and supporting! As of this writing, the fund is on hiatus from January 2019 through December 2019. Be on the lookout, however, for future funding opportunities.

Getting back to Crystal Kaleidoscope, Ken Davies is a very fine composer, and the works I’ve performed by him have been interesting and rewarding to play. The horn and vibraphone combination is pretty unique, and there are only a handful of other works in the repertoire for horn and mallet percussion, let alone this specific instrumentation. The first one that comes to mind is HornVibes: Three Duos for Horn and Vibraphone, by Verne Reynolds. For more information on this and other works for horn and mallet percussion, refer to Dr. Casey N. Maltese’s A Performance Guide of Selected Works for Horn and Mallet Percussion, D.M.A dissertation, the University of Miami, 2011. In my estimation, Crystal Kaleidoscope holds up very well when compared to the Reynolds, though it is quite different. Here is the composer’s note:

Look into the kaleidoscope. See the variously shaped colored crystals, their reflections producing continuous changing patterns. Each crystal has a unique structure, shape, and color—its own symmetrical, ordered, three-dimensional aggregation of atoms or molecules.

As the title suggests, this work is based on “crystals.” Though the sectional sub-titles may be whimsically named for gemstones, the musical crystals are pitch sets consisting of a few notes which are spun out into transformed patterns of melodic and harmonic variety. While the theorist/musicologist may want to delve into set analysis, I hope that others may simply enjoy the aural ride along the surface, letting the notes, chords, and timbres provide a worthy repeatable listening experience.

The writing is fun and challenging, but not unreasonably so, with lots of rhythmic and melodic interplay between horn and vibraphone. As the composer implies in his preface, there are some complex compositional operations at work, but the melodies and timbres are interesting enough in and of themselves without deep analysis. As I’ve found in other works by him, Ken likes to throw in periodic references to other styles such as funk and jazz. For instance, this short line for the horn in the final movement, “Crystal Collage,” has a pretty fun groove to it. Tempo is quarter note=92-104 or faster.

Davies Excerpt

If this post has piqued your interest in the music of Ken Davies, take a look at his website for a complete list of his many works. Here is a short list of works with horn, taken from his website.

  • Brain Fantasies for horn and two-channel audio
  • Sensuous Images for horn and pre-recorded soundscape
  • Waterscape for horn and digital media
  • Loose Connections – horn alone
  • Three Roads Diverged – brass trio – tpt, hrn, tbn
  • Concert Piece for Brass Quintet and Organ
  • Bayou Sketches – soprano, French horn, piano
  • Veiled Places for Woodwind Quintet
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Upcoming Performance: Dana Wilson Commission

Dana Wilson, Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus at the Ithaca College School of Music. Image obtained from https://www.danawilson.org/bio

On April 2 I’ll be joining my colleagues in Trio Mélange for a performance of a new work for voice, horn, and piano by Dana Wilson. Wilson is a widely recognized composer in multiple genres, and is Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus at the Ithaca College School of Music. The piece, Love me like a beautiful dream, is a six-movement song cycle commissioned in 2018 by a national consortium of horn players and their colleagues. The commission was initiated by Jeff Nelsen and his wife, mezzo-soprano Nina Yoshida Nelsen. Here’s a complete list of the participants in the consortium:

  • Jeff Nelsen, consortium initiator, and mezzo-soprano Nina Nelsen, Indiana University
  • Gene P. Berger, Ball State University
  • James Boldin and Trio Mélange, University of Louisiana Monroe
  • Aaron Brant and soprano Andrea Wells, University of Dayton
  • David Cooper, Dallas Symphony
  • Marlene Ford, Old Dominion University
  • Steven Gross, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • Nancy Joy, New Mexico State University
  • Jason Johnston, University of Idaho
  • Brian Kilp, Indiana State University
  • Peter Kurau, Eastman School of Music
  • Seth Orgel, Louisiana State University and Atlantic Brass Quintet
  • Jennifer Presar, Southern Illinois University
  • Alex Shuhan, Ithaca College
  • Bernhard Scully, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Jeffrey Snedeker, Central Washington University
  • Michael Walker, University of New Mexico
  • Gail Williams, Northwestern University

I’ve mentioned commissioning consortia before, as they are a great (and inexpensive) way to support the creation of new music. It’s exciting and rewarding to take part in the  process, and we are really looking forward to our performance. I have not yet confirmed it, but ours may be the first performance in Louisiana. On to some more information about the piece. In the composer’s words, here is a description of Love me like a beautiful dream :

A wondrous (and frightening) aspect of being human is that, despite the apparent differences among cultures over time and in various parts of the world, our basic emotional needs and desires have remained the same. Although the texts that make up this work span the past 2,500 years and are from as far away as Persia, Japan, and Madagascar, they could have been written by our close friends, so “contemporary” are their views and concerns about love. This set, then, explores the many aspects of this basic emotion that gives life its difficult pleasures, and what better instruments to express them than female voice, horn and piano.

As Wilson mentions, the six movements are all connected by the theme of love, though the subtleties and complexities of this emotion give rise to contrasting musical ideas. The writing for horn is quite nice, idiomatic but certainly not simplistic. The melodies in each movement are distinct, but unified by an often melancholy character. The work begins and ends with a beautiful unaccompanied horn solo. Here’s a brief excerpt from the first movement, “The sweet murmur of your voice,”   © 2018 by Dana Wilson, on a text by Sappho (translated by Mary Barnard) c. 6th Cent. BCE Greece:

Another interesting movement is the third, “When the dawn comes,” on an Anonymous text from 9th Century Japan, translated by Arthur Waley. The horn part specifies a straight mute, to be played with a “very quiet, hollow sound” and “mournful (like a Japanese flute).” I presume this indication refers to the Shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. Here’s the sound I am imagining:

It’s hauntingly beautiful, and I’ve been experimenting with different types of air, aperture shape, and mute placement to achieve something similar in character. A recording of the piece isn’t available yet, but hopefully one will be in the near future so that it can get some wider exposure. For the time being, keep an eye out for performances by the consortia participants. If you would like a score and parts, they can be obtained directly from the composer at this link, which also lists all of Wilson’s works with horn: https://www.danawilson.org/featured_instruments?instrument=Horn

In addition to the Wilson, I’ll also be performing another brand new work during the month of April. More information soon!

Looking for Horn Ensemble Music? – Check out the Kumamoto Horn Ensemble!

Kumamoto Horn Ensemble (KHE)

Recently I came across the website of the Kumamoto Horn Ensemble, a Japanese group founded in 2000 (see picture above, linked from their website). Their unassuming website is packed full of amazing arrangements for 4, 5, and 6 horns, as well as archived programs going back to their first concert. Many of their arrangements can be purchased from Corniworld Publications –  we’ve performed the 6-horn version of Finlandia here at ULM several times – but there are also quite a few available for FREE directly from their site. This spring we’ll be performing two of these: Shostakovich’s Festive Overture for 6 horns and Neuling’s Bagatelle for 4 horns and solo horn, both arranged by Takeshi Takahashi. They are difficult, but very good arrangements! To see the complete list of arrangements (free and paid), visit this page. In addition to the Shostakovich, there are many other substantial works, including Barber’s Adagio for Strings, several complete Beethoven symphonies, and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. There is enough music here to keep even the most ambitious horn ensemble busy for some time. To my knowledge, it’s the single largest source of free horn ensemble music anywhere. My suggestion is that if you like the free arrangements, visit Corniworld Publications and support the Kumamoto Horn Ensemble by purchasing one or more of their publications.

 

 

Semester Preview: Spring 2019

I’m a few days late with this semester preview, but things have gotten off to a great start here at ULM. Here’s a brief overview of some of the exciting events happening this spring.

  • Brass Trio Tour: Black Bayou Brass began our semester with a three-day tour of Northwest Louisiana and East Texas. We performed for and worked with several great groups of students. In addition to a few run-out concerts to local schools this spring, we will be busy preparing for our annual faculty recital on April 17. Program details to come in a future post.
  • Guest Artists Galore: We often have multiple guest artists on the ULM campus each academic year, but this spring we’ll have more than the usual number, including several fantastic horn players. Our first guest artist this spring was Centria Brown, a DMA candidate at Louisiana State University, studying with Professor Seth Orgel.  Ms. Brown is a fellow native of North Carolina and earned her undergraduate degree at Wingate University. She gave a fantastic master class and recital, with a program including the Nelhybel Scherzo Concertante, Mozart 4, Krol Laudatio, and the Lars-Erik Larsson Concertino, op 45, no 5. This coming week we’ll be welcoming another guest, Timothy Thompson, Professor of Horn at the University of Arkansas. He’ll be performing a program of unaccompanied works entitled “Around the World with the Horn.” On February 8 we’ll host the Quintasonic Brass for our annual Brass Day workshop. In addition to a recital by Quintasonic Brass, the day’s events will also include a special horn pedagogy clinic and exhibits by Houghton Horns. To close out this impressive roster of horn artists, the Cobalt Quartet will perform a recital on March 12. Members include several prominent horn performers and teachers from across the country: Jena Gardner, Katie Johnson, Caroline Steiger, and Rose Valby. In addition to these horn players, euphonium virtuoso Demondrae Thurman will be in residence for two days, presenting a guest recital (Feb. 25), master classes, and more.
  • Chamber Recitals, Premieres, etc. Along with preparations for our brass trio recital on April 17, I’m also working towards two performances of brand new chamber works with horn. On April 2, I’ll join my colleagues in Trio Mélange for the Louisiana premiere of Dana Wilson‘s song cycle, Love me like a beautiful dream for soprano (or mezzo-soprano), horn, and piano. This substantial new work was commissioned by a consortium initiated by hornist Jeff Nelsen, and his wife, mezzo-soprano Nina Nelsen. The six movements include settings of texts ranging from the 6th century B.C.E. to the 20th century. It’s a hauntingly beautiful work, and is sure to get many more performances in the coming years. Shortly after that, my colleague Mel Mobley and I will travel to Commerce, TX to premiere Crystal Kaleidoscope, a new work for horn and vibraphone by Ken Davies. We commissioned this piece with some generous help from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. I have a fairly light orchestral load this spring, which should balance out well with my other teaching and performing obligations.
  • Texas Music Educators Association Convention: TMEA is widely recognized as one of the biggest (and best) music education conferences in the world, and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to attend for a few days in February. I won’t be performing or presenting, but I look forward to my first time at this event. More details in future posts!
  • Editorial and Review Activities: Carving out time to write blog posts has been a bit difficult for me these past several months, as (among other things) I’ve been engaged in some related activities – namely reviewing new books and compositions for the Horn Call, and, more recently, joining the IHS Online Music Sales editorial team. I have enjoyed my work on both projects, and I’m especially excited to be involved with the “Music of Douglas Hill” collection. Be on the lookout for several new additions to this section of the online catalog in the coming months. That being said, I am hopeful that I can return to at least a semi-regular blogging schedule this semester. With all of the varied happenings I shouldn’t have any trouble finding material to write about!

As always, best wishes for a great semester to my colleagues near and far.

Recording Reviews: Richard Deane; Steven Cohen

I seldom post recording reviews on this site, but every once in a while I either receive a complimentary album in the mail, or hear about a project that piques my interest. To close out a series of reviews from this summer, here are two horn recordings that are well worth your time.

Mid-Century Sonatas for Horn and PianoRichard Deane, horn; Timothy Whitehead, piano

  • Halsey Stevens, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1953)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Althorn in Es und Klavier (1943/1956)
  • Bernard Heiden, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1939)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Horn und Klavier (1939)
Front+CoverBIGGER

These sonatas for horn and piano by Halsey Stevens, Paul Hindemith, and Bernard Heiden are staples in the repertoire. Deane is Associate Principal Horn in the New York Philharmonic, and served as Acting Principal for the 2017-18 season. He was previously a member of the Atlanta Symphony for many years. Though the repertoire is conventional, the extremely high caliber of the performances makes this recording special. Deane plays with a huge but focused sound. To my ear the “New York sound” has changed over the years, partially due to changes in equipment, I’m sure, but also probably as a response to the ever increasing demands of the job. Whitehead’s piano playing is equally impressive – especially in the final movement of the Hindemith E-flat Sonata – and is a fitting musical counterpart to the horn in these works.  There is not much in the way of liner notes, but there is a very nice video on YouTube with background about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP-kJf8xiJM  One other interesting note about this album is that Whitehead not only performed on piano, but did all of the recording, producing, editing, and mixing – not a small feat! The recording is both vibrant and clear, and for those who might be interested the recording equipment is listed in the liner notes.

Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers – Steven Cohen, horn; Jed Moss, piano; Scott Shinbara, percussion; Amanda Sealock, percussion

  • James Naigus, Sonata for Horn and Piano
  • Jenni Brandon, Dawn for Horn in F and Piano
  • Adam Wolf, Cruise Control for Horn, Piano and Percussion
  • Wayne Lu, Pranayama
  • Gina Gillie, Sonata for Horn and Piano
IMG_5653

Cruise Control is a contrasting but equally interesting album by New York City freelancer Steven Cohen, and features world premiere recordings by several up and coming American composers. This project was sponsored by Siegfried’s Call, with a significant portion of the funding generated through an Indiegogo campaign. Be sure to check out the Indiegogo link for more information about the project and the commissioning process.

The music on this disc is fun and fresh, and showcases what I think the horn does best: play beautiful melodies and exhibit a variety of timbres. Cohen navigates the full range of the horn with ease and expression (using similar equipment to Richard Deane, a triple horn by Engelbert Schmid). Stylistically there is a bit of everything on this recording, from Neo-romanticism in the Sonatas by James Naigus and Gina Gillie to Minimalism and Rock in Cruise Control by Adam Wolf, and avant garde extended techniques in the works by Jenni Brandon and Wayne Lu. This recording is a musical and technical tour de force, and serves as a great resource for anyone interested in new music for the horn.

Trios for Horn, Trombone, and Tuba

k32067000000000-00-500x500A colleague from another university contacted me recently to ask for some recommendations about low brass trios (horn, trombone, tuba). Having just performed a program featuring music for this ensemble at the International Trombone Festival and the International Horn Symposium, I was interested to see what other repertoire might be out there. Based on a cursory search of my favorite online music retailers (and a few other places), here’s what turned up. It’s a more limited selection than the high brass trio, but more than I thought would be readily available. *This list only includes original works, not arrangements or transcriptions. I haven’t performed very many of these, although several of them look promising based on what I know of the composers’ other works. As I mentioned in my presentation at IHS 50, low and high brass trios are ripe for scholarship and creative activity in the form of recordings, commissions, arrangements, etc. If you have an interest in brass chamber music beyond the standard quintet, give the brass trio a serious look.

IHS 50 Report, Part 1

For the next few days, much of the horn world can be found in Muncie, Indiana for the 50th International Horn Symposium, hosted by Gene Berger at Ball State University. The theme of this year’s symposium is “The Golden History of Horn,” and throughout the week there will be several special events commemorating the last 50 years of symposia. IHS 50 got off to a rousing start this morning at the 10:00 a.m. opening concert, featuring members of the IHS Advisory Council and friends. Here’s the program from the opening concert (the full symposium program can be found online here)

Howard Buss,“Fanfare for a Golden Era” for 15 horns *World Premiere
Christopher Wiggins, Suite # 5 for Eight horns op. 169 *World Premiere
Richard Strauss/arr. Peter Damm, Eine (kleine) Alpensinfonie op. 64 for 15 horns, organ and glockenspiel
The Buss and Wiggins premieres were exciting, but the star of this program was of course Peter Damm’s arrangement of the Strauss. Despite being a fraction of the length of the full orchestral work, Damm’s adaptation captured all of the big horn moments from Strauss’s mammoth tone poem, including the off-stage brass. This piece is unpublished, and as such is seldom performed. It was truly a memorable event, see above for a photo of the ensemble just after the performance. I should also add that Ball State University has gorgeous music facilities, and a very beautiful campus overall. Most of the performances, lectures, and exhibits are located within a short walk of each other.
After a quick lunch I got set up for my presentation, Brass Trio Repertoire: Beyond Poulenc, based on an article I published in the 2015 Horn Call. It went very well, and the audience seemed quite interested in finding out more about original music for brass trio. The highlight for me was getting to catch up with my former teacher, Douglas Hill, who attended the presentation.
Next, I had a rehearsal with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Horn Choir, Directed by Dr. Catherine Roche-Wallace. It was an honor to perform with them as part of the prelude music for the evening concert. Their program was as follows:
Thomas Jöstlein, Campbell Fanfare
Engelbert Humperdinck, Prelude-Chorale from “Hansel und Gretel” arr. Jeffery Kirschen
James Naigus, Halcyon
Percy Grainger, Selections from Lincolnshire Posy, arr. Dick Meyer
Eric Ewazen, Grand Canyon Octet (I. Allegro maestoso)
Bravo to Dr. Roche-Wallace and her students on a great performance, and thanks for asking me to play!
After the rehearsal I attended a bit of the 4:00 p.m. concert. I had to leave early to grab some dinner before the 6:15 p.m. Prelude performance, but had a chance to hear some fantastic playing by Katie Johnson-Webb from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (Sonatas by Trygve Madsen and Wolfgang Plagge) and Jonathan Gannon from Florida A&M University (Earth Songs by Laurence Lowe).
The evening concert featured Elizabeth Freimuth, Principal Horn of the Cincinnati Symphony, and Robert Danforth, Principal Horn of the Indianapolis Symphony. The program included frequently performed works like the Villanelle by Paul Dukas, and some less frequently-performed works like Kurt Atterberg’s Concerto, Op. 28 and Franz Anton Rossler’s Concerto in Eb. I have heard both of these pieces in the past, but it has been a while, and hearing these virtuoso performers has inspired me to give them a second look. The Rossler sounds a little like Mozart, as he was a direct contemporary, but with more ornamentation. The Atterberg is a true tour de force, and Elizabeth Freimuth’s performance  was especially noteworthy. One last word about this concert, and a general theme for horn conferences and symposia, is that there are lots of really different (but equally valid) solo horn sounds out there. Tonight’s soloists sounded very different from each other, but they both played beautifully. For those who might be interested, based on what I could see from the audience Freimuth performed on a Knopf-style brass horn, and Danforth performed on (I believe) a silver Schmidt-style horn. It was a fantastic program, but being worn out from my all-day drive to Muncie the day before, I left after intermission to get a head start on some rest.
That’s all for this report. Check back soon for more!

Upcoming Conference Performances

While my summer has been restful so far, I’ve also been preparing for two conference performances with Black Bayou Brass. The first of these is the International Trombone Festival, July 11-14 at the University of Iowa, which will be quickly followed by the 50th International Horn Symposium, July 30 – August 4 at Ball State University.

Our ensemble for these performances is a low brass trio, composed of horn, trombone, and tuba. As with the high brass trio (trumpet, horn, trombone), the repertoire for low brass trio is limited, but with a few hidden gems. Here’s our program, with links to more information about the composers as well as YouTube links where available. If you aren’t familiar with the sound of a low brass trio be sure to listen to some of the recordings linked below. I’ve found it just as fulfilling as performing in a high brass trio, although the demands are slightly different. The horn has to play out in both groups, but being the lead voice in the low brass trio you have to lead a bit more (think like a trumpet player!)

It’s a great program, about 30 minutes of music, with lots of variety. Relationships by Canadian composer Elizabeth Raum was commissioned and recorded by three members of the brass faculty at Arizona State University, John Ericson, Deanna Swoboda, and Douglas Yeo, on their album Table for Three. It’s a very substantial three-movement work, with intricate writing in every part. The most notable, and by far the most performed composition on our program is Triangles, by John Stevens. Composed in 1978 for members of the Pentagon Brass Quintet, Triangles consists of several contrasting sections performed without pause. This piece has a bit of everything – classical, jazz, funk, Latin, etc. – all rolled into one. Fans of John Stevens will recognize many of the little licks and other stylistic fingerprints in this work which found their way into his later compositions. It’s a wonderful piece that every horn player should get a chance to play. Roger Jones, retired Professor of Tuba and Theory/Composition at the University of Louisiana Monroe, has a substantial catalog of noteworthy pieces. He’s been especially kind to our brass trio, and delivers again with this Trio for Horn, Trombone and Tuba. Composed in 1977, it’s the oldest work on the program, but has been seldom performed. If you plan on attending either this year’s International Trombone Festival or International Horn Symposium, I hope you can stop by and listen to our performance!

Throwback Thursday: Strauss 1 from 2004

From way back in my video archives, I dug out this live recording of a D.M.A. recital performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s been really fun listening to this recording  – the video quality is pretty bad, but the audio is actually ok – and reminiscing about those days. The conductor is Matthew Beecher, another D.M.A. horn candidate who was working towards a minor in conducting, and the orchestra is the Camerata Chamber Orchestra, an ad hoc group made up of graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin. Matthew and I shared this concert, with me performing the Strauss on the first half, and him performing the Britten Serenade on the second. He definitely had the more difficult job, and I remember the entire concert coming off really well. The video is too grainy to see much detail, but if memory serves the equipment is as follows:

  • Yamaha 667V
  • Moosewood B 13 (Y) mouthpiece, with an M2 rim (I think)

I definitely am a better all-around horn player now, but there are some things I really do like about this performance. This would have been my first semester as a doctoral student, and I was still working out some issues in my sound and overall approach to the horn. Yet, there’s a fearlessness to the playing and some musical ideas that I enjoy. It wasn’t a “perfect” performance, but it was definitely fun!

I performed the entire concerto, but unfortunately the DVD seems to have been damaged somehow, and the only electronic backup I had was of the first movement. Perhaps at some point I’ll be able to track down the rest of the piece.

New Routine Materials: Denise Tryon Routine and Marvin Howe’s The Advancing Hornist

In a post from earlier this  year, I talked about the benefits of adopting a modular approach to the daily routine. In short, rather than playing exactly the same exercises every single day, you instead compile a variety of things from each of the major categories of fundamentals. From these you can then rotate exercises in and out of your routine for variety and to address specific needs.

Getting to the subject of this post, I’ve recently been drawing upon two publications for use in my routine. The first is by Denise Tryon, formerly 4th Horn in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and now full time faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. Her routine is available as a PDF download, and comes with recordings and explanations by the author for all of the exercises. It’s not lengthy as far as routines go, but covers all of the basics in a very efficient way. Ms. Tryon mentions that once perfected the routine should only take about 25-30 minutes, although it might take as long as 45 at the beginning. Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of these studies; when played correctly they are challenging and very effective. One other notable feature of this routine is the marketing. To my knowledge there are no physical materials to buy – the entire package is sold as a “course” through Ms. Tryon’s website, and everything is accessible online. In addition to the routine there is another course available dealing specifically with auditions and low horn excerpts. I’m really enjoying working out of this routine, and highly recommend it!

Another great collection of routine-type materials that has been around awhile but isn’t really talked about too much is Marvin Howe‘s The Advancing Hornist series. Edited by Randall Faust and available through Faust Music, this two-volume set contains some unique and progressive exercises that were really ahead of their time. I’ve been using the descending scale studies in my own practice routine, and the lip slurs and long tone duets during lessons. As someone who wasn’t that familiar with Marvin Howe’s pedagogy, it’s been interesting to note the similarities and differences among Howe and his contemporaries like Farkas, Schuller, and others. In many ways Howe was very forward-thinking, and his publications are certainly deserving of a place among the other great horn pedagogues of the 20th century. Both volumes are very reasonably priced, and well worth checking out.

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