Violinist.com members may keep personal journals on the website. Violinist.com's editor selects the best entries for the column below. Links to all other recent blog posts may be found in the column on the right.
By Karen Rile
October 31, 2014 13:37
I wish I could get to up to New York this weekend to see John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer, a Metropolitan Opera production that has sparked protests at Lincoln Center and conflict in the press.
I also won't be able to attend one of the Met's live HD video broadcasts locally. Klinghoffer has been dropped from the Met's broadcast schedule because it's too controversial. And that's too bad—the Met's tagline for the production is "See it first. Then decide."
How often does a highbrow music production stir up passionate debate and civil disobedience? How often does art dare to address the raw-nerve political issues of the day? In my own lifetime, not much.
Most of the picketers outside Lincoln Center haven't seen the opera; many have never seen any opera. But suddenly, to them, it's important. Suddenly opera matters. John Adams matters. Contemporary music matters. Wouldn't it be great for the arts if the public suddenly felt passionate about symphonic music, ballet, chamber music, poetry?
Is this how it felt to be at the opening of The Rite of Spring in 1913? or Salome in 1905, or John Millington Synge's play The Playboy of the Western World, whose premiere touched off Irish nationalist riots in 1907?
In addition to civilian protesters, both against and in support of the production, politicians have not hesitated to jump into the fray. Former Mayor Rudy Giulani, an opera buff, was in the crowd denouncing Klinghoffer. Giuliani, who has read the libretto (you can, too: here) and listened to recordings, refuses to see the production. He was joined in his ire by former governors Pataki and Paterson and a bunch of congressmen and other politicians—and lambasted by current Mayor Bill de Blasio.
By contrast, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who attended opening night and was spotted giving a standing ovation, came out in favor of Klinghoffer in a talk last week at the University of California. “There was nothing anti-Semitic about the opera," she said. “The terrorists are not portrayed as people that you would like. Far from it."
Earlier this week I wrote a piece on the opera for JSTOR Daily, a publication that strives to contextualize current events with scholarly articles from its archives. In the article, which I hope you will read, I included interviews with a woman who attended the Met premiere last Monday and another who saw the original performance—also highly controversial—at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1991. There’s also a discussion and link to a highly readable essay by UCLA musicologist Robert Fink about the original premiere and why it was received so poorly by the public at the time.
Fink's idea, which is alluded to in Alex Ross' New Yorker essay on the opera, is so interesting in itself that I won't provide any spoilers except to say that a pivotal, problematic early scene was removed from the opera following the Brooklyn premiere 23 years ago.
According to Fink, the excision—a form of self-censorship in reaction to public opinion—changes the structure and balance of the opera in a way that introduces a different set of problems regarding its interpretation by audiences in the current political climate.
Some say the opera in its present form glamorizes terrorism, or that it is is immoral because it humanizes the characters of the PLO terrorists who murdered Leon Klinghoffer, a frail elderly man, during a cruise ship hijacking in 1985.
But I am struck by the words of Susan Scheid, a New York-based music blogger who attended Klinghoffer's highly controversial premiere of the opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1991 and has tickets for the current performance.
“...it’s important to look deeply inside implacable conflicts like those in the Middle East, and to recognize that terror is not committed by alien beings, but by human beings. Failure to recognize that dooms us to more of the same," she says.
What, after all, is the purpose of art? To entertain us and bring us temporarily relief from the strife around us? I hope for something more.
My friend Tim Ribchester, a conductor, arranger, and pianist, published this thoughtful statement on his Facebook, which I repeat here with his permission:
"Art's purpose is to explore and unpack human sentiment and behavior, good and evil and all the ambiguities in between. It should not be censored. It should provoke fierce, impassioned, non-violent debate. I think it is wonderful that a contemporary work of art is engaging enough to cause the level of controversy currently enveloping Klinghoffer. It won't in itself bring us peace or resolution but it at least has provoked reflection and brought us back to the idea that art has influence beyond its escapist social bubble."
Photo credits: Reuters; Metropolitan Opera Tweet
By The Weekend Vote
October 31, 2014 12:06
This weekend is Halloween, All Saints' Day, and in my neighborhood in Southern California, "Dia de los Muertos."
Of course this has me thinking about the pieces in our classical repertoire, and which ones are the scariest and spookiest. I've compiled a few for your to consider for this week's vote. Also, please share your favorite scary or spooky music and let us know why you like it and any related stories!
Here's a piece especially for us fiddle players, with scordatura violin (the E tuned down to an Eb for that evil tritone effect). It's the violinist's music that coaxes skeletons from their graves at midnight on Halloween. Spoooky!
Danse Macabre (Saint-Saëns) - Angèle Dubeau (2013)
The great violinist Paganini was said to have to have traded his soul to the devil for his terrific violin chops. Here is his "Witches' Dance," played by the late Eugene Fodor. To me it doesn't sound scary, just wicked good.
Le Streghe ('Witches' Dance') (Paganini) - Eugene Fodor
When I was a child, we frequently viewed this clip from Disney's "Fantasia" when we had snow days, etc. It gave me nightmares! I always did enjoy playing the piece, which isn't a bad one for youth orchestras.
Night On Bald Mountain (Mussorgsky) - Fantasia (1941)
The last movement of Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique" incorporates the "Dies Irae," the 13th c. Latin hymn about Judgment Day that is also used in the requiem mass, which adds a dimension of deep-seated spook.
Symphonie Fantastique, IV-V (Berlioz)
A few Halloweens ago, a neighbor's spectacular yard display included this video, projected onto an entire wall of their house! This wouldn't win for music composition alone (it's all pretty derivative), but what puts it into the running for me is its apt use of animation to magnify the feeling of the music:
Silly Symphony Skeleton Dance (Disney 1929)
So which spooky piece do you like best, of these? And if your favorite is not included (and I had to leave out so many, I'm sure this is very possible!) please share what your favorite spooky, Halloween-ish tune is!
By Claire Allen
October 29, 2014 20:40
My teaching life changed tonight, and it's because of something my 7-year-old student, Hannah, said to me. "Why are all the composers I learn about men?"
In my studio, right now, my students are divided into four teams, and those teams are participating in a variety of activities to earn points. I am keeping score for them and the winners will be announced right before our winter recitals - which, conveniently, they will be even more prepared for. They get points for practicing. They get points for completing a certain number of scale bowings, or reaching milestones in their etude books. They get points for attending concerts, and for reading books on music.
Hannah has proven to be a fierce competitor. Her mom ordered several of Mike Venezia's Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers series and she has gone through one of them every single week, bringing in hand-written notes.
Today, she brought me some wonderfully written notes on George Frideric Handel. At the top of the page, she had written: "Question from Hannah: Why are all the composers I learn about men?"
It stopped me in my tracks. I consider myself a thoroughly modern woman. I vote. I own property. I have my own bank account. I have my own business. I drive. I even drive if my boyfriend is in the car.
And yet, my repertoire as a performing violinist and as a teacher, is almost completely written by deceased white males. In keeping with my classical training and tradition, I'm passing this repertoire down to my students.
Don't get me wrong. I LOVE the music by the famous classical composers. I'm currently learning works by Wienawski, Brahms, and Beethoven. I earned both my college degrees playing their music. I love it. It's so much a part of me that it took my seven year old student to get me to really look at my repertoire.
When I explained to Hannah that a long time ago, women's rights were limited, she looked at me blankly. She was born in the 21st century. Such a world seems foreign to her, and I am glad of it.
In her lesson, I gave her a list of female composers and told her that if she researched them and took enough notes, I would count that as reading a book for our studio challenge. It seemed only fair, and I wasn't sure that I would be able to find children's biographies of female composers.
I came home from teaching and immediately went to Amazon, where I found a few children's books on Hildegard von Bingen, Nannerl Mozart, Clara Schumann, and Fanny Mendelssohn. I instantly sent them to Hannah's mother, and I will look forward to hearing her thoughts on them in the near future!
Then, I wondered if I could find music by female composers at a comparable level to Suzuki Book 1. I googled "violin music by women" and found a treasure: http://www.violinmusicbywomen.com. It's a graded anthology - with four volumes, from beginner to advanced level, all written by women. Some are historic and some are written by living composers.
I ordered all four volumes and am going to work on incorporating them into my teaching. Besides Hannah, who is one of my most outspoken students, I have several other modern young women in my studio who will want to play music written by women closer to them in history. For that matter, there are modern young men in my studio as well, who will learn that women compose music that it is worth their while to play. There will always be a place for the classics, and those wonderful men whose music has endured through the centuries. But from now on, in my studio, music by women will be studied and performed, too.Tweet
By Robert Niles
October 28, 2014 12:51
In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.
Photo courtesy the artist
Chee-Yun performed the Tchaikovsky with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.
Anne Akiko Meyers performed Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with the Des Moines Symphony.
Joshua Bell performed works by Schubert, Grieg and Prokofiev in recital with pianist Alessio Bax.
Pinchas Zukerman performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
Yuriy Bekker performed the Beethoven with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.
Agata Szymczewska performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 with The Swan Orchestra.
Jeffrey Multer performed the Barber with the Florida Orchestra.
Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!Tweet
By Laurie Niles
October 27, 2014 22:54
When one thinks of a "recital hall," generally a 2,200-seat venue does not come to mind.
Yet within the first quiet moments of Schubert's Violin Sonata in A major, D. 574, Joshua Bell and pianist Alessio Bax somehow cast such a strong feeling of intimacy over their recital, it seemed to take place in a living room rather than the capacious Disney Hall on Sunday evening.
Of course, architect Frank Gehry meant Disney Hall to be a "living room for the city of Los Angeles" -- but Joshua Bell knew how to play it that way. The choice of repertoire -- the Schubert, Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 8 and Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80 -- showcased music with fine detail, moments of stillness mixed with the movement, and a nice range of effects for piano and violin. The hall did its job, but so did the performers, arresting the attention of their large audience with their finely focused music-making.
The Schubert flowed like water, with both performers sensitive to one another and well-balanced in their interplay. Did Schubert, writing these pieces as a fairly young man, ever think that anyone would play this music with so much care? They captured the energy of the second movement, the changing moods of the third movement, everything so finely put together.
I couldn't decide if I'd ever heard the Grieg Sonata -- if so, it's certainly not a piece I've heard frequently. The melodious first movement was in turns sunny and stormy, and full of decisive "endings" that don't really end the movement. The actual ending just trails into the sky. The second movement has some folksy passages, skittering spiccato, and the little pizzicato that ended that movement made audience members chuckle audibly. The third movement leaps high, dives low, and Joshua and Alessio were decisive in every gesture, sure-footed traversing this changeable landscape.
After intermission came the Prokofiev, a serious and challenging piece, and here is where I noticed that I was listening to Joshua Bell for the wisdom in his playing. He may have the timeless look of a young man, he may entertain us at times, but he also has the conspicuous maturity of a concert artist that has been at his craft for 40+ years.
The first movement of the Prokofiev feels like a journey over a dark landscape: quiet plodding, with the piano in its lower end. Joshua's vibrato could range from nothing to molto, sometimes in the course of just a note, and his double-stops had reassuring stability. Toward the end of the movement was a shivery effect, fingers running lightning-fast up and down the fingerboard, muted, and illuminated only by long quiet bows. Prokofiev told Oistrakh that he meant this to sound like "the wind in a graveyard," according to the program notes, and indeed it did. "Ooooh," came a spontaneous murmur from an audience member behind me.
By contrast, the second movement was loud, busy and intense. The muted third movement seemed almost French; it had every kind of watery, sparkly, shimmery, wash-of-color effect I could think of in both piano and violin, and Josh's melodious high playing was simply gorgeous. The fourth movement was frenetic, full of energy, then changing, back to shivering in the graveyard in the end. What a journey.
Joshua announced several encores from the stage: Rachmaninov's "Vocalise," which sang easily and was spellbinding in his hands. Then came Sarasate's virtuoso piece, "Introduction and Tarantella," which showed his astonishing precision and well-calculated dynamics.
What a treat.
* * *
After the recital, both Joshua Bell and Alessio Bax came to the lobby to sign CDs for audience members, who formed a nice long line to greet them. Here I am with Joshua after the recital:
By Laura Dalbey
October 27, 2014 20:24
After reading a recent discussion about a currently debated fiddle/improv method, I thought I'd add a couple of options to the list, since there really are many different excellent methods to use with students these days :) :). My students have been loving Martin Norgaard's "Jazz Fiddle Wizard" series. I think it is probably most appropriate for middle school aged students at the Suzuki book 4/5 level. The books really take them through some ways of thinking about improvising and then give them ample opportunities to use their new skills. A couple of my Suzuki-raised students are incredible improvisers - especially good at hearing the chord changes and creating rhythmic variety in their improvs.
By Karen Rile
October 25, 2014 19:25
Should you take your children to classical concerts? Maybe not: you might risk expulsion and public humiliation.
Just last week at the New World Symphony Michael Tilson Thomas halted the orchestra in the middle of a performance because a little girl in the front row was distracting him.
The story went viral when a popular classical music blog reported Tilson Thomas had booted a child and her mother from the concert, although later he claimed he merely asked them to relocate to the side of the hall.
Eyewitnesses say that the girl had been lying quietly on her mother's lap watching a movie on an iPad during the performance—miserable concert etiquette, since bright screens are painfully distracting in a darkened hall. But was that more of a disruption than the conductor's action?
Some online commenters accused Tilson Thomas of prima donna behavior, pointing out that he's prone to meltdowns. (Last year he lobbed a fistful of cough drops at a noisy Chicago audience.) Others blamed the hall management: ushers should have known not to seat a 7-year-old directly in the conductor's sightline. There was plenty of vitriol for the mother, too. "That's why there are children's concerts," said one.
When my kids were little, our family had 4 season opera tickets for a family of 6. Our daughters bargained with one another over who would get to see which opera. Once, as we were taking our seats, the woman in the row in front of us turned around and hissed, "I hope those children behave." Funny, because I'd be willing to bet that at ages 9 and 11 they knew The Elixir of Love better than she did.
My own kids were well-behaved, maybe because they learned concert decorum from one another. In fact, I went out of my way to purchase seats where they could see well. We were often front row center (I remember Joshua Bell winking from the stage at my daughter, an avid violin student, when she was 11.)
It's not that we didn't have some heart-stopping incidents. My youngest kid got a sudden nosebleed during a performance where there was no escape because we were seated in the middle of a long row. And me with no spare tissues. (With regret, I handed her my silk scarf.) At the 2002 premiere of Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra our family bought tickets for a box above the orchestra so the kids could watch the action close up. When our 8-year-old leaned over the rail for a better look at the percussion section, her program slipped precariously from her fingers. She clapped her hand over her mouth in horror as we watched it flutter down between the timpani.
I am happy to report that no musicians or drums were harmed; a friend of ours watching from the center of the hall told me that the orchestra members seemed to not notice. Later, when I was interviewing the composer for an article, I mentioned the dropped program and she laughed. "I remember your daughter!" she said happily.
The thing is: musicians know we need kids to love music if there's to be a future for the classics.
Last night at her birthday dinner I asked my oldest daughter what she felt about being a very young concertgoer. Here's what she said:
As I got older, I could see that bringing us to concerts and plays was your investment. You trained us to be audience members by doing it over and over again and teaching us how to behave.
Think it through, parents: bring your kid but leave the iPad at home. As for the rest of us: we're all in this together, creating the next generation of listeners. Tweet
For beginners especially - how to maintain a love for the violin once the secret is out that it's hard...By Michael Fox
October 24, 2014 17:01
I remember getting my first violin, and feeling enchanted from my 6 year-old eyes, the cloth covered, curved box made of wood stained with a dark orange hue. It seemed almost scary in its unapproachable fanciness, as if it possessed magical properties. So I just kind of looked at it with a sense of awe, until I heard some musicians play it, first in a bluegrass band, and then in a symphony, with the promise that lessons and practice would lead me being able to do that. So I tried to pick it up – and practiced my first assignment – an open A string to a steady rhythm that I was taught as “Mississippi Hotdog.” (which I guess would be one with grits in it)
My teacher could play an amazing “Mississippi Hotdog,” with each note ringing out clearly, and keeping the beat perfectly wherever she felt like setting the metronome. About half the time, my “Mississippi Hotdog” sounded like the annoying static-y noise I would hear when I went to the wrong TV channel. It took a few months of doing nothing but @%$*#& “Mississippi Hotdog” on a open string before we even talked about putting the other hand on the string to play actually notes. When we did, I usually ended up with something that sounded a little like a very sad cat. This in turn led to another few months of hard work before I was able to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Violin playing is hard. Specifically, the worst part of learning is often at the front end. Some instruments, like the piano can be learned cumulatively – meaning it’s easy to do at first, and then can get more complicated as your knowledge builds. Violin playing is much more like riding a bike – it’s basically impossible at first, but you have to train your muscles to cooperate, and certain bodily movements have to become basically automatic. That’s why you often have to spend so much time simply learning how to hold the bow, or get a pitch in tune. It can be easy to get discouraged at this point (and I have seen a few students get discouraged and lose interest when progress wasn’t going fast enough) – but here are a few things I find are really helpful in helping to maintain a sense of motivation past the hurdle:
1) Never let the love of music die
When I first started lessons, my mom made the observation that the kids who carried their own violins seemed more likely to stick with it then those who had their instrument carried by parents. I’ve sense discovered what an ingenious discovery this was, that students who really “own” their instruments are the ones who keep going even when it’s too hard to get right away. I think one of the main things a teacher (of any subject really, but music especially) should strive for internal motivation – or that a student needs to really desire to learn music for its own sake, because he or she really wants to. The great painter Pablo Picasso once said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.” So, I consider one of my main jobs as a teacher to maintain a sense of fun playfulness and love of music even when it gets hard. The discipline needed to reach proficiency will come if you really love it. But you can help me out in this goal! Keep listening to music, especially stuff with violins in it. Listen to your body, and know when you’re pushing it too much, and feel free to take a break. Play music-related games so you can “practice” without it feeling like drudgery.
2) Remember you are learning “music,” not just “violin”
Dragging a bow across a string is not just a technique. It is a way to play rhythm. It is not enough merely to know where the fingers of the left hand “should go” on the finger board, you need to listen carefully and know what it means to be in tune. Thus, playing the violin is not an act in itself, and sometimes it may be helpful to take a break from building technique, to instead build up “musical intelligence” more broadly. This can be accomplished by singing, clapping, playing a shaker or other percussion instruments, and dancing, as ways to work on matching a rhythm and pitch to what you hear.
3) Focus on only one thing at a time
One of the main reasons violin playing is such a challenge is that is requires you to do so many different things at the same time. Even “Mississippi Hotdog,” my favorite song of all time, requires an overwhelming level of coordination that can go wrong if any individual muscle is pressing down too much or not moving enough. It’s too much to think about at one time, which is how many people end up practicing things incorrectly and making everything even more difficult. Instead, really try to concentrate on one thing at a time. For example, try playing a song one time focusing on keeping the bow straight and in between the bridge and the edge of the finger board, and then do it again with making sure the fingers on the “note hand” aren’t jumping up after you lift them off the string. With my beginner students, I find it sometimes helps to focus on bowing on open strings, and then working on the note hand by plucking “guitar style.”
4) Daily short practice is better then inconsistent long practice
Violin playing is something that is only going to get easier with consistent practice. Trying to “cram” practice just before a lesson is about as effective as only brushing your teeth before going to the dentist. But I understand that, realistically, we’re not all students at Julliard or the Berklee College of Music. For many of my students, school, work, and friends gets in the way of working on everything every day. My encouragement to them is simply this – practice less more often. Even on days when you feel totally stressed out and overwhelmed, at least get the violin out of its case, and play scales for 5 – 10 minutes or so. Even that small bit of practice, with appropriate levels of concentration, activates the pathways of your brain, that, over a long period of time, will make playing come more automatically, so you can focus on actually making music.
A parable -
Once upon a time, there lived a little pony in a forest far away. One day, the pony found a huge tree that, according to his bird friends, had the juiciest, largest, and sweetest apples in the world. So he went to the tree, and discovered, sadly, that these amazing apples were only on the tree’s highest branches. He stretched out as far as he could go, but couldn’t get anywhere near the apples he wanted. But our pony wouldn’t give up. Every day, he would go up to the tree and stretch his neck, trying to reach as high as he could go. At first, it was really hard, and he couldn’t stretch anywhere near the apples. But, after a very long time of going to the tree and stretching his neck every day, he found it got easier and he was able to stretch higher then he had before. Finally, one day, he discovered that he could reach the apples, but that he had to work harder to reach down to the grass, because his stretching had made his neck longer. And he had become the world’s first giraffe.
And the moral of the story is – Your body, and your mind, are capable of far more than you think. If you just work at pushing yourself just a little bit every day, things that seem impossible will become second nature. Happy practicing!Tweet
By The Weekend Vote
October 24, 2014 10:18
Which is your favorite violin or viola string, and why?
Of course we need all our strings, and we appreciate them differently, depending on the music. But writing about Giora Schmidt and his quest for a modern instrument this week, I was struck with one of his preferences: that he wanted a violin with power on the D string, for those special D-string moments, like the beginning of the melody in the first movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto. It made me think, which string do I like best on my own violin, and why? When I pick up another violin, what do I want to hear from each string, and what would be a deal-breaker, if I didn't like it?
So I thought it would make for a nice vote this week: which is your favorite string? Here are a few thoughts on the various strings. First, that part of the Tchaik with the nice D-string moment -- here is Josh Bell playing the piece at the 2013 BBC Proms with the National Youth Orchestra of the U.S.; the part I'm speaking about is at 3:13:
Some people don't like the brightness of the E string, and yet check out 16:08 in the video above -- what other instrument than the violin can reach those height and still sound gorgeous?
One might have a little "thing" for the G-string (no silly jokes please!) because of moments like the beginning of the 2nd movement of the Franck Sonata -- behold Soyoung Yoon playing it in 2009 at the St. Elizabeth competition (wish I could tell you the pianist!):
Of course, the A string seems to be at the center of our universe, the beloved note that tunes the orchestra. Should it be 440, 442, higher? Do we think much about this string, or is it just a workhorse for us, between the juicy high and low notes?
And I've included the C string, as we are all one family here in the string section. Many love those rich deep tones better than anything else.
So please chime in on your favorite string, and let us know why you picked what you picked! (If you like more than one string, and yes we all do, remember that this is just for fun!)
By Danielle Gomez
October 23, 2014 23:10
The concept of being "intermediate" is something often overlooked. Everyone is guilty of this regardless of age. Though most would not admit as much, there seems to be this unspoken expectation that a student goes from "beginner" and then immediately jumps to "expert."
What happened to intermediate?
Understanding the basics of an instrument and achieving a reasonable amount of control is really only just the beginning of the learning process. Just because the student can't play everything doesn't mean that the student is a failure or even that the effort was wasted. Being intermediate at something is the only way to eventually become advanced.
The learning curve is not a straight upward line. It may resemble such in the beginning when everything is a new concept. But eventually this line plateaus. Learning happens in phases and there is a definite possibility that things could get worse at times before things get better.
Being intermediate is far more difficult than being advanced. At the advanced level most music seems achievable given enough time and effort. At the intermediate level the mental knowledge has outstripped physical ability and the result is frustration. The effort of achieving mastery seems daunting, making everything achieved so far appear trivial.
But take comfort in the fact that these feelings are normal. It is part of the learning process and there's no way to skip this step. Every advanced musician that you hear playing was both a beginner and intermediate player at some point.Tweet
Good news! All the Suzuki Violin School CDs are available now as digital downloads on Amazon.com. But why take the time to search for them all? We've collected links to each album for Suzuki Violin Books 1 - 8.
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
How to STOP Your E String from Whistling, Squeaking or Scratching
Heifetz Cadenza for 3rd movement of the Beethoven violin concerto in D major Op. 61
Not really a blog but hope you all don't mind darn newbies eh! ~
Using the core melody to learn and improvise on fiddle tunes...
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