Dai Fujikura: Zawazawa

, composer


Dai Fujikura’s latest release on his Minabel label covers a wide range of instrumentation, from solo works for soprano, clarinet, violin and double bass to a Tuba concerto, an ensemble piece for horn and string quartet and three chorus works one of which is with a marimba. Performers who appear on this album also vary widely: Sara Kobayashi, Nobuaki Fukukawa, Yoji Sato, Noriko Tsukagoshi, Quartet Amabile, The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo, Makoto Yoshida, Øystein Baadsvik, Geigeki Wind Orchestra Academy, TOKYO KOSEI WIND ORCHESTRA, with two conductors Shizuo Z Kuwahara and Kazuki Yamada. All tracks are edited, mixed and mastered by the composer himself.


1 ki i te (きいて)for soprano

This work was commissioned and premiered by Sara Kobayashi. She asked me to write a song for her using her own poem, which I was happy to do.

“ki i te” means “listen!” in Japanese.

Her text was very short and I even shortened it even further. For some reason I wanted to repeat the word “ki i te” (listen!) obsessively.

Before I was asked to write this work, I knew who Sara was, even though I had never heard her sing. So she invited me to her concert which was a lovely, somewhat proper “soprano recital”. She sung beautifully and she looked nice, in her beautiful dress. Sort of innocent, with a smile like a children’s TV presenter at work.

Then somehow it struck me, what if she sung something grotesque or something sickly obsessive? Something the opposite of what I had just seen her do in her recital.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)

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Zawazawa and Sawasawa

This is the first piece I have written as "Resident Artist" of The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo where my dear friend Kazuki Yamada is the Music Director. It is also my first co-commission from The Crossing in Philadelphia, USA.

When Kazuki asked me to write this piece, I remember a conversation we had a few years back in Prague. I was visiting with my family to hear Kazuki give the Czech première of my orchestral work "Rare Gravity" with the Czech Philharmonic. Kazuki was looking at my then 3 year old daughter when we all had lunch together before the concert. "Dai, you have to teach Japanese to your daughter. More importantly, you have to teach her onomatopoeia because that's the most unique thing in the Japanese language". I remember this conversation, and, when I was writing for this choir piece years later, I decided to write music using Japanese onomatopoeia.

Japanese Onomatopoeia is serious. There are Haiku and other poems written only using onomatopoeia. Apparently at the doctor's in Japan, a Japanese GP can diagnose many patients quickly, because patients can describe their pain with Onomatopoeia, which are a precise and unique linguistic form.

So I picked several Japanese onomatopoeia, and started composing. As usual with my vocal works, the English text is written by Harry Ross, my collaborator of twenty years. We always work together, we compose and write text simultaneously, in the same room. However, this was the first time we tried combining Japanese onomatopoeia with English texts to create a narrative. Obviously, I needed to explain to him what "Zawazawa" (the first onomatopoeia I chose) meant. This was hard. To me zawazawa means….well, things go zawazawa! "Can't you feel it? No?".

It was odd that this sort of sense of feeling doesn't translate well into English. (I read somewhere that onomatopoeia are the hardest thing to learn in the Japanese language, as it is hard to understand nuance of each onomatopoeia.)

So here I am in the studio explaining to Harry that zawazawa means noisy; murmuring, sawasawa means rustling etc. (I attached below the "Zawazawa" - dictionary, so you will be perfect onomatopoeia-users by the end of this concert).

Zawazawa is 15min. long, and straight after the World Premiere of this piece, Graham Mckenzie - director of hcmf// (Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) sent me a message on Twitter saying that he wanted to hear it (which was nice, since it suggested people actually do read my tweets). I sent him a link of the recording. 15minutes later, he replied "I want to commission a sequel, can you do it?". So this became Zawazawa Part 1 and Harry and I worked on Part 2 “Sawasawa”, which has a marimba in it (also, this one is co-commissioned by The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo and the BBC). The narrative of Zawazawa (Part 1 and 2), in which the text is inspired by my music (according to Harry) and my choice of onomatopoeia is best left to Harry, who writes:

“So, Dai's memory of how he explained the onomatopoeia zawazawa is ever so slightly different to our actual conversation. Yes, things go zawazawa: that was his first attempt at an explanation. Then he started talking about the wind rustling in trees. I still looked a little blank obviously, since he further clarified:

‘You know on Hilly Fields (a park in south London we both know) when it's a Sunday afternoon, and it's windy, and the trees rustle, and things don't feel quite right? That's also zawazawa.’ For some reason I started thinking about Die Wetterfahne by Müller (no 2 in Schubert's Winterreise) and based my text on my own thoughts about the poem in the cycle.”

Dai adds: “Whilst writing Zawazawa, we tried a new technique. Half the choir crescendos while the other half diminuendos. When one part of choir sings "east" and the other sings "feel", because of the crescendo and diminuendo together, we should hear the word "feast" (feel+east) and when one part sings "eyes" and the other sings "why" and we should hear "wise". I wanted to do something like this that the word we had emerges out of two words and actual words we hear actually none of the singers have sung.”

"Zawazawa" Onomatopoeia dictionary:

zawazawa = noisy; murmuring
sawasawa = rustling
sutto = quickly, all of sudden
satto = suddenly
sotto = softly; gently
kosokoso = sneakily; secretly
kasakasa = rustle; dry
potsupotsu = a trifle, a bit
tekuteku = trudgingly; going long way at steady pace tobotobo = weakly, totteringly
sekaseka = fidget, restlessness, fidgetiness
mesomeso = sobbingly, tearfully
tokotoko = briskly with small steps; trotting
bochibochi = bit by bit, step by step, gradually
kachikachi = stubborn, unregenerate, obstinate
hokuhoku = steaming-hot
bachibachi = spark
soyosoyo = breeze (sound representing a soft wind)
gasagasa = harshness, roughness, rustle
barabara = scattered, disperse, loose
pitapita = tightly, pasty, pastelike

"Sawasawa"-Onomatopoeia dictionary:

sawasawa = rustling
korokoro = (small) rolling, tumbling
hyu = Swift movement for something cutting the air
su = cool sensation from passing air
sa = rustling wind
sarasara = smooth, light, dry, flowing water

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)

Tuba Concerto

Tuba Concerto was written for the Tuba player, Øystein Baadsvik.

Whenever I write a concerto, I always collaborate closely with the performer who is going to premiere the work. There are lots of exchanges of files, me sending the screenshot of the score I have written that day, the performer recording him/herself playing that and emailing it back to me. We do this multiple times before my score reaches the final bar line. We did the same with Øystein.

This time, I was interested to know "What is the most appealing thing about the tuba as an instrument?" And, "When you play the tuba, when do you feel most ecstatic?”

I love writing concertos. The real pleasure of writing concertos is that I can create the "world" which makes the best use of the characteristics of the solo instrument, and the orchestra acts as the "world" which hosts the environment of the solo instrument.

The tuba is by far one of the sexiest instruments. It is sad that how this instrument was used in traditional classical music, not taking advantage at all of this sensual, sensitive instrument.

I thought I could try making tuba the sexiest instrument of all, at least in the world of my Tuba Concerto.

This concerto is very emotional, and the orchestra part and long melody of the Tuba are entwined, like the moment when you watch ice cream melt, slowly.

After a conversation with Øystein, I understood that horns and trumpets often have melodies in orchestral works and there are players who play long solo melodies in orchestra, but the tuba is often treated only as the necessary bass note of the orchestral chord when needed. Therefore there are only a few tuba players that can actually play solos.

In this concerto, the solo tuba has long, wide range of melody which I hope sounds quite sensual.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)

GO (movement V - for solo clarinet)

This is a movement from my quintet for piano and wind quartet called “GO”, and this movement is for solo clarinet.

I named it “GO” after the Japanese word for “five” and also for the English “Go!”

This piece is comprised of six short movements, all with different instrumental combinations.

You can play the movements in a different order every time, pick just one for a three-minute solo, or play all six and make it a twenty-minute piece.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)


The material of BIS was taken from my Double Bass Concerto.

Yuji Sato, who has recorded the Double Bass Concerto (on the album “Diamond Dust,” Minabel Records), asked me if I could make a piece out of the Double Bass Concerto material which is not in ES, the piece which Double Bass Concerto was based on.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)

Yurayura for horn and string quartet

This piece is the cadenza part of my Horn Concerto No. 2, which was commissioned and premiered by Nobuaki Fukukawa. The unique sound of the horn, I have already explained in the booklet of the album “Diamond Dust” (MIN107) which includes the solo horn version of Yurayura. The string quartet plays the string parts of the concerto. As quintet, this piece shows more intimate harmonic relationship with the half-valve horn melody line.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)


Before composing my Double Bass Concerto in 2010, I was commissioned to write a work for a solo instrument in celebration of the London Sinfonietta's 50th anniversary. Naturally I chose Enno Senft and his double bass, and thus this work entitled “es” was born. The bottom string of the instrument is tuned down to E-flat which is "es" in German (and the other three strings are tuned to B-flat, D-flat and A-flat). Enno Senft is German, and his initials E.S. are the same for E-flat in German. I spent many hours at his house as he patiently illustrated just what the double bass is capable of, and explained how it differs from other stringed instruments. I like writing small solo pieces as the "seed" of the concerto.

“Es” mostly consists of unusual ways of playing the instrument, such as using one’s fingernails to play in a percussive, harsh and rapid manner across the strings, and strumming the strings between the left hand on the fingerboard and the scroll as if playing a Spanish guitar on its side (unorthodox for the double bass). The piece also features pizzicato, which is one of the essential characteristics of the double bass, and ends using natural harmonics played with tremolo. Since all of the strings are tuned in an unusual way, hopefully the natural harmonics also sound unique.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)


This piece was written for horn player Nobuaki Fukukawa, commissioned as 15th year anniversary of the concert hall Hakuju Hall, which hosted double bill of my portrait concerts for the second time.

As I always do especially when I write music for Nobuaki - we have already worked closely together - I sometimes received over 11 recording files of him playing a day. I listened to them wherever I was at the time, and often the message was ‘this is too awkward to play!’

I remember I was at the beautiful seaside of Monaco for the world premiere of my 3rd Piano Concerto IMPULSE, listening to his recordings, suggesting some changes and Nobuaki sending new ones. Apparently, even though it is a very short piece, it is very tough piece to play.

Until just a few weeks before the premiere, we were working together not only on the question of what is possible, but how it should be “performed” at the concert and how the performer can present the piece in the most effective way. I am glad we now have the final version of this work.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)

The New House

This work was written when I was still in high school in England (I must have been 17 years old then), and in fact I think this composition was a part of the A-level coursework to write a vocal work using this text by Edward Thomas who died in World War I. Recently I was contacted by the new Head of Music of the high school I went to. He said he was clearing the building and had found a handwritten score of this work, and wanted to ask if his students could perform this piece. I asked him to send me the scanned copy of the manuscript, and I immediately remembered this piece which had been performed when I was high school student, also as a part of school coursework. The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo asked me if there was a piece they could perform as an encore, so I suggested this teenage work.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)

ki i te(きいて)for soprano (2017) (text by Sara Kobayashi)
Engineer: Dai Fujikura
October 19th, 2018
Hakuju Hall

Zawazawa for choir (2016) (text by Harry Ross) LIVE RECORDING
December 16th, 2016

Sawasawa (Zawazawa part 2) for choir and marimba (2017) (text by Harry Ross) LIVE RECORDING
September 13th, 2018

Tuba Concerto for Tuba and Wind Orchestra (2016/2017)  LIVE RECORDING
Engineer: Koichi Ishimaru (Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre)
March 3rd, 2018
Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre

GO (movement V - for solo clarinet) (2016)
Engineer: Dai Fujikura
October 19th, 2018
Hakuju Hall

BIS for double bass (2018)
Engineer: Dai Fujikura
October 27th, 2018

Yurayura for horn and string quartet version (2017)
Engineer: Dai Fujikura
October 19th, 2018
Hakuju Hall

ES for double bass (2008)
Engineer: Dai Fujikura
October 27th, 2018

Harahara for horn (2018)
Engineer: Dai Fujikura
October 19th, 2018
Hakuju Hall

The New House (text by Edward Thomas) (1994)
September 13th 2018

Dai Fujikura

Born in 1977 in Osaka Japan, Dai Fujikura was fifteen when he moved to the UK. The recipient of many composition prizes, he has received numerous international co-commissions from the Salzburg Festival, Lucerne Festival, BBC Proms, Bamberg Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and more. He has been Composer-in-Residence of Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra since 2014 and held the same post at the Orchestre national d'Île-de-France in 2017/18. Dai’s first opera Solaris, co-commissioned by the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Opéra de Lausanne and the Opéra de Lille, had its world premiere in Paris in 2015 and has since gained a worldwide reputation. A new production of Solaris was created and performed at the Theatre Augsburg in 2018, and the opera received a subsequent staging in 2020.

In 2017, Dai received the Silver Lion Award from the Venice Biennale. In the same year, he was named the Artistic Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater’s Born Creative Festival.

In 2019, his Shamisen Concerto was premiered at Mostly Mozart festival in New York Lincoln Center and there have so far been 9 performances of this work by various orchestras.

In 2020, his fourth piano concerto Akiko’s Piano is to be premiered by Martha Argerich and Dai is currently composing his third opera, which will be revealed to the public in the same year.

His works are recorded by and released mainly on his own label Minabel Records in collaboration with SONY Music and his compositions are published by Ricordi Berlin.




Planet Hugill

This disc from Minabel Records and New Focus Recordings features recent pieces by Dai Fujikura, ranging from works for solo soprano and for choir, to solo movements for clarinet, for double bass and for french horn, plus Fujikura's Tuba Concerto, performed by Sarah Kobayashi (soprano), the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo, conductor Kazuki Yamada, Noriko Tsukagoshi (marimba), Oystein Baadsvik (tuba), Geigeki Wind Orchestra Academy, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, Shizuo Kuwahara (conductor), Makoto Yoshida (clarinet), Yoji Sato (double bass), Nobuaki Fukukawa (french Horn), and Quartet Amabile.

The majority of the music on the disc was written between 2016 and 2018, thus providing a picture of Fujikura's current thoughts and concerns. The disc opens with ki i te from 2017 for solo soprano, sung by Sarah Kobayashi who also provided the text, and commissioned the piece. In his programme note Fujikura talks about having the idea of writing something grotesque, in contrast to Kobayashi's stage persona. Though the work is hardly grotesque, but it is amazingly virtuosic and Fujikura repeats the short text so it becomes almost like scat, with short repeated motifs providing structure.

Zawazawa from 2016 is a choral piece performed live by the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo, conductor Kazuki Yamadi, with a text by Harry Ross. It was the first piece that Fujikura wrote in his role as the chorus' resident artist, and he uses Japanese onomatopoeia for the text (evidently onomatopoeia is a serious business in Japan). Despite this, the text is actually written by Harry Ross who has written texts for Fujikura for 20 years. I have to confess that whilst listening I was entirely unaware of the words, what came over was the remarkable variety of choral textures that Fujikura achieved, starting with a hypnotic wordless throbbing at the opening. At times virtuosic, at times lyrical, it is a fascinating piece and quite a choral tour de force.

Sawasawa was commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival as a follow up to Zawazawa, this time with marimba (played here by Noriko Tukagoshi) joining the choir. The choral writing mixes pitched and unpitched, often with angular lines and intense clusters of notes. The choir and the vibraphone have some quite dramatic interactions, and it is quite a significant tuned percussion part.

Fujikura's Tuba Concerto was written in 2016/17 for the tuba player Oyvind Baadsvik, who recorded it live with Geigeki Wind Orchestra Academy, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra and conductor Shizuo Kuwahara. Fujikura in his notes talks about writing for the tuba in a way which makes it sexy and sensual. Initially it is quite surprising, quiet and lyrical, melancholy and intimate, with the other wind present only as fragments of motifs. As the work becomes more dramatic the soloist is in vivid dialogue with the wind orchestra. Whilst the piece seems quite free (it is in a single movement), a sense of sequence is created by smaller structured moments between the free tuba passages. And yes, at times the tuba is sexy.

GO is a movement for solo clarinet, written in 2016, which comes from Fujikura's clarinet quintet. It uses flurries of fast arpeggios which alternate with more lyrical moments, intriguing and rather restless. Another work for solo instrument, double bass this time, played by Yoji Sato. Dating from 2018 it was written for bass player Yuji Sato for whom Fujikura wrote his double bass concerto, and uses material from that concerto. It is a vigorous, jazz-ish piece with much slapped bass and often sounds like there is more than one player. Quite a tour de force!

Yurayura from 2017 is the cadenza from Fujikura's Horn Concerto No. 2 here arranged for horn (Nobuaki Fukukawa) and quartet (Quartet Amabile). It is a strange, unearthly piece with a high horn part (on first listen blind I took it for a soprano saxophone!) and eerie string harmonics.

ES is another solo double bass piece, written in 2008 for Enno Senft for the London Sinfonietta's 50th anniversary and here recorded by Yoji Sato. Again, it is a digest of amazing advanced techniques, and that Fujikura uses interesting tunings of the double bass's strings only adds to the fun.

Harahara was written in 2018 for French horn player Nobuaki Fukukawa (who records it here). Evidently there was much discussion between composer and player as to quite what was possible and what not, the result is vividly textures and amazingly virtuosic with Fukukawa creating a striking feeling that there are multiple instruments participating in a some sort of call and response.

The final work on the disc is another choral piece, an Edward Thomas setting from 1994, The New House, which was written when the teenage Fujikura (then aged 17) was still at secondary school in England!

The longest pieces on the disc are Zawazawa (16:13), Sawasawa (14:33) and Tuba concerto (17:00), and surrounding them are the sequence of shorter, mainly solo movements. This means that though individual works are fascinating, striking and sometimes amazingly virtuosic, there is not quite a sense of coherence in the programme. It seems a shame that we could not, for instance, hear the whole of the clarinet quintet and that we are tantalised by just the cadenza from the horn concerto. That said, each individual item is superbly performed and I only have the greatest admiration for the choir and for the individual soloists.

-Robert Hugill, 8.30.19, Planet Hugill


Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review

The state of the Modern Avant Garde in New Music today? It is thriving, though of course these days not the only game in town, so to speak. There are competing styles that complement the scene if you think of the Avant as the High Modern stance. No matter. All the better for listeners to have more choices. Today we have one from the current high Modern World and a fine thing that. I speak of composer Dai Fujikura and his album Zawazawa (New Focus SICX10005).

On it we get to hear ten varied and variable works by Maestro Fujikura. On one side there are the choral works. There are three here along with a mini-piece for solo soprano--"Ki i ite" for soprano, and for choir there is "Zawazawa," "Sawasawa" (A pt. 2 of "Zawazawa") for choir and marimba, and "The New House" for choir alone.

The instrumental works show innovative outlooks and a careful attention to sonority--for the tuba (Tuba Concerto for tuba and wind orchestra), clarinet ("Go, Movement Five" for the solo clarinet), double bass ("BIS" and "ES" for solo double bass), horn ("Harahara," "Yurayura," for solo horn, and for horn and string quartet, respectively).

Both the choral and instrumental works show a great sensitivity to the potentials and capabilities of the players and singers. Whether a matter of the mellow richness of timbre and/or expanded sounding qualities of the tuba and horn, the incisively limber sharpness of the clarinet, or the widely varied punct-al qualities of the pizzicato double bass as influenced by Jazz, it is all a place to contemplate sound per se and its meanings, after all, for we musical animals.

There is a sensory motor aspect to Fujikura's sound, a kind of tautological circularity more internal than minimal, but it is not more than a part of his extensive High Modern syntax, beyond serial and more ritualized if that is possible? It is a very personal way the composer has that is best heard right now than described fleetingly. There is almost a Martial Arts sound to the singing and playing--though I hope I am not projecting here? There is a "snapping to," a musical locking in that seems more Asian than Western, perhaps. And all that is only to say that the music stands by itself, the playing or singing is a kind of discipline, nothing casual, and after all that it still belongs squarely to the Avant realm, to New Music language as spoken today.

I do recommend you at least hear it--then if you like it, support the artist and the label, by all means. New Music needs your support and Fujikura is a worthy example. Kudos!

-Grego Applegate-Edwards, 9.23.19, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review


Percorsi Musicali

Non è un caso che Boulez fosse molto vicino al compositore giapponese Dai Fujikura: nel dover pensare ad una scala di successori, degni di mantenere viva una sostanza orchestrale di un certo tipo, Fujikura era materia viva, un uomo profondamente consapevole delle difficili propensioni del mondo della composizione; oggi le nuove generazioni sono spesso terrorizzate di non trovare nei propri moduli ispirativi le chiavi giuste per proporre novità, in un settore della musica in cui molti di loro subordinano l’innovazione ad un efficace continuazione delle proprie attività artistiche. Fujikura ha affrontato la composizione con le armi di chi non vuole guardare nella sfera di cristallo, ma tenendo ben a mente ciò che è disponibile per una creazione comunque di spessore. In queste pagine ho parlato di lui brevemente, dapprima per una citazione di Secret Forest, un pezzo bellissimo di 13 minuti per ensemble del 2008, che l’ha imposto all’attenzione nell’ambito di quel circolo di giovani compositori cresciuti in Inghilterra e poi, per una recensione di un cd alla Kairos del 2013 (dal titolo Ice, vedi qui), in cui Fujikura metteva assieme chitarra elettrica ed acustica, live electronics, tagli di frequenze e sviluppi su tensioni inarmoniche; ma, in questi anni, il compositore ha accelerato sulla quantità, sia sul versante orchestrale (con molta produzione concertistica) che su quello dei singoli strumenti (con una buona equivalenza di strumenti occidentali e di matrice orientale). Naturalmente, chi vi parla predilige il lato orchestrale, ma non c’è dubbio che pezzi per cantanti, cori, violoncelli, chitarre acustiche, sassofono, koto, shakuhachi, taikos, shamisen, etc. (la lista è piuttosto lunga!) abbiano anche un loro positivo comune denominatore, sebbene differente e meno incisivo di quello delle composizioni orchestrali.

Ai fini di una buona descrizione di quanto trasmette la musica di Fujikura, mi sembra molto appropriata la nota di programma che l’artista ha scritto durante la permanenza all’IRCAM nelle more compositive di Prism Spectra, riferendosi agli “amici” elettronici: “….Je les ai conçus pour qu’ils se comportent comme des poissons dans un océan tropical. Parfois, ils nagent en banc à travers la pièce, parfois, ils s’élancent au loin comme de petits rayons de lumière entrant et sortant d’un corail ombrageux…..”. La musica di Fujikura funziona proprio così: gli “amici”, per estensione, sono i materiali e il loro trattamento, che denota un retrogusto ben preciso, composto da scrittura celatamente discorsiva, alla ricerca di un disegno realistico, movimentato e senza fronzoli, un regno della consapevolezza che, nei suoi limiti, può risultare radioso. Qualche anno fa Fujkura ha fondato una propria etichetta discografica, la Minabel, con canali di distribuzione differenti tra l’Europa e il Giappone (ma in comune hanno la rete) e puntualmente ci presenta raccolte delle sue numerose composizioni: le ultime due pubblicazioni, ossia Diamond Dust e Zawazawa (rispettivamente 2018 e 2019), colgono moltissimo l’attuale divisione funzionale che la sua musica porta a compimento a seconda dell’oggetto trattato: nel primo lavoro ci sono un paio di perle come il Piano Concerto N.2 (da unire teoricamente al primo piano concerto) e il Double Bass Concerto, oltre a pezzi molto validi per singoli strumenti; mentre nel secondo trovate il Concerto per Tuba, un exploit vocale di Sara Kobayashi (Ki i te) e del Philarmonic Chorus di Tokyo, oltre alle recenti incursioni strumentali, fatte soprattutto sul contrabbasso.

-Ettore Garzia, 10.24.19, Percorsi Musicali

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