It felt kind of like a Kennedy -meets-Weird-Al Yankovich-day at the opening concert of the 2015 Wells Fargo Chamber Music series at Spoleto. Series director Geoff Nutall, who is also first violinist of the superb St. Lawrence Quartet, is just as fashion-forward as his single-named British contemporary and was in mid-Festival sartorial form. This year’s composer-in-residence Mark Applebaum, whose startling and oddly mesmerizing piece Aphasia anchored today’s program, may be the only man–white or black–in America (other then Weird Al) to still sport an Afro. Almost certainly, he is the only composer to write a piece to be performed by a florist.
Aphasia is a scary word for people my age, meaning the loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage, like that caused by strokes. Applebaum’s Aphasia is a 9-minute piece expressly written for a “singer” to perform without making a single sound. Premiered in February 2011, it consists of hundreds of transformed vocal samples derived from the voice of professional baritone Nicholas Isherwood and set to a score of nonsense hand signals coordinated to each sound.
Based on everyday activities, the hand gestures were recorded as a written musical score, using icons with names such as “give me the money” and “Post-it Notes.” Applebaum says these gestures are intended to reflect his own fascination with “absurdity that seems to be the consequence of tedious, obsessive attention to ridiculous things.” Or, in other words, how bizarre the actions of the mundane routine of activity seem when they are examined out of context. Applebaum performed the piece himself.
While the piece was inspired by a conversation between Isherwood and Applebaum, the idea to write a piece for a mute singer with hand motions was Applebaum’s own “obsession.” He says his intention was to have Aphasia come across as a metaphor for “expressive paralysis,” something that unnerves him every time he “confronts the terror of composing a new piece.
Applebaum, who teaches at Stanford, is sometimes called “the mad scientist of music” for his extensive use of technology, and “invented and found” instruments–but his pieces are also curiously rooted in human emotions like joy, boredom, fear, despair, generously laced with Woody Allen-level angst. A zest of narcissism here, a dash of paranoia there, a couple of sprigs of self-loathing on the side. The result is work that is highly personal and curiously “music-ish.” As Applebaum likes to say the interesting question is not “is it music” but “is it interesting?” That, it certainly is.
There’s more Applebaum to come at Spoleto in the next week-and-a-half. The Bank of America Chamber Music series consists of 11 separate programs that run about 1 hour and 15 minutes, presented three times each.
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On Sunday, April 19, my piece Rise was premiered in Washington, DC. A collaboration with the poet Tameka Cage Conley, the work bears witness to our country’s fraught journey from Selma to Ferguson and beyond. The morning of the performance, a young Black man named Freddie Gray died of severe injuries sustained while in Baltimore City Police custody.
Last week, Chris Shiley and I recorded the Invocation that opens Rise. The same music returns in the fifth movement, called for by Dr. Cage Conley’s words: “A horn tells us, / a brother has fallen, again…” I share it with you as a lament, a prayer, and a call to action, for Freddie Gray and for Baltimore.
You can stream the track for free, and buy it for $1 or more. All proceeds go directly to the family of Freddie Gray, and will be used to cover medical and burial costs.
Click here to listen and donate. Thanks so much, and please share if you are so inclined!
All Best, Judah
P.S. For those interested, I posted some thoughts on art and activism over the course of the past week in Baltimore. You can read them here and here.
The New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy (NWS), has launched a free, online resource called Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration, dedicated to the works of one of the 20th century’s most influential, innovative and provocative composers . Content for the website derives from New World Symphony’s three-day program Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Centennial Celebration (February 8-10, 2013), the most ambitious and comprehensive commemoration of the artist’s legacy mounted during the hundredth anniversary of his birth. The site, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, represents works from throughout Cage’s career, with performance videos of some of the composer’s best-known pieces as well as works that have never before been presented or documented in this way.
At the core of the online archive are videos of 12 performances and behind-the-scenes discussions of Cage’s work by Michael Tilson Thomas; Fellows of the New World Symphony; world-renowned artists including new-music vocalist Joan La Barbara, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, soprano Jessye Norman; and dancers from the New World School for the Arts in choreography by Merce Cunningham. The performances drew on the extraordinary possibilities for staging and visual enhancement made possible by the New World Symphony’s campus–the New World performances extend that process, going beyond simple documentation to become creative realizations of Cage’s work. More than 25 behind-the-scenes vignettes of rehearsals and preparations for the performances take the viewer into the process of “making the right choices,” providing musicians, educators and audiences around the world with rare access to insights and conversations between NWS’ Founder and Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas, NWS Fellows, guest artists, and John Cage experts as they approached the delicate and nuanced task of preparing Cage’s works.
Also included on the site are extended essays by John Cage and Michael Tilson Thomas; interviews with Michael Tilson Thomas, Laura Kuhn (Executive Director of the John Cage Trust), guest artists and NWS Fellows; artist biographies; links to program information for each work performed; and materials related to Cage’s activities in poetry and visual art.
“The New World Symphony’s John Cage festival was an opportunity to stretch our imaginations to the fullest,” said Michael Tilson Thomas. “Over the course of the week we came to appreciate the amazing range of his music. The diversity of his music inspired us to use all the capabilities of our ensemble and of our building to present his works in installations designed for them. The videos on the website are, in some cases, reportage of those installations. In other cases they are new video works based on the experiences of the live performances. The process of performing and interpreting his works has been a transformative experience for all of us who were involved.”
The extraordinary richness of the videos on the site is made possible by the comprehensive documentation of the works during the festival by the New World Symphony’s audio and video team. The festival and the website was funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, ensuring that the works of John Cage would be documented and made available for future generations to learn about and appreciate his contributions to the fields of music, dance and artistic thought. Documentation of the event included multiple camera and audio crews who recorded hundreds of hours of video over a two-week period, documenting every aspect of the preparation and presentation of Making the Right Choices.
Highlights of the archive include the video realization of The Seasons (1947), Dance / 4 Orchestras (1982), in which images of Cage’s drawings and compositions are layered upon the views of the musicians in performance; Cheap Imitation (1969), performed with a portion of the original and rarely seen Merce Cunningham choreography, titled “Second Hand”; and She is Asleep, Part 1 (1943), which includes images that appear to be seen from within the instruments being played. Over the next year, additional videos, interviews and materials will be added to the site.
The website is New World Symphony’s most recent accomplishment in online music education. NWS is a leader in the experimentation and development of music applications for Internet2, a high-speed, next-generation Internet, connecting more than 200 U.S. universities as well as international universities and governments. To date, NWS has connected with more than 150 institutions in over 20 countries, in order for its Fellows to receive instruction from professionals around the world, and for its Fellows to share their own knowledge with young musicians as well, providing access to classical music instruction and mentorship that they may not otherwise have access to.
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The Minnesota Orchestra is off to Cuba. The historic May trip culminates with two performances in Havana, May 15 and 16 and will also include several musical exchanges between Orchestra musicians and students. These will range from coaching sessions with high school and university student musicians to rehearsing with a Cuban youth symphony and playing jazz music with professional Cuban musicians. The Orchestra announced in February that it would perform in Cuba as part of the 19th annual International Cubadisco Festival this May, becoming the first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since President Obama took steps to normalize relations between the countries last December. The tour is being made possible by a generous gift from Marilyn C. and Glen D. Nelson.
The Orchestra’s opening performance on Friday, May 15, at the Teatro Nacional will feature Music Director Osmo Vänskä conducting the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program, including the Egmont Overture; Symphony No. 3, Eroica; and Choral Fantasy, the latter with Cuban pianist Frank Fernández and choruses Coro Vocal Leo and the Cuban National Choir.
The second performance, on Saturday, May 16, at the same location will feature Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla’s Danzón, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, conducted by Vänskä.
The Orchestra tour group will comprise 165 individuals, including 100 musicians, as well as stage crew, staff, community members participating in a “people to people” exchange and members of the media. Cargo for the trip will include 65 tour trunks, collectively weighing more than four tons, and the music for 16 musical works, totaling 2,000 individual parts.
The International Cubadisco Festival is an annual music festival that encompasses one of the most important recording competitions in the Cuban music industry. The theme for the 19th annual festival, running from May 15 to 24, is symphonic and choral music.
Following their arrival in Cuba on Wednesday, May 13, Orchestra musicians will visit Cuban high school and university music students on Thursday, May 14. At the Escuela Nacional de Música, a national high school for music study, Minnesota Orchestra brass, string, percussion and woodwind players will coach student chamber groups, hold master classes and exchange musical performances in a two-hour morning session. The Escuela Nacional de Música includes more than 500 students from across Cuba who focus on both classical and popular music studies.
At the nearby Instituto Superior de Arte, a university that focuses on the arts, Minnesota Orchestra musicians representing all the instrument families will meet with university student musicians, offering group master classes as well as practical coaching advice for students who are preparing for annual competitions, again in a two-hour session.
On the morning ofFriday, May 15, the Minnesota Orchestra will join the 80-member youth symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil Amadeo Roldán, onstage at the Teatro Nacional for a side-by-side rehearsal. Sharing stands and music, the Minnesota musicians and high school-aged youth symphony members will rehearse Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances with Music Director Osmo Vänskä. (The students will perform this music the next day as part of the International Cubadisco Festival.) Composer and conductor Guido López Gavilán—who serves as the youth symphony’s conductor—will also lead the combined ensemble in a rehearsal of one of his own pieces: Guaguancó, a colorful work with complex Cuban rhythms.
Following the Minnesota Orchestra concert onSaturday, May 16, members of the Orchestra who also specialize in jazz performance will head to the Havana Café, where they will participate in a late night musical jam with Cuban musicians.
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The Guggenheim Foundation gives out annual fellowships in a range of disciplines including academia, the arts and science. The organization says they are “appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise” and this year’s 175 scholars were drawn from a pool of 3,100 applicants. The organization’s website does not list the amount, saying that the grants vary, “taking into consideration the Fellows’ other resources and the purpose and scope of their plans.”
2015 Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellows for Music Composition:
George Lewis, Steve Lehman, Darcy James Argue, Matthew Barnson, Richard Carrick, Sean Shepherd, Rand Steiger, Amy Williams, Etienne Charles, Chihchun Chi-sun Lee and Andreia Pinto-Correia.
Past award winners in this category include George Antheil, Aaron Copland, Alex Mincek and Vivian Fung.
Geoff Nuttall, violinist for the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Director of Chamber Music for the SpoletoUSA Festival in Charleston SC, just announced details of the 11 programs for the 33 concerts that will be performed at this year’s Festival . The series runs from Friday, May 22 through Sunday, June 7 and is sponsored by Bank of America. I’ll be taking in a few of the performances and giving you a report.
Among the highlight of this year’s series is the world premiere of Control Freak for improvising singer and instrumental septet, composed by the 2015 composer-in-residence Mark Applebaum. A colleague of Nuttall’s at Stanford University, Applebaum is known as the “mad scientist of music” because of his inventive compositional style and innovation with instruments. In addition to the premiere of his new piece, he will perform his Aphasia for hand gestures with pre-recorded sound as well as several pieces for blues piano. Applebaum performs on the first two programs; Control Freak premieres on Program III, performed by baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Geoff Nuttall, violist Daniel Phillips, and cellist Christopher Costanza.
“It’s going to be a varied and eclectic musical ride with Mark,” Nuttall says. “He’s an amazing blues and jazz pianist, which you’ll experience, and you’ll also get to witness an important moment in music history when we hear a new piece of art.”
Programs for this season’s series include well-known canonic jewels as well as new musical experiences with contemporary compositions and selections unearthed from past centuries. Among the new and newish pieces are Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor for cello, performed by Alisa Weilerstein; Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, op. 11; and Andrew Norman’s Light Screens.
The chamber music series begins on Friday, May 22 at 1:00pm with Vivaldi’s Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in B-flat Major, featuring violinist Livia Sohn and oboist James Austin Smith; Mark Applebaum’s Aphasia; and Dvořák’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major.
Nuttall has great taste and his eclectic pairings of compositions spanning more than 400 years, are always entertaining, if a tad, quirky. Program IV will include two pieces by Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo, whose opera Paradise Interrupted has its world premiere at Spoleto Festival USA this season. “Flow I and II” will feature Huang Ruo on vocals, as well as Zhou Yi on pipa (Chinese lute) and other series artists, including Tara Helen O’Connor, who will abandon her usual flute for the djembe (West African drum). Huang Ruo’s compositional style often marries Chinese tradition with seemingly disparate cultures, as is also heard in Paradise Interrupted.
“It’s a great luxury to be able to bring Huang Ruo from the opera to the chamber stage.” Nuttall says. “Audiences will be able to see the full portrait of a musician. This is a great example of the spirit of Spoleto—we have this vast canvas of disparate artistic offerings, and because the creative minds behind them are in the same place at the same time, new artistic connections are forged for both the musicians and the audience.”
This year, lutenist Kevin Payne joins the musicians on the Dock Street stage, opening the doors to repertoire from the Renaissance, including two John Dowland songs and an Elizabethan set with Nuttall, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, and cellist Christopher Costanza; the lute is also featured on Baroque and contemporary works. Payne is a member of Juilliard 415, the Buxtehude Consort, and the Peabody Consort, and was the first lutenist to be accepted to The Juilliard School, where he is pursuing a graduate diploma in historical plucked instruments.
Returning artists include baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Livia Sohn, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist/violist Daniel Phillips, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, double bassist Anthony Manzo, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (members of which are Mr. Nuttall, new second violinist Owen Dalby, Lesley Robertson, and Christopher Costanza). New to the series is composer Mark Applebaum, lutenist Kevin Payne, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and pianist Erika Switzer.
Led by Nuttall, the St. Lawrence String Quartet—the Arthur and Holly Magill Quartet in Residence—celebrates its 25th anniversary during their 2014–15 season, including 20 years as part of the Bank of America Chamber Music series at Spoleto Festival USA. Making his ensemble debut from the Dock Street Theatre stage, Owen Dalby has been named as the new second violinist of the SLSQ. Dalby is a graduate of Yale University and is an acclaimed soloist and chamber musician. Currently based in New York, his relocation to Stanford University to be an artist-in-residence with his colleagues in the SLSQ will be a homecoming of sorts; Dalby is a native of Berkeley.
This year’s festival will be Nuttall’s sixth season as chamber music director, a post that includes his introductions to each program from the stage. Of his ability to educate and entertain,The New York Times said: “Mr. Nuttall turns out to be chamber music’s Jon Stewart… while maintaining the high musical standards of the series, he has established a new style of presentation that juxtaposes the ridiculous with the sublime, delves into serious musicology and casually uses technology. In short, he is subtly redefining what a chamber music concert can be.”
Each of the 11 programs is performed three times with two performances daily at 11:00am and 1:00pm in the 463-seat Dock Street Theatre at 135 Church Street.
The joyous news from Philadelphia today is that Bird Lives! Opera Philadelphia is doing its first premiere in almost four decades and it’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, composed by Daniel Schnyder, whose “thrilling classical-tinged jazz blend…constantly pushes the envelope” (Jazz Times), to a libretto by award-winning poet and playwright Bridgette Wimberly. The new chamber opera was created for American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a nominee for the 2015 International Opera Male Singer of the Year Award.
Co-commissioned and co-produced with Gotham Chamber Opera, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD was conceived and written for Brownlee’s agile, expressive voice, which Schnyder likens to the color and technical virtuosity of Parker’s music. As the New York Times notes, the tenor “soars easily up to ringing top notes, high Cs and even higher. Mr. Brownlee’s singing is a model of bel canto style.”
Directed by Ron Daniels under the leadership of Music Director Corrado Rovaris, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD premieres in Opera Philadelphia’s Aurora Series for Chamber Opera, crowning the company’s 40th Anniversary Season with a five-performance run in the Kimmel Center’s intimate Perelman Theater (June 5–14). Tickets are available from Ticket Philadelphia at 215.893.1018 or operaphila.org.
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He will take up his appointment in September 2017, following in the footsteps of previous Principal Conductors including André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev. As Music Director he will be involved in every aspect of the LSO’s work as well as championing the importance of music and music education.
At the announcement of his appointment, Simon Rattle said: “During my work with the LSO over the last years, I noticed that despite the Orchestra’s long and illustrious history, they almost never refer to it. Instead, refreshingly, they talk about the future, what can they make anew, what can they improve, how can they reach further into the community. In terms of musical excellence, it is clear that the sky’s the limit, but equally important, in terms of philosophy, they constantly strive to be a twenty-first century orchestra. We share a dream in which performing, teaching and learning are indivisible, with wider dissemination of our art at its centre. I cannot imagine a better or more inspiring way to spend my next years, and feel immensely fortunate to have the LSO as my musical family and co-conspirators.”
Simon Rattle outlined his vision for universal access to music, with children and young people at its heart. He called for new standards in making world-class music available to all. He stated his aim that every musician should be engaged in composing, improvising, mentoring and performing; that the creation of new music will be central to the process, working with leading composers and teachers; and that his appointment will generate new partnerships between London and the whole country to confirm the UK as a world leader in the arts.
Simon Rattle is currently Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker, where he was appointed in 2002. His first appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra was in October 1977, at the age of 22. He conducted the LSO at the opening ceremony of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, memorably performing Chariots of Fire with Rowan Atkinson. Most recently, in January this year, he was acclaimed for his two concerts with the LSO of Schumann, Stravinsky, Webern, Berg and Ligeti at the Barbican Centre.
Lennox Mackenzie, Chairman of the LSO, said: “I am thrilled that Sir Simon Rattle has accepted our invitation to lead the Orchestra into the future. On behalf of our whole Orchestra, we welcome him as our Music Director at this hugely important moment in the LSO’s history. I would also like to offer the Orchestra’s sincere thanks to Valery Gergiev who has been the LSO’s Principal Conductor since 2007 and who steps down from his position at the end of this year.”
Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director of the LSO, said: “This is the realisation of a dream, to bring Simon Rattle back to his home country to lead the extraordinary musicians of the LSO. We look forward to a new chapter of ambitious music-making that reaches deep into the communities we serve and touches people’s lives with the power of music.”
Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre, said: “We are delighted to welcome Sir Simon Rattle to the LSO, our resident orchestra since the Centre opened. The presence of a world-class orchestra at the heart of this world-class arts centre, serving the widest range of audiences across London and beyond, has been an indispensable part of the Barbican’s success. We look forward to a period of thrilling development as Simon Rattle takes the LSO to ever greater heights of musical achievement and service to the community.”
Professor Barry Ife, Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, said: “Sir Simon Rattle’s commitment to the next generation of musicians and to music education is world renowned. His appointment as Music Director of the LSO is an exciting opportunity, particularly for the students of the Guildhall School who regularly perform alongside the LSO’s musicians.”
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MATA Festival celebrates its seventeenth year, Monday, April 13 to Saturday, April 18, 2015, showcasing the wild variety of today’s compositional climate with a sweeping range of original compositions by thirty composers under the age of 40 from seventeen countries around the globe. Curated by the newly appointed Artistic Director, Du Yun, the 2015 Festival received international submissions from nearly a thousand composers—increasing by hundreds each year and confirming MATA’s booming status as the leading international festival for emerging composer talent. Among the Festival’s featured works are eleven American premieres and nine world premieres—three of which are Festival commissions—representing voices from Croatia to Iran, Bolivia to China. The 2015 Festival Commissionees are Ann Cleare (Ireland), Adam de la Cour (UK), and Wang Lu (China/US). MATA Festival 2015 boasts an unequaled lineup of performers, presenting Sweden’s aptly named Curious Chamber Players in the group’s U.S. debut visit, along with performances by Talea Ensemble, Momenta Quartet,Bearthoven, and a number of featured composer/performers.
“A bellwether of shifting tides” (Village Voice), the Festival’s non-dogmatic stylistic range is dizzying, this year offering a percussion sculpture, a punk-inspired scream-song, two works involving lamps and light bulbs, a pop-glitch piece based on Billy Joel’s “Honesty,” a sung resumé, a dancer connected to a pulley-driven prepared piano, recordings of Chinese women exercising in public, string quartets, electronics, video, and more. For the 2015 Festival, MATA also partners with Chashama to present a free site-specific sound art installation open daily to the public at Chashama 266, a storefront gallery in the bustling Fashion District. Festival offerings are previewed in an intimate opening night salon at Chelsea’s ultra-chic Paula Cooper Gallery with wine and music (Monday, 4/13); the “vibrant annual celebration of young composers” (The New York Times) continues over five nights at The Kitchen(Tuesday-Saturday, 4/14-18). Tickets are $20, $15 for students, available at www.thekitchen.org except for the opening night reception, $50 via www.matafestival.org. A full schedule of events appears below.
Composers who have been commissioned or presented by MATA early in their careers include Pulitzer-prize winner Jennifer Higdon, Derek Bermel, Annie Gosfield, Nico Muhly, Andrew Norman, David T. Little, and Alex Mincek. Over the years, the Festival has steadily expanded its international profile, highlighting fresh new voices and emerging trends on a global scale. Says Du Yun, “Not only are we tirelessly expanding our international profile, we arealsosurveying the scene at home. We are building a platform where the unthinkable is the status quo and the outcast is the norm.”
The two living American composers who share the name John Adams were the big winners at last night’s Grammy Awards.
John Adams, of Nixon in China and Death of Klinghoffer fame, won the Best Orchestral Performance for the second year in a row with the Saint Louis Symphony, conducted by David Robertson, being selected for its recording of his latest scores: City Noir and the Saxophone Concerto. Last year, the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of his Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine took home the award.
The Seattle Symphony received the Best Contemporary Classical Composition award for its recording of John LUTHER Adams’s Become Ocean. The orchestral work, inspired by the Pacific Ocean and the effects of climate change, was premiered by the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot in 2013. Last year it won the Pulitzer Prize for music.
The wonderful Hilary Hahn and the pianist Cory Smythe shared a Best Chamber Music Grammy for “27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores,” a two-CD set of 27 short, diverse pieces that the violinist commissioned. .
A Lifetime Achievement Award went to the conductor, composer and 26-time Grammy winner Pierre Boulez, whom the announcer on the televised broadcast insisted on calling “BOU-LAY.”
For those you anticipating posthumous fame, the most encouraging selection of the evening was a Best Classical Compendium Grammy for late American maverick composer and inventor Harry Partch. Accepting the award for his recording of Partch’s Plectra & Percussion Dances, producer John Schneider noted that his musicians had to learn the composer’s daunting 43-note scale as part of their preparation. Congratulations and thank you to the great people at Bridge Records.
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