The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Joel Thompson’s “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” is an eloquent and timely testament to Black victims of racism. It deserves to be performed in Madison and elsewhere

July 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

A reader recently wrote in and suggested that fellow blog fans should listen to “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” by the Atlanta-based American composer Joel Thompson (below).

So The Ear did just that.

He was both impressed and moved by the prescient piece of choral and orchestral music. It proved both powerful and beautiful.

The title alludes to the Bible’s depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but also to the musical setting of it that was composed by Franz Joseph Hadyn in the 18th century. But it stands on its own as a much needed and very accomplished updating, especially with the “last word” or phrase “I can’t breathe.”

It is hard to believe the work was written five years ago, and not last week or last month. But it couldn’t be more relevant to today.

It shows how deeply artists have been engaging with the social and political issues of the day, particularly the role of personal and structural racism in national life, and the plight of young Black men and women who face discrimination, brutality and even death at the hands of the police and a bigoted public.

The work was premiered by the Men’s Glee Club at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2015. This performance comes from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

The SSO and featured guest University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Men’s Glee Club, led by conductor Eugene Rogers  (below) – who directs choral music and teaches conducting at the UM — premiered a 2017 commissioned fully orchestrated version of “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.” You can hear it in the YouTube video below.

It is an eminently listenable and accessible, multi-movement work honoring the lives, deaths and personal experiences of seven Black men.

The seven last words used in the work’s text are: “Why do you have your guns out?” – Kenneth Chamberlain, 66; “What are you following me for?” – Trayvon Martin, 16; “Mom, I’m going to college.” – Amadou Diallo, 23; “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” – Michael Brown, 18; “You shot me! You shot me!” – Oscar Grant, 22; “It’s not real.” – John Crawford, 22; “I can’t breathe.” – Eric Garner, 43.

The Ear thinks that once live concerts begin again after the coronavirus pandemic is contained, it should be programmed locally. It could and should be done by, among others, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Choir; or the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra and Choral Union; or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with the Festival Choir of Madison; or the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

They have all posted messages about standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the protesters against racism. But will words lead to commitment and action?

It will be interesting to see who responds first. In addition to being timely, such a performance certainly seems like a good way to draw in young people and to attract Black listeners and other minorities to classical music.

Here is a link if you also want to check out the almost 200 very pertinent comments about the work, the performance, the performers and of course the social and political circumstances that gave rise to the work — and continue to do so with the local, regional, national and international mass protests and demonstrations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdNXoqNuLRQ&app=desktop

And here is the performance itself:

What do you think of the work?

How did you react to it?

Would you like to see and hear it performed live where you are?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: What do you think about Abraham Lincoln and the statue of him on the UW-Madison campus?

June 28, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The proposal, discussion and controversy have become local, regional, national and international news.

What do you think about Abraham Lincoln?

And what do you think should be done about the statue of him (below, in a photo by Getty Images) on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus? Should it go? Or should it stay? Why?

Leave a comment below.

While you consider those questions, perhaps you will find it worth listening to James Earl Jones (below) narrate “A Lincoln Portrait” by the American composer Aaron Copland.It is played by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra under conductor Gerard Schwarz in the excerpt below that was recently posted by Kathleen Zorko — “with hope” — on YouTube.

 


Classical music: Here is music that asks for and then grants the peace we need now

June 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is The Ear alone in being reminded of the year 1968 and its various social, political and personal upheavals?

What explains it?

What are the parallels, if any?

Is it the national and international protests against police injustice and racism (below, in a photo by Getty Images)?

Is it the violence and riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and opposition to the Vietnam War?

Is it the isolation and deaths (below, in a photo by ABC News) brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and the more than 100,000 deaths in just the U.S. from COVID-19?

Whatever you think and whether you agree or not, we all can use some peace.

Here is some music that both asks for peace and grants it.

It is the “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Grant Us Peace) from the “Mass in B Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed in the YouTube video below by Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus with soloists.

If there are other pieces of classical music that serve that same purpose and you would like to hear, leave your suggestion in the comment section.

 


Classical music: Meet the “Stay at Home” Symphony Orchestra. How do they sound so close and tight? Plus, today is May Day. What music would you play to celebrate workers?

May 1, 2020
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ALERT: Today is May Day, a time to honor workers. What music would you play to celebrate and thank all the frontline workers — doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, firefighters, bus drivers, cleaners and janitors, grocery store workers, delivery people and others — who are now so indispensable?

By Jacob Stockinger

Many musicians — both singers and instrumentalists (below) — are self-isolating and doing their at-home best to keep those of us also sheltering in place entertained by performing virtual concerts.

It is something listeners can be grateful for. The players do an admirable and free public service during the COVID-19 crisis and coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, the virtual performances also have practical purposes.

The musicians keep their skills sharp during isolation.

And the virtual performances help to keep the names of individuals and groups, of composers and pieces, in the public’s mind at a time when live concerts have all been canceled or postponed.

There are many, many virtual concerts to choose from – made by local, regional, national and international musicians, some amateurs and some professional.

Many of them are solo performances given by an individual member of an orchestra, chamber music group or choral ensemble as well as big-name soloists such as pianist Emanuel Ax and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The individual ones are appreciated and impressive, even if some of the performances seem amateur-like in the sound or awkwardness.

What really impresses The Ear is when large groups, such as symphony orchestras and choirs, perform something with all the players at home and yet somehow the whole finished product sounds incredibly tight in and incredibly professional.

Last Saturday, the Metropolitan Opera even held a four-hour online gala with singers and instrumentalists from all over the world.

It makes The Ear wonder why they sound so good. How they do it, with all the complications and variables of timing and tempo, of rhythm, pitch and dynamics?

Is it the planning?

The processing and editing?

In any case, a very good example comes from the “Stay at Home” Symphony Orchestra playing Mozart’s Overture to the opera “The Marriage of Figaro.”

You can hear the YouTube video of the performance below.

Are there other such performances that you can point out to The Ear and you would like to see posted on this blog?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: This year’s LunART Festival in late June has been canceled and indefinitely postponed. Here are tastes of what is to come in new music commissions

April 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post from flutist Iva Ugrcic, the founder and executive director of the national award-winning LunART Festival (below), originally slated to take place in late June in various venues around Madison.

The event promotes and advocates for women in the arts including local artists and guest artists in music, poetry, dance, visual art and stand-up comedy. (You can see aerial choreography from last year’s festival in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Each year, the annual event also issues an international call for women composers to submit new works to be premiered during the festival.

“Like many others, we have been closely monitoring the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the world,” says Ugrcic (below), a doctoral graduate of the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

“In order to protect the wellbeing of our guests, artists and team members, we have made the heartbreaking but necessary decision to postpone LunART Festival 2020 until further notice.” (Below is a past performance at the First Unitarian Society of Madison.)

“Once we establish a timeline to resume our celebration, you will be the first to know. In the meantime, our incredible third season is already being planned. It will feature works by over 40 women artists and composers from across the globe.

“These are exceptionally difficult times, but this too will pass, and we will all emerge from this more united than ever. Stay safe and healthy. We cannot wait to share the love and joy of the arts with you in person again. (Below is the festival in Promenade Hall of the Overture Center.)

“Warmest regards,
“The LunART Team” (Yana Avedyan, Leslie Damaso, Satoko Hayami, Allison Jerzak, Marie Pauls and Iva Ugrcic)

Ugrcic also provided additional information:

“I am still hoping that we would be able to hold the festival this summer. However, it is really hard to say right now.

“In the meantime, I have been in contact with all four of our Call for Scores winners: Alexis Bacon (USA, below top), Patricia Lopes (Brazil), Nicole Murphy (Australia) and Rosita Piritore (Italy, below bottom).

“We are finding ways to still promote their music and excite our audience about what they are going to hear and who they are going to meet when we get back together. So here are links to YouTube and some of the interviews we did with them:

  1. Patricia  Lopes (below): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAaZfD0Licc

  1. Nicole Murphy (below): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoT4hg9hQSo

 


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra cancels concerts and events through June. Here are details and links about ticket donations, exchanges and refunds

April 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has canceled or postponed concerts and events that would have taken place in April, May and June 2020 in response to the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

“We have been continuously monitoring the latest news and guidance from our public officials throughout this pandemic,” Executive director Rick Mackie said. “All of us here at the MSO are saddened not to be able to share our final two symphony concerts and organ season finale performance with our audiences and community.

“It is with confidence and optimism that we look forward to welcoming you back to the beautiful experience of concerts in Overture Hall that are a part of both our 2020-21 “Beethoven and Beyond” symphony season and new organ series that begin this September.”

Here are more details:

APRIL AND MAY CONCERT CANCELLATIONS AND TICKET OPTIONS

The MSO’s April 3, 4 and 5 “Dvorak Requiem” subscription season concerts were canceled last month due to the closure of Overture Center through April 24, 2020 and the recommendations of local, state and national officials.

Ticket-holders were notified and given the option of donating their tickets back to the MSO, exchanging tickets for a new 2020-21 season concert, or requesting a refund. The MSO is grateful that a majority of people have chosen to donate their tickets to date.

The MSO’s May 1, 2 and 3 “Piano Power” season finale concerts, with Yefim Bronfman, are also now canceled. Patrons who have tickets for these subscription season concerts have received an email giving them the options to donate, exchange or receive a refund. Due to the cancellation of the concerts, the open rehearsal scheduled for Thursday, April 30, will also not take place.

SUPPORT FOR OUR MUSICIANS

The care of the MSO Board of Directors for the well-being and sustenance of our artists has been manifest from the outset of the coronavirus emergency.

We understand that the musicians will need our help keeping their lives together. The decision was made to pay the musicians of the orchestra for both the April and May subscription concerts.

MAY 5, 2020 OVERTURE CONCERT ORGAN PERFORMANCE POSTPONED

The May 5 Overture Concert Organ performance — “Greg Zelek (below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) with the Diapason Brass and Timpani” — is now postponed. When a new date is secured, we will notify ticket-holders about their options.

EDUCATION EVENTS

MSO’s Education and Community Engagement Programs, including Symphony Soup scheduled for May 18 and 19, and Link Up scheduled for May 20-21, have been canceled for this year. HeartStrings® and Up Close & Musical® events have previously been canceled.

2020 JUNE CONCERT ON THE GREEN

The Madison Symphony Orchestra League’s 2020 Concert on the Green annual fundraiser that was scheduled to take place on Monday, June 15, has been canceled for this year. The League’s event committee is already working on plans to bring the event back in 2021. More information about the date for the event next year will be announced as soon as it is available.

Here are helpful links to more information about Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts and events.

April 3, 4, 5 and May 1, 2, 3 symphony season concerts, ticket options: https://madisonsymphony.org/tickets

 May 5 organ performance postponement: https://madisonsymphony.org/organzelek

2020 Concert on the Green: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/concert-on-the-green-2020/

Upcoming Concerts & Events page (updated continually): https://madisonsymphony.org/events-list/

Learn more about MSO’s Education and Community Engagement Programs: https://madisonsymphony.org/education-community/

View the new 20/21 “Ode to Joy: Beethoven and Beyond” season that starts in September, 2020 (subscriptions available now): https://madisonsymphony.org/20-21

The MSO continuously composes and presents a series of News and Stories at https://madisonsymphony.org/news-stories/to keep the essential connection with its staff, audiences, artists and community alive. Explore two recent stories of note.

April 30, 2020, Experience Dvorak’s Requiem Virtually: https://madisonsymphony.org/experience-dvorak-requiem-virtually/

March 27, 2020, A Message from MSO maestro John DeMain: https://madisonsymphony.org/march-2020-message-from-john-demain/


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Classical music: Musical America offers an exhaustive and helpful guide to international FREE streaming of operas, concerts and recitals, complete with program notes and links for listening

April 5, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

During the COVID-19 pandemic, so much music is being streamed – through both live streaming and delayed pre-recorded streaming – that it can be hard to keep track of it all.

After all, the events are taking place locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

How do you know what operas, orchestral concerts, chamber music concerts and individual recitals will take place? Where and when they will take place? What time is it in your time zone? And where do you find links to the performances, such as those by the famed Berlin Philharmonic (below)?

Getting so much information can be daunting.

But one loyal reader has helped The Ear by sending word about the most exhaustive compilation or online guide to FREE streaming of classical music events he has seen so far.

It is done by Musical America, and The Ear highly recommends it. 

The Musical America website advises users that the guide will be updated twice weekly, and that Central European Time (CET) is six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight time (EDT) — or seven hours ahead of Central Daylight Time (CDT).

It also tells you how long many of the streamed videos are available for. A full 23 or 24 hours after the initial airing seems pretty average. But many appealing events – by some of the most prestigious organizations and individual performers in the world — will be available for the entire duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

You also get concise notes about the performers and the programs.

Today and tonight, for example, you could take in productions by the Berlin State Opera, the Zurich Opera and Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera (below) and the Vienna State Opera.

You could also take in the historical performances from the ongoing Cliburn Watch Party from the Cliburn International Piano Competition, and the twice weekly concerts by the six musically talented children in the acclaimed Kanneh-Mason family in England, now dubbed “The Von Trapp’s of classical music.” (Below is cellist brother Sheku Kanneh-Mason performing at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.)

And you could listen to award-winning cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below) will also discuss and play all 36 movements of the six solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach that she recently recorded and just released.

The guide lists some of the more outstanding paid websites such as Medici TV but also lists events that took place much earlier but are still available for free watching and listening.

The guide has a link so that organizations can submit their own events for listing or users can make suggestions.

In short, the Musical America guide is extremely useful. You should probably bookmark it if you are planning to listen to a lot of musical events online through streaming.

But don’t take The Ear’s word for it. Take a look and check it out for yourself.

Here is a link: https://www.musicalamerica.com/news/newsstory.cfm?storyid=44766&categoryid=1&archived=0

What do you think of it?

Do you find it useful and think you will?

Do you see any major shortcomings or overlooked events?

Recommendations of your own?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Local groups stream videos to entertain home-bound listeners, and perhaps to promote their next seasons. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra cancels and postpones its May concerts

April 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Cancellations and postponements aren’t the only effects that the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic are having on the local classical music scene.

Many local ensembles – much like such national and international organizations as the Metropolitan Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra — are also starting to offer free streamed performances, some of them archival and some of them are specially performed.

Bach Around the Clock even held a virtual festival this year that featured many different original recorded performances spread out over many days and continues.

Why are they doing so?

Certainly to help entertain the public while they weather the boredom and loneliness of social distancing and sheltering in place at home. Music can comfort.

Perhaps they are also doing so as a smart marketing move to stay in the public’s consciousness despite cancellations and to indirectly promote their upcoming seasons.

Here are some examples:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is offering a link to a YouTube performance — by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra below) — of the Dvorak Requiem, which the MSO orchestra and chorus were supposed to perform this weekend but had to cancel.

The video also has a message from music director John DeMain; texts and translations from the Czech; a special pre-concert talk and program notes for the Requiem by J. Michael Allsen; and a link to the MSO’s 2020-21 season.

Here is a link: https://madisonsymphony.org/experience-dvorak-requiem-virtually/

In other MSO news: The concerts with pianist Yefim Bronfman playing the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Brahms on May 1, 2 and 3 and the open rehearsal on April 30 are now canceled, and the May 5 organ performance has been postponed.

For those who hold tickets for May concerts, the MSO will be announcing options for donation, exchange and refunds sometime this weekend or next week.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO), which recently streamed its December concert in the UW’s Hamel Center, has started a special “Coucherto” series – it’s a pun on concerto and couch – of special at-home concerts by individual musicians in the WCO for those listeners who are staying at home.

The project uses social media including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Vimeo and at the WCO’s home website. Also included is an invitation by music director Andrew Sewell.

The WCO’s next season hasn’t been announced yet, but should be soon.

Here is a link: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/about/coucherto/

For its part, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which is facing uncertainty about its June concert series, which focuses on Beethoven’s piano trios – is offering selected chamber music performances from its past seasons that are on BDDS’ YouTube channel.

It too has comments and the program lineup for its season this summer.

Here is a link: https://bachdancing.org/watch-listen/video/

Have you seen any of these videos?

What do you think of them?

Dp you think they work as marketing strategies?

Have you discovered sites for streaming classical music that you recommend to others?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Acclaimed local soprano Sarah Brailey explains why performing artists and presenters need help during the COVID-19 pandemic

March 23, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Sarah Brailey (below) is worried.

And with good reason.

Chances are good that you have seen the local soprano or heard her sing.

She is the artistic director of the Handel Aria Competition, which she herself won in 2015. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Brailey sing the aria “Will the Sun Forget to Streak” from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon,”  with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra under conductor Julian Wachner, in the St. Paul Chapel in New York City.)

Brailey is a co-founder of and participant in the monthly free Just Bach concerts here. In addition, while pursuing graduate studies at the UW-Madison, she is a concert artist with a budding international career. For more about her, including a rave review from The New York Times and sample videos, go to: https://sarahbrailey.com

But right now the Wisconsin native is especially concerned about the lasting impact that the Coronavirus pandemic will have on her own career as well as on the careers of others like her and on the well-being of arts presenters.

Brailey (below, in photo by Miranda Loud) sent The Ear the following essay:

By Sarah Brailey

This is a scary time for everyone, but particularly for anyone who works as an independent contractor.

I am a freelance classical soprano based in Madison. I maintain a very active performing career, traveling all over the globe, and I am also a doctoral student at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, presenting organizations on the east and west coasts started canceling concerts to comply with social distancing recommendations.

I initially thought I was lucky to be living in the middle of the country where our lesser population density might save us. Plus, I am a Teaching Assistant at the UW right now, so I will still be getting my stipend — although teaching virtual voice lessons will be its own special challenge!

But many of my colleagues are not so lucky and are facing bankruptcy. If the government doesn’t include independent contractors in its relief packages, a lot of people are going to be insolvent.

And I myself am not immune. As the seriousness of the situation became clear, all my concerts in the next two months soon disappeared one by one.

While not being able to perform is emotionally devastating, these cancellations are also financially devastating.

There exists a clause in every standard performance contract called “force majeure” (superior force), which is idiomatically referred to as, “an act of God.” This clause excuses a party from not honoring its contractual obligations that becomes impossible or impracticable, due to an event or effect that the parties could not have anticipated or controlled.

This can come in handy for a presenter if there is, say, a blizzard that necessitates the cancellation of a concert. (This happened to me a few seasons ago with the Boston Symphony.) If the presenter will not make any money on ticket sales, they are not then further injured by having to pay the musicians for the canceled concert. (Below, Brailey sings Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with the Colorado Symphony.)

The ramifications of this pandemic are unprecedented. Every freelance musician I know is suddenly out of work. The current conventions put all of the upfront financial burden on the artists. We are paid in one lump sum at the end of a project. We do not get a fee for the countless hours of preparation.

We often book travel and lodging on our own dime, and are not reimbursed until the end of the gig. We pay for our own health insurance, and we cannot file for unemployment because our work is paid via IRS Form 1099 and not W2s. The abrupt work stoppage caused by this pandemic means insolvency – or even bankruptcy — for many artists. (Below, Brailey sings Handel’s “Messiah” at the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City.)

Many institutions — and, unfortunately, many of the bigger players like The Metropolitan Opera — are invoking force majeure without much regard for how their artists are struggling.

My colleague, tenor Zach Finkelstein, is covering this in great detail on his blog The Middle Class Artist, as is Alex Ross, the prize-winning music critic for The New Yorker. Read his piece on force majeure here.

However, there are also thankfully some good stories to tell. The Bach Society of Minnesota reimbursed all my travel expenses and is paying 75 percent of my fee, as is the Lyra Baroque Orchestra.

I am helping Zach keep track of the organizations that are helping their artists in this time of need. (Read about them here. Madison Opera is on the list.)

The arts are not just cultural enrichment; they are an essential part of our economy. In 2017, the industry contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent, to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed over 5 million workers. We cannot afford to let this industry disappear. I fear that many individual artists and arts organizations will not recover from this. (Below, Brailey sings Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat” at the Bucknell Bach Festival.)

While we wait out this storm, I implore you to donate to a Madison arts organization. Here is a short list of recommendations along with some national relief funds for artists.

Local Arts Organizations

Madison Bach Musicians

Handel Aria Competition

Madison Early Music Festival

Madison Opera

Madison Youth Choirs

List of National Relief Funds


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