eugene symphony

MusicWatch Weekly: for the children

Music inspired by children lead this week's Oregon concert lineup

The Christmas season celebrates a child’s birth and delights kids all over the world. But there’s little comfort and joy for many children today. Even before little Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on that Turkish beach three years ago, children were bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis and so many other catastrophes. Fear No Music’s “All of the Future: In Celebration of Children” features chamber music on subjects especially significant to children, including gun violence (Larry Bell’s Newtown Variations, responding to the 2013 massacre), homophobia (Pulitzer Prize winner David Del Tredici’s Matthew Shepard), migration (Mary Kouyoumdjian’s A Boy And A Makeshift Toy, inspired by the 1990s Bosnian conflict), bullying (Barbara White’s Registering My Oppositions) and, yes, the plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean (Nadir Vassena’s child lost at sea). The young musicians of Portland’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras contribute a collective compositional response to the new ICE crackdown on immigrants.
Monday. The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s annual holiday concert happens this weekend.

• Like so many parents today, jazz pianist Ezra Weiss, the father of two young sons, worries about the turn the world has taken recently and what it means for his children’s future. And as one of Portland’s most esteemed jazz composers and arrangers, Weiss channeled those concerns when he created his latest and one of his most ambitious compositions. This concert, a fundraiser for the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, features the premiere and live recording of Weiss’s new jazz suite We Limit Not the Truth of God, featuring many of the city’s top players (John Nastos, John Savage, Renato Caranto, Stan Bock, Alan Jones, Carlton Jackson, Thomas Barber and more, plus the Camas High School Choir. This new creation follows a string of successes, including his score for Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s multimedia concert and recording earlier this year, From Maxville To Vanport; three original musicals for Northwest Children’s Theater; three ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, half a dozen CDs, and a host of arrangements and compositions for various Portland jazz veterans. But fair warning: although inspired by concern for children, some of the themes in Weiss’s new composition may not be appropriate for all of them. Such is the state of our world.
Saturday. Alberta Abbey, Portland.

• The impressive Portland composer Renée Favand-See dedicated her new solo piano work Growing to her first son Owen, and suggests that its premiere performance would be a good one for adults and kids. It’s part of award winning rising star pianist Zhenni Li’s free, one-hour, no intermission recital presented by Portland Piano International, which commissioned it. Along with Growing (based on Britten’s folk song arrangement “The trees they grow so high,” which will be sung by Arwen Myers in Portland), the recital includes music by Beethoven, Bortkiewicz, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition.
Friday, St. Paul’s Episcopal, 1444 Liberty Street SE, Salem, and Saturday, Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland.

Choral Concerts

• Children from ORS’s own youth choirs and student choristers from local middle and high schools join in some selections in Oregon Repertory Singers’ Glory of Christmas concert, annually one of the best bets of the holiday music season. The 20th and 21st century program includes excerpts from contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights and Benjamin Britten’s enchanting Ceremony of Carols, Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen’s moving O Magnum Mysterium, Portland composer Naomi LaViolette’s Angel in the Snow, contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Bogoroditse Devo and Magnificat, contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds’s Stars, Franz Biebl’s perennial Ave Maria, and more.
Friday (tickets available) & Sunday (sold out, call ahead), First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson St, Portland.

Oregon Repertory Singers perform at Portland’s First United Methodist Church.

• Some of the same composers and even compositions appear on Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland’s CAE Yuletide: To Friends Old & New this weekend. The choir teams up with composers from our own time and place to perform new Northwest seasonal works created by members of Cascadia Composers, plus old favorites by other renowned contemporary choral composers (Gjeilo, Lauridsen, Stephen Chatman, Pärt), new works by rising young composers (Jake Runestad, Joshua Shank, Martin Åsander) and classics by Mozart, Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Tavener, Elgar, and more. Portland composer Lisa Neher’s Three Basho Haiku includes ”harvest moon,” which conjures the image of a large, orange moon rising in the autumn sky; “first winter rain,” which likens the ending of the year with the waning of life, prompting the search for the comfort of companionship and “this fragrance,” which relates the experience of a particular scent awakening emotions and memories. Bill Whitley‘s Ecclesia is a tribute to the great Portland architect Pietro Beluschi. Read ArtsWatch’s interview with CAE artistic director David De Lyser.
Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 2408 SE 16th Ave. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: winter’s tales

Operas and other musical stories enliven Oregon music stages

Remember when opera lovers despaired of experiencing their favorite art form during Oregon’s indoor seasons? Well, after switching to a summer festival schedule last year, Portland Opera has added back a fall performance and December brings several other operatic opportunities. Opera Theater Oregon returns this weekend with The Little Prince,  British composer Rachel Portman’s operatic, family friendly English-language adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s beloved classic tale. The plucky independent opera company features new management and old favorites, including Portland Opera singers Hannah Penn and Anton Belov, local stars Damien Geter and Catherine Olson, and more. Stay tuned for Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch preview.
Friday-Sunday at Portland5 Winningstad Theatre.

Opera Theater Oregon’s ‘The Little Prince’ runs this weekend at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre. Photo: Theodore Sweeney

• An earlier French fantasy furnishes the story for another opera onstage in Portland this weekend and next. Imagine the government dictating women’s reproductive choices. Crazy notion, I know, but after the massacres of the first World War (and other times too), nationalist rulers encouraged the women in some combatant countries to deploy their uteri to replenish the depleted ranks of cannon fodder, and crank out babies like so many production-line tanks. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1903 surrealist drama The Breasts of Tirésias (Les Mamelles de Tirésias) imagined what would happen if a French woman refused to do her patriotic duty, delegating the task to her husband — who in an outburst of patriotic fervor delivers — to the tune of 40,049 babies in a single day, all of whom have successful careers in the arts, of course.

Actually, the tunes belong to French composer Francis Poulenc, who in 1947 turned his buddy Apollinaire’s crazy farce into his own breezy first opera. This full staging with piano and percussion is the big event in one of the year’s most appealing classical music programs: Portland State’s fab Poulenc@PSU series, bringing deserved local prominence to one of those composers I always recommend to classical music fans who mistakenly believe that the 20th century produced little music of charm and tunefulness. Like Poulenc himself, the opera bursts with both humor and seriousness. And the gender-bendy story, such as it is, remains resonant.
Friday through December 9. Studio Theater, Lincoln Hall 1620 SW Park Ave. Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: odd ensembles

Unusual instrumental and vocal aggregations descend on Oregon stages this week

The weather’s changing, the climate’s changing, the Congress is changing, our linens are changing (flannel sheet season FTW!) and ensembles coming through Oregon this week are changing the formula for chamber music.

• Take the combo of violin, viola, drum, and DJ. That was the setup onstage at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall last year when Black Violin played a couple of shows in Portland. They’re returning there Friday, and then take the Silva Hall stage at Eugene’s Hult Center Sunday. Stay tuned for my preview tomorrow, and during the meanwhilst, read ArtsWatch’s reviews of their previous Portland shows by Matthew Andrews and Maria Choban.

The Akropolis Reed Quintet performs in the University of Oregon’s Chamber Music@Beall series. Photo: Tom Emerson.

• Like Black Violin, the young Akropolis Reed Quintet is also shattering instrumental stereotypes. While string quartets and piano trios are by far the most common instruments are stereotypically “classical” ensembles, they play classic and contemporary music arranged for the unique combo of oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon — and it works beautifully. “Akropolis is great at balancing expressive lead playing with clear, richly textured, well-rehearsed group dynamics,” wrote Matthew Andrews in ArtsWatch after their sizzling performances at Chamber Music Northwest last year. In their Sunday afternoon concert in the University of Oregon’s Chamber Music at Beall series, Akropolis plays an all-American music program of arrangements for of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, contemporary compositions by Gregory Wanamaker and John Steinmetz (a name familiar to Oregon Bach Festival audiences), and 20th century classics by Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives.

• Another windy ensemble returns to Portland’s Newmark Theatre Monday when the ever-popular Canadian Brass play their usual mix of classical, pop and other sounds on tuba, trombone, horns, and trumpets.

• Still another unusual classical ensemble joins the Eugene Symphony this Thursday. The four-time Grammy winning Chicago sextet (piano, percussion, flute, clarinet, cello, violin/viola) returns with a concerto written especially for them by Jennifer Higdon, the Pulitzer Prize winning American composer who’s probably the closest successor to Aaron Copland. As she showed in her appearance with the ESO and Marin Alsop years ago, Higdon is one of the country’s most engaging exponents of contemporary classical music, writing accessible yet inventive music and reaching out to audiences with equal generosity. Read Daniel Heila’s ArtsWatch interview with Higdon.

The rest of the orchestra’s splendid program includes one of Bach’s ever popular Brandenburg Concertos, some danceable Mozart, and Leonard Bernstein’s jazzy 1944 ballet score Fancy Free, which dazzlingly evokes midcentury New York’s cosmopolitan culture via a musical depiction of a story of three sailors on shore leave seeking romance (which Bernstein immediately revisited, sort of, in On the Town). Both Akropolis and eighth blackbird are also doing multiple community outreach and education events while they’re here.

• Last year, the ESO played another fine recent work by another top American composer (and another Alsop favorite), Michael Daugherty’s Tales of Hemingway. This Friday (at Portland’s First United Methodist Church) and Saturday (at Troutdale’s Reynolds Performing Arts Center), Portland Columbia Symphony orchestra plays the dramatic 2015 cello concerto, which won three Grammy Awards last year. Each movement evokes episodes from the author’s stories. A WWI vet heals himself through immersion in a Michigan wilderness; an American on a suicide mission to help the anti-fascist side in the Spanish Civil War (including a tolling bell); an old fisherman struggles against wild natural forces. In the Spanish-inflected final movement, a disillusioned, Lost Generation bohemian American expat seeks inspiration from bullfighting and the famous running of the bulls. Rising star cello soloist Allison Eldredge recently won a coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant, and was named by Musical America as Young Artist of the Year. The program also includes three other literary-inspired works by Erich Korngold and a Mozart overture.

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Jennifer Higdon: updating classical music

Prize-winning American composer, whose music will be performed this week by Eighth Blackbird and Eugene Symphony, shows how the genre can avoid obsolescence

by DANIEL HEILA

In 2011, National Public Radio asked Pulitzer Prize winning American composer Jennifer Higdon where classical music was headed in the 21st century. In distinct contrast to her generally open-hearted music, Higdon’s answer seemed pessimistic: it almost implied that classical music might be facing obsolescence. Citing its lack of Grammy Awards interest, disappearing retail sales in both CDs and books related to the subject, dwindling audiences, upturned noses of teen potential, she painted a grim picture.

But she also pointed to a way to avoid that fate: update. Bring the genre solidly into the now. Her personal plan to update classical music (not everyone agrees just what that is, BTW) is to “continue to talk with audiences to increase comfort levels . . . and [to] write the most engaging music that I can.”

Composer Jennifer Higdon’s music highlights Eugene Symphony’s Thursday concert. Photo: J.D. Scott

Fast forward to 2018, and Higdon is still doing her part with hundreds of performances a year and recordings on more than 60 CDs. As is the ESO, which has invited Eighth Blackbird to not only perform Higdon’s concerto, but also to offer workshops, lectures, and masterclasses in both public and private events (check the schedule here). And this Thursday, her music returns (Higdon will not be present) to Eugene to demonstrate how to make classical music vital. On November 15, the Eugene Symphony Orchestra joins Chicago-based new music ensemble Eighth Blackbird in Higdon’s new concerto On a Wire, written expressly for them.

Beyond being a must-see concert, what does this kind of programming say about the future of classical music? Actually, it says a lot, and in an ArtsWatch interview, so does Higdon herself. And it’s good news.

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MusicWatch Weekly: freedom songs

Socially conscious sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

In focusing on the music of the past, classical music programming has too often ignored the concerns of the present. But over the past couple years, some Portland classical music organizations have focused on issues of social and especially racial justice — none more conscientiously than the all star choir Resonance Ensemble, which devoted last season to music and poetry related to some of today’s most pressing social concerns.

Resonance Ensemble performs Sunday.

Sunday afternoon’s Hidden Voices concert continues that commendable emphasis by taking the music out of the usual concert halls and bringing it to Bethel A.M.E. Church, 5828 NE 8th Ave., Portland’s oldest continuously operating black church, and also Oregon’s only African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Composer Damien Geter sings with Resonance Ensemble. Photo: Kenton Waltz.

With help from BRAVO Youth Orchestra (Portland’s version of Venezuela’s groundbreaking El Sistema program that brings classical music training to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it) and Derrick McDuffey and the gospel ensemble Kingdom Sound, they’ll perform the world premiere of a movement from Resonance singer (and ArtsWatch contributor) Damien Geter’s Requiem, which sets texts by African-American men killed by police, and the West Coast premiere of American Dreamers, a piece by young Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy (whose Gonzales Cantata was performed last week by Portland’s Big Mouth) that sets texts by five Americans who came to the U.S. as undocumented children. Resonance Poet in Residence S. Renee Mitchell contributes another original work.

• The 20-member Soweto Gospel Choir, which performs “Songs of the Free” Wednesday night at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, often mixes traditional and popular music from around Africa with exuberant American gospel styles and even pop music arrangements by African diasporites like Jimmy Cliff, Otis Redding and Bob Marley. Winner of top gospel music awards and Grammys, the choir has scored a world music chart-topping album, worked with members of Queen and Bono, and performed for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Composed of some of the finest singers around Soweto and Johannesburg, its concerts present a striking visual as well as auditory experience, replete with multi colored traditional costumes, high kicking synchronized dance moves, and accompanying percussion such as the djembe drum. Even when they sing Xhosa and a half dozen other languages, the ensemble supplies English explanations of the stories behind the songs.

Portland Taiko at its fall 2016 concert. Photo: Brian Sweeney.

• Another Portland music institution whose programming has recently responded to today’s social concerts, FearNoMusic, joins Portland Taiko in music that responds to the American government’s brutal imprisonment of innocent American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In Sunday night’s Sticks + Strings concert at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., the new music group accompanies the Japanese percussion ensemble’s drummers in the premiere of Dango Jiru for taiko, flute, violin, and cello, a new work by FNM artistic director Kenji Bunch, Portland’s hottest contemporary composer, who’ll also play his haunting solo viola, Minidoka, inspired by his visit to one of those concentration camps. Portland Taiko will also perform one of their own pieces on that subject and other works.

Kenji Bunch plays his own music with Portland Taiko.

Orchestral Highlights

• Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at Portland’s First Baptist Church and Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium not only present some of the standards of baroque music — Vivaldi’s Op. 3 violin concertos — but also some of the Red Priest’s equally ebullient music for singer (this time, Czech soprano Hana Blažíková) and orchestra: In furore iustissimae irae, RV626 and Nulla in mundo pax, RV 630.

• Another historically informed band, Emerald Chamber Orchestra, with singers Phoebe Gildea and Trevor Cook perform J.S. Bach’s fun Peasant Cantata (featuring a farmer and a tax collector) and his famous Orchestral Suite #2 at Eugene’s Christian Science Church Auditorium at 14th and Pearl Streets.

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MusicWatch Weekly: centennial celebration

Symphonic tributes to composer/conductor/crossover king Leonard Bernstein and other American sounds highlight this week's Oregon music scene

Has any musician ever had a year like Leonard Bernstein did between November 1943 and December 1944? The 25-year-old wunderkind won national fame for fill-in conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice in a nationally broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, conducted the premiere of his first symphony and the recording of his scintillating first ballet, Fancy Free (which the New York City Ballet premiered that year and which Eugene Symphony performs in November), wrote a hit for Billie Holiday, and saw his first musical open on Broadway. Whew!

That debut musical, On the Town, is best known for “New York, New York, a hell of a town,” but the rest of the score sparkles just as brightly. On Thursday at Eugene’s Hult Center, its dance episodes open Eugene Symphony’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centenary, which orchestras and ensembles throughout Oregon and the world are also honoring this year.

Leonard Bernstein

The rest of the program is equally compelling. Shostakovich’s magnificent fifth symphony was a Bernstein fave he did much to popularize in the West, and Lenny recorded Ernest Bloch’s popular cello concerto Schelomo (King Solomon) twice. The Swiss-born composer wrote his “Hebraic rhapsody” in 1916, just before he moved to the US (where it premiered), long before he settled in Agate Beach in 1941. (He died in Portland in 1959.) Soloist Julie Albers stars.

The Vancouver Symphony’s opening concerts Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall also laud Lenny with excerpts from his great stage scores Candide and West Side Story. Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist Mayuko Kamio stars in another American masterwork, Samuel Barber’s vibrant Violin Concerto. The show opens with a low-blowing new piece the orchestra commendably commissioned from a local composer: one of its bassoonists, Nicole Buetti.

Inon Barnatan performs with the Oregon Symphony

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the world premiere of 27-year-old Katherine Balch’s whispery Chamber Music, which deploys a variety of percussion instruments along with the usual strings and winds to create, she says, “a very intimate, intricate music intended for close listening and made among friends.” One of Joseph Haydn’s popular “Paris” symphonies, nicknamed “The Hen” because of some clucked-up first movement violins, offers another chance to hear the orchestra excel in the magnificent music of a composer whose symphonies have become one of its specialities. Aaron Copland’s Jazz Age Piano Concerto followed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto into then-sketchy (for symphony orchestras) jazzy territory. Nearly a century later, it sounds like a lot of fun, and a sleek vehicle for excellent Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan before the concert arrives at its final destination: Brahms’s mighty fourth symphony.

A highlight of last week’s OSO concerts was a new work by one of America’s most appealing living composers, Kevin Puts. His Beethovenian 2007 Trio-Sinfonia highlights Saturday’s Chamber Music @ Beall performance by the excellent Eroica Trio at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. They’ll also play Bach’s famous “Chaconne” from Partita in d Minor; the equally famous Adagio in g minor by 20th-century musicologist Remo Giazotto still infuriatingly and falsely attributed to Tomaso Albinoni by record companies, program writers and classical music announcers who should know better by now, and Mendelssohn’s c minor Trio.

Earlier that day and not far away, at their free show at Eugene’s Hope Abbey Mausoleum, Ensemble Primo Seicento (three singers and historically informed instrumentalists on harpsichord, viola da gamba, and cornetto) sings and plays music by Sigismondo D’India, Legrenzi, Sances, Riccio, Benedetti, Barbarino, Corradini, Merula, Hume, Cima and of course Monteverdi himself.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Music Notes

Rounding up spring and summer news in Oregon music

The annual summer slowdown in Oregon’s live music season gives us a chance to catch up on some recent news. Do check out other events this week we’ve already previewed elsewhere, including a pair of vintage shows: an encore of a Aquilon Music Festival opera Thursday in Dundee, and Willamette Valley Music Festival’s closing weekend concerts (Saturday’s is sold out but Sunday’s has tickets available) featuring a string quartet by Rebecca Clarke, cello and violin duets by Philip Glass (from his Double Concerto), and one of the pinnacles of 19th century chamber music, Schubert’s Cello Quintet. Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch preview.

Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival concludes Sunday.

Arrivals

Third Angle New Music has selected Sarah Tiedemann as its fifth artistic director. After a national search, the Portland flutist, educator and arts administrator, who’s been interim artistic director since the organization abruptly parted ways with longtime AD Ron Blessinger (who quickly landed at 45th Parallel Universe), won the position over a couple dozen well qualified applicants. In addition to several performances with the 33-year-old Portland new music ensemble, Tiedemann has played with the Oregon Symphony, Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra, Chamber Music Northwest and Salem Chamber Orchestra. Read my ArtsWatch story about Third Angle’s future, including an interview with Tiedemann.

Sarah Tiedemann performed on a different instrument at a Third Angle concert. Photo: Jacob Wade.

PDX Jazz, Portland’s jazz music presenting organization, has named Christopher Doss its first executive director. A former managing director of Monterey Jazz Festival founding marketing executive of Dallas’s AT&T Performing Arts Center, Doss has worked in performing arts for two decades, and will work alongside veteran artistic director Don Lucoff.

Laurels

• Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer was one of only three American composers to receive $15,000 Women Composers Commissions from the League of American Orchestras. (The Linfield College music professor’s fellow honorees, Stacy Garrop and Robin Holcomb, are well known in contemporary classical music circles.) Reinkemeyer’s new composition will be premiered by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in January 2019. Let’s hope an Oregon orchestra performs it soon. What we’ve heard of her music in Oregon makes her one of the state’s most promising compositional voices.

Composer Andrea Reinkemeyer.

• Speaking of prestigious premieres, Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, one of the great East Coast classical music summer events, featured the world premiere of a new commissioned work (his second for the festival) from Oregon composer Kenji Bunch at its August 5 concert in the Hamptons. The festival teems with Chamber Music Northwest regulars; maybe we’ll get to hear it there someday.

• Another rising young Portland composer, Justin Ralls, won third place in the American Prize student composition competition for his Tree Ride.

Cult of Orpheus composer Christopher Corbell has been awarded a Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Community Foundation to support the recording of a full-length album of original vocal works by Corbell, featuring Cult of Orpheus troupe singers and chamber musicians. Read my ArtsWatch story about the Cult and preview of its Saturday show, a five-year retrospective of Corbell’s music at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre.

• University of Oregon alum Huck Hodge, who now teaches at the University of Washington, won the $200,000 Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chosen by a panel of distinguished American composers, the award aims “to free a promising American composer from the need to devote his or her time to any employment other than music composition.”

Michael Harrison

• Still another UO alumnus, the great New York composer Michael Harrison, received a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship to create a new work for the terrific new music band Alarm Will Sound. Harrison, who grew up in Eugene, won the UO’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2014. Read my Oregon Quarterly profile.

• More Third Angle news: the organization has received a $90,000 grant from the Creative Heights Initiative of the Oregon Community Foundation to produce Sanctuaries, an original contemporary chamber opera composed by Portland composer/educator/pianist Darrell Grant set to the rhythms of jazz and slam poetry, which explores gentrification and the displacement of residents of color in Portland’s historically African-American Albina district.

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