Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Monday, September 15, 2014

Of Ladies Lost & Found: Karen Underwood and John O Brien

‘I want to feel something in the songs whether it be joy or pain’ said Karen Underwood during her show at Garter Lane Arts Centre, Waterford with pianist John O Brien. The Chicago native has built up quite a following with her tribute show to Nina Simone. She is currently on tour with a show titled, Of Ladies  Lost and Found, with a set list associated with singers who left the world stage too early .  There was volumes of  both emotions and a dollop of humour too  in the duo’s rendition of soulful  songs  made famous by the likes of  Judy Garland, Edith Piaf , Dinah Washington and Billie Holliday, to name but a few.
Opening on a devotional note with the spiritual,  Precious Lord   there was throughout  an unflinching and forthright approach  by singer and accompanist in the distinctive reworking of 20 songs. Underwood has a terrific contralto  voice but doesn’t trade on power and beauty of tone alone.  The long sustained notes sometimes have a rough edge , tempos swing freely and always the sense that the lines come straight from the heart.. The mood was darkest with her stark rendition of Strange Fruit. Her favourite song in the set she admitted was the rather more optimistic  Randy Newman song,  I Think it’s Gonna Rain Today
 She was wonderfully well supported by John O Brien on piano, whose sophisticated arrangements imbued familiar repertoire with a freshness making it sound newly minted.  There was an easy rapport between the two who are long time collaborators and  who clearly relish performing  this repertoire together.  O Brien is best known for his innovative work as musical director of Cork Operatic Society. In an era where electric keyboards have become the norm, it is worth noting that a proper grand piano was in place for the show and O Brien fully exploited the dynamic range of an excellent instrument . I warn you, I am going to go too far’, he declared  and indeed he did,  launching into a bravura version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  Quite unlike any other version you are likely to hear.  It  was terrific!

Further dates : Dolan’s,   Limerick Weds  17th , Kilkenny Watergate Theatre 20th , Cork Everyman  Palace 21st Sept
Set List 1. Precious Lord 2. What a Difference a Day Makes - Dinah 3. God Bless the Child - Billie 4. I Look to You - Whitney 5. Nature Boy - Sarah 6. I Loves You Porgy - Nina 7. Love is a Losing Game - Amy 8. And I Love Him - Esther 9. The Man That Got Away - Judy 10. If You Love Me - Esther/Edith 11. Je Ne Regrette Rien - Edith -------- 12. Kissing You 13. Mad About the Boy - Dinah 14. Over the Rainbow - Judy 15. Lilac Wine - Nina/Eartha 16. Ne Me Quitte Pas - Dusty/Edith 17. I Think It's Gonna Rain Today - Nina/Dusty/Peggy 18. Strange Fruit - Billie 19. Both Sides Now - Joni 20. Feeling Good - Nina 21. Somebody to Love - Freddie

Chat conversation end

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Irish Youth Opera Inaugural Production

On Saturday, I attended the opening night of the first production of a new company, Irish Youth Opera at Wexford Opera House My review is in yesterday's Irish Examiner (link here). I saw a repeat of the second act at the   Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork. The smaller  venue seemed to suit the scale of the production better and intensified the dramatic element. It moves to  the O Reilly Theatre, Dublin on 11th and 12th and then to An Táin Theatre,  Dundalk, It may not be everyone's  cup of tea but the voices are very impressive, there is a rich  palette of  dark orchestral timbres to savour and there probably won't be another production of  this Britten opera around again too soon.

Colette Sheridan's preview is here 

Irish Times review here 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Preview South East Arts Events

Here we are in mid September and the skies remain blue and knowing that chilly winds won't remain at bay for much longer makes these days all the sweeter. Here are some of the arts events on the radar this month.

Waterford Music open their new season with The Dublin Guitar Quartet in the elegant Georgian Large Room at City Hall. Contemporary Composers Taverner , Part and Glass are on the programme. There will also be a masterclass at WIT on Friday morning.

David Hennessy Musical Society present Into the Woods. This is a new musical to  me by Stephen Sondheim.  Start time is 7.30pm Tues 16 to Saturday 20 at Garter Lane . I saw Seussical a couple of years ago from this group and it stands out in my memory as one of the zingiest productions of recent years.  I am expecting very good things from Hennessy and David Hayes.

Imagine Festival Launch:  25th This quirky multifaceted arts fest brigtens the gloomy dying days of Autumn. The launch takes place in St Patrick's United Church on Thursday 25th September  at 7pm. The special  guest is esteemed editor of the Irish Times, Kevin O Sullivan who hails from Tramore.

New Ross Piano Festival.  25-28th I haven't been at any of the previous 8 festivals and I am looking forward to finally visiting this festival dedicated to the piano. Artistic director Finghin Collins has put together an attractive programme of piano recitals, master clsses   and chamber music performances. The focus this year is on wind and the Cassiopeia Wind Ensemble feature. There are specially commissioned works inspired by the Ros Tapestry by five Irish composers . The concerts are scheduled from morning to late evening and a season ticket at €110 looks like a very good deal. Soloists include young guns  Lise de la Salle and Joseph Moog as well as Collins himself of course. Melvyn Tan plays the fortepiano which is apparently not the same thing at all as the pianoforte. The evening concerts feature several pianists in each programme not just a single soloist which should make for conviviality in this more  usually solo pursuit. If the soloists sound half as good as they look it will be fabulous. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Lights Out On Red Kettle Theatre Co

The appointment of liquidators to the Waterford's Red Kettle Theatre Co. has been a cause for dismay when announced last month .  Established in the mid 80's it has generated  civic pride and a source of quality entertainment over the last three decades and many times featured in these posts.

Best known for the  association  with playwright Jim Nolan,,  Red Kettle premiered many of his plays in Waterford beginning with The Gods are Angry, Miss Kerr. It was encouraging to the whole scene that while other writers left for the groves of academia, Nolan chose to stay and write and produce in his native city. Together  he and Red Kettle made Waterford a beacon for what could be achieved by a regional theatre company on relatively low subsidies. At the same time the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera attracted many overseas visitors and the Theatre Royal was packed for a fortnight of musical theatre and operetta. Quite how that festival  slipped away in 2012 without any gloomy pronouncement, I can't fathom given that every small town has an active musical society.
Nial Tobín in Red Kettle The Salvage Shop 

'The magic is gone' said Liam Murphy, arts and theatre critic of Thye Munster Express  on Morning Ireland when the news broke  and the tone was mournful, not quite on the scale of the announcement of the closure of the Glass Factory but no less symbolic.   Coming in the same year as the death of Bryan Flynn, extraordinary man of theatre,  whose original musical Pentimenti was premiered by the company it has been a grim time  for Waterford arts.

1999 poster Light Opera Fest
Red Kettle along with other regional theatre companies  had it's  Arts Council funding slashed in recent years. Spraoi Festival,  which has to be the most accessible arts experience in the country and  which  reaches the largest proportion of Waterford citizens not to mention the many visitors it attracts has also had its funding slashed to ribbons.  Cllr Mary Roche who was on the first Red Kettle board, has done a trawl through the funding stream for the urban centres outside Dublin and Cork and  the results make for depressing  and infuriating reading. Her report posted on her blog  puts flesh on some misgivings I felt as I attended events this year.  While I love opera and have travelled to see many productions, I don't see how the Arts Council can justify spending almost  €600,000 on a single production of an avant garde opera production which at best will appeal to a niche audience. The BGE Energy Theatre was half empty on the one of three night when I visited, Wide Open Opera's producton of Nixon in China. . Arts practitioners around the country must read about it and weep. Nick Bankes Chairman of the Imagine Arts Festival which runs in October in Waterford had this to say on the funding level of the Imagine Arts Festival

' it seems disproportionate that the arts council can put 1/4 million into 5/6 nights and only 11k into ten days of 80 events including some original events at the Imagine Festival.
The most bitter commentry is in this week's Phoenix column in the News &Star which gives a sense of the alienation felt by those involved in Waterford arts scene ''We can but look (again) and marvel at the success (and €3 million support for Galway and it's notion of being a centre for the arts. pause for a while and consider the €6 million thrown without demur at Limerick City of Culture and suggest for the umpteenth time that WE ARE NOT BEING HEARD'

On a positive note, the Waterford Youth Arts under artistic director Ollie Breslin,  mounted an impressive production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible at Garter Lane Arts Centre.  There were some remarkable performances particularly from the male cast and a terrific set from Dermot Quinn. The launch of a new musical society augurs well for the future.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Voices from WW1 to be set by Waterford Composer

I had a telephone chat with  composer Ben Hanlon about his new composition projects this evening. The award winning choral director whose opera, Bust featured `on these pages has a couple of interesting choral  pots on the boil both of a retrospective nature. 1916 is on his agenda and expect to see fragments of the proclamation turning up in his choral settings. Listening to the reading of  letters on a radio documentary on  WW1 gave him the idea of trying to capture some of those voices  and  moods in a choral context.

Hanlon's plan is to gather sixteen letters from WW1 sources. Kildare county archive has yielded some fodder. He would love some Waterford voices to add to the mix.. His own uncle perished at the front. Hanlon is of a generation that remembers the pleasure of sending and receiving a letter . He says  'Reading a letter would immediately conjure up the voice of the sender on the inner ear. The challenge is to capture the mood and the sound of those voices from the front'.

The work is the contemporarry composer's personal reflection on the historical  events  but with commissions from the leading choral groups Voci Nuovi and New Dublin Voices, he should have no trouble finding a choir eager to take on the performance  element. .

If you have a letter from a relative in your family archive, Ben Hanlon would love to have a copy.

Beethoven Irish Songbook Revisited in Kilkenny

Back in 2012, I heard some of Beethoven's Irish songs at a Music for Galway recital.  My report is here. I was intrigued to think of Beethoven wrestling with Irish airs in the midst of a  Europe at the height of the Napoleonic wars.  Another opportunity to hear the songs presented itself at the Kilkenny Arts Festival and I reported on the event for the Irish Examiner. The article  appeared  on 16th August. As it did not appear in the online  edition,  I present it here.

Beethoven’s Irish Songbook Revisited  *****    published in The Irish Examiner 16th August 
The confluence of elegance of 19th century  art, music and architecture made a performance titled The Irish Songbook  in the Long Gallery, Kilkenny Castle a feast for both the eye and the ear. Presented as part of the Beethoven Quest strand of Kilkenny Arts Festival, the performers featured four contrasting voices with the Fidelio Trio.
Although Thomas Moore is generally accepted to have been the major player in bringing Irish songs to a worldwide audience, Beethoven also had a part in improving our cultural image in Napoleonic Europe when he accepted a commission to arrange a collection of airs from Scottish publisher, George Thomson. Reports state it was the poet Robbie Burns, who pointed out that many of the melodies were in fact Irish and persuaded Thomson they would be more 'saleable' marketed as such and  duly, a selection of airs with accompaniments for piano trio  was published.  Although Beethoven requested the words so he could 'effect the correct expression'  he didn’t have them and this may have contributed to the songs’ dubious reputation. The late Tomás O Súilleabháin embarked on substituting the original texts with more suitable alternatives. It was these texts we heard in Kilkenny in a selection of  17 of a total of  72 revised settings.
Mezzo soprano, Alison Browner opened proceedings on a savvy humorous note, When I was a Maid, before adapting her rich creamy tones to draw out the melancholy in Moore’s, How Dear to Me the Hour. She was followed by Eamonn Mulhall whose light and airy tenor was just right for the sentimental lines of Burns, O Stay Sweet Warbling Woodlark. Soprano Aoife O Sullivan’s rendition of Burns, The Catrine Wood was all winsome  charm. There was a quiet murmur of approval for baritone David Howes’ first solo contribution, a setting of Byron’s love poem, The Kiss, Dear Maid . There were duos, trios and to finish, all four took to the platform for a jaunty, Quick We Have But a Second. The Fidelio Trio put a degree of light and shade into Beethoven’s  Ghost Trio. The performance was marred only in that they were out of sight to most in the long space and would have benefitted from a platform.
In the words of Thomson, these songs were rather like the paintings and tapestries lining the Long Gallery, ‘exquisitely coloured and highly finished pictures’.   Superb!

 Eugene Downes was eloquent and clear in his opening introduction. Margaret O Sullivan and Mary Scarlett were present to hear the results of  their fathers lifetime project of presenting the songs with  alternative texts.   A major DIT project  resulted in the release of a 4 CD set of the 72 songs and a special performers edition will be  published shortly. The songs were the subject of radio documentary with broadcaster Liz Nolan and you can listen back here .

While I enjoyed the songs on both occasions, I can't say I was that struck by the superior quality of the revised settings. I was amused at Moore's lines of 'When through the piazzetta' which rhymed with Ninetta. but to be fair that was not representative. I must also admit to a twinge of misgiving.  If Moore with held the lyrics in his lifetime  much to the chagrin of Thomson  to preserve them for his own project, is it  quite fair to appropriate them after his death?  What is really terrific,  both in this volume from DIT and in Una Hunt's 6CD  collection of Moore's Melodies, are sound recordings  of many of the young emerging  Irish voices.  Most of them would not be recorded at this point in their careers were in not for these two substantial endeavours. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kilkenny Arts Festival

Members of the Heath Quartet under the umbrella 

Kilkenny Arts Festival is done and dusted  for this year. I made three daytrips from my base in Waterford   I enjoyed the Early Opera Company's concert performance of Handel's pastoral mini opera, Acis and Galatea  at St Canice's Cathedral. My review for The   Irish Examiner .is here .

My review of stargaze gala is in today's Irish Examiner.  review here. Omitted from the review was mention that the running time was about three and half hours which for most of us was a tad excessive.
Director, Eugene Downes did an rather good  job of  introducing the events setting the context in measured clearly enunciated tones.

 I enjoyed visiting the charming garden spaces both at the Bishop's Palace and Butler House where members of the Heath Quartet and Martin Hayes played  brief alfresco sets. The wind rustling in the trees made a charming counterpoint to the murmuring strings

Review for the Beethoven Irish Songbook published in print edition on Sat 16th August  see next post,

Do go on to the KAF website  and look at the wonderful images  captured by photographer Ross Costigan .

Other events we enjoyed were the Ulysses Street Orchestra and the Paris Swing Band at the Left Bank. These groups were not part of the official programme but added to the general gaiety.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Record Review: Greenshine

All the world is shadow and sun 

Greenshine are a family group in a mellow folk meets popular vein. Shadow and Sun, the title of one of the tracks sets the mood for the album mixing sunny cheer  with the odd dark cloud . There are 14 songs- some covers and some from the collaborative efforts  of Noel Shine and Mary Greene , They are joined by daughter Ellie in  smooth blended  vocal harmonies and understated finger picking on guitar, mandolin and ukulele  with the  dab of a whistle or harmonica here and there.  Martin Leahy adds a light touch on percussion.Meet me in the Garden as the sun is going down, I'll follow the sun, Samhradh Linn, the sunshine soaked lyrics abound. Daughter Sadie Shine does a turn on a Beatles number, Ruby Tuesday.
I was reminded of Loudain Wainwright 111   in the pictures drawn from the ordinary everyday domestic  and John Denver in the cheerful  unruffled style. The voices in the solo numbers sound real,  unchanged by the recording process as if you were listening to them playing in their kitchen as indeed they maybe as they produce their own records in their home studio.  The album is dedicated to absent friends including Thady who graces the cover.  Nice and easy on the ear. A sunny delight!

I was sittting on this review hoping to release it near a gig.  Greenshine however I learned were in Jordans Bar during Sproai Festival. They will be the guests of Frank Hayes of the Island Music Club at the Highway Bar Crusheen Co Clare   on September 13th.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interview with Sean Boylan Baritone

I caught up with Sean Boylan, the young Meath baritone at a recent recital in Ennis . Review here . He is singing in Sandford Church, Ranelagh  Friday  August 22nd My piece on the engaging singer is in a recent edition of the  Irish Examiner. Inevitably there wasn't  room for everything, Sean had to say  so I present the complete interview here

 Interview with Sean Boylan Baritone

Sean Tell us something about your journey through the music world . We know you started as a pianist. Coming relatively late to formal study. Did you have a piano at home Were you self taught up to that point. When did you start playing the organ

Music was always a part of family life at home. There was an upright grand piano in the hall, and at any family occasion singing, dancing and story-telling could be found around the piano. The piano was never locked, it was always left open to be played. At any available opportunity really I would sit at the piano and make music. When I was in secondary school a teacher heard me playing the piano and was amazed that I had not had formal piano lessons (I was fourteen years old at this stage), and so I auditioned for John O’Conor. However, all the places for piano at the RIAM that year had been filled. John knew that I played the organ and suggested I take organ lessons with their new organ teacher (David Adams) until a place for piano became available. So, I began organ lessons in October 2006 and piano lessons in November 2006. And by spring of 2007 I won the Junior Organ Cup in the Feis Ceoil and won the Espostio Cup for Piano.

How then did you begin to sing?

I always sang. I sang my local church children’s choir, I sang in the choir in my secondary school. But I was very shy about singing for other people, always terrified that people would laugh at me (as a professional singer now that feeling sometimes creeps back!). When I went to secondary school I got the lead in the musical in first year. That was great. However, by second year, it was noticed that I could play the piano and in particular, that I could sight-read well. So, I was much more valuable as a pianist who could sight-read than another ankward, spotty teenager with an ever-breaking voice!

Was there a moment a role that made you say this is for me . Did you perform in school shows?
As I was advancing through my piano studies, playing the piano was becoming difficult in a very different way. I still loved it but the repertoire requirements just got bigger and bigger. I always found memorising large-scale piano works extremely difficult. It was a very stressful barrier for me, and my teachers. As I was progressing as a pianist (and organist on the side), I began taking singing lessons with Virginia Kerr. And in a way, singing just naturally took over. I was spending so much time every day trying to sing on another instrument and suddenly I thought, well why can’t use the instrument I already have. My own voice. I began to win competitions as a singer and I became more attracted to the voice. I always loved theatre, and the stage, and I became more interested in opera… not really knowing anything about it. One Christmas Eve, I played at mass in my alma mater, and as a thank you, Gerry Haugh (a Belevedere institution) gave me a CD of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. From the moment I heard that overture and the opening scene, I was hooked.

But the real moment that did it for me was when I was in Aspen, Colorado, at the renowned Aspen Music Festival & School. I piano there but I befriended many singers. The singers had very famous coaches from the Metropolitan Opera and other famous houses working with them. So in their practise rooms, they had Steinway pianos. But in the Piano Practise rooms, we had Boston and Essex pianos. So, I used to go to the Middle School and hang around with the singers, and jump onto a Steinway whenever one was free. I stayed all hours, and I was away from all the other pianists, so I could be less embarrassed in case anyone would hear me practising my Czerny and Chopin studies at a painfully slow tempo for hours (this practise gave me the technique I have today, and I had to do this as I was so late to formal training). One day I was practising and a friend of mine came into the room, a baritone with a gorgeous voice and he asked me to play through some of his music with him. And I was simply blown away by the power, colour and excitement of the sung voice up-close. That year they also presented the Marriage of Figaro... and then I thought, yes, I HAVE to know more about this. I began to take my singing a lot more seriously.

What has been the highlights of your singing experience to date

Singing in St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh as a soloist on Hogmanay.. there’s no where better to be to ring in the New Year, and to be there because my voice brought me there was a great pleasure. I never expected or assumed that would ever happen.

Singing in masterclasses for Sir Thomas Allen & Ann Murray DBE, I never ever thought there would come a time where I would get to sing some of my musical heroes.

You have just finished your degree . What is on your agenda for next year .

Next year will be a very busy year for me. I won’t be on a full-time course in an institution but I have designed a course of my own with the guidance of my teacher and some wonderful coaches. I will travel to investigate Masters courses abroad, work on my languages, as well as singing many recitals, and upcoming roles (Amida in L’Ormindo by Cavalli for the RIAM in January 2015). I have been asked to enter some international competitions in 2015 also, so there is much to prepare for.

Who inspires you ? Particular performers that you aspire to emulate
Virginia Kerr. She has taught me to treasure and respect my voice, and has always guided me with honesty and my best interests at heart.
Ann Murray. For being the master of whatever it is she sings.
Simon Keenlyside. For being a storyteller. For me, the aim is to communicate, not just make nice sounds. Keenlyside can do both!

What has been your experience of opera to date . Is there a role (s ) in the repertoire that you would love to play.
I have been very lucky to have attended many opera productions. I have family in London and they are endlessly generous in allowing me to stay with them while I dash from the opera house to concert halls and theatres for various productions. I don’t really drink and I don’t smoke, so I tend not to spend all my nights in clubs or bars… I go to see and hear as much as I can.

I have my eyes on the well-know roles such as Figaro in both the Marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville, Papageno (The Magic Flute), and the lesser known Pelléas (Pelleas & Melisande).

What is on your ipod

My iPod is a very bizarre place! Right now I’m going through a big Beethoven and Brahms phase. So I’ve got all of their symphonies, concertos and sonatas on there. Oh, and Mahler. (Brahms’ 4 and Mahler 9 are two masterful symphonies and two of my dessert island discs!!!) There’s some Monteverdi and Prokofiev… and other music which ranges from Jamie Cullum and Frank Sinatra to Lauryn Hill, Sia, and some of my favourite trap DJs.

I love music. I can’t live without it. There are days where I will purposely walk the longest possible route home just so I can finish a piece of music!

What do you do you do to unwind Do/ did you play football

I live in the heart of Dublin so I can escape to almost anywhere in the city. I love to go out for food or coffee with friends. After a long day, I’ll often go by myself and bring a book, just to wind down. Otherwise I don’t sleep. I swim and go to the gym five days a week, and I find this really helps my energy levels and my sleeping pattern. Often I’ll watch a movie or a box set on my laptop, I haven’t watched TV since maybe November 2013?!!

You are from a line of herbalists Do you recommend any particular remedy to keep the voice in order

Yes, there is one tonic that my Dad prescribes for the voice. It is wonderful. The late, great Margaret Burke-Sheridan was a great fan of this (she got it from my Grandfather!) and she brought this bottle all around the world with her.

How did you go about choosing today’s repertoire.  (Ennis Recital)
I have a particular attraction to each of the composers that featured today. I wanted to include German Lieder, French Melodies and English Song. I also included some Irish Songs because I feel that we too have a great stories to tell, and a rich culture to celebrate. And these songs remind me of this.
Each of the songs are masterpieces in themselves, they are like mini-operas.

Any other forthcoming recitals performances you’d like to flag
I am singing a lunchtime recital in Sandford Parish Church, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, accompanied by David O’Shea, piano at 1.10pm on Friday August 22nd.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Musici Ireland Chamber Music Series at NCH

I caught the second of Musici Ireland's lunchtime chamber music series at the NCH on Thursday.  I try to reserve my use of superlatives for particularly splendid performances but this recital of piano quartets was absolutely excellent. A combination of elements made this occasion truly joyful.  There was committed and elegant playing from the trio of string players, Joanne Quigley, Beth McNinch and Grainne Hope.  There was a brilliant virtuoso element in the contribution of guest, Finghin Collins, at the piano,  particularly in the opening Mozart Quartet in Eb. Best of all, there was a sense of joy and collegiality between the performers that radiated from the platform to  the full house gathered in the John Field Room.  We heard two works . Mozart's opus 493 in Eb, delightful and effervescent  followed by a more lush and Romantic  Fauré in C minor.  It was like having a glass of the driest sparkling champagne  followed by the richest full bodied red  You can read a more in depth description in this review from the Goldenplec

The performers looked summery in floral dresses and grey suit. (RTE NSO please note)
Musici Ireland is a collective of players drawn from Irish. professional orchestras, established in 2012 by Beth McNinch, a Wexford based viola player. There are two further concerts scheduled. Next week the trio are joined by Helena Wood for a programme of Classic film music. The final concert on 28th August features another of A+  list piano virtuoso, Micahel McHale and violinist Ioana Petcu Colan, bass Sarah Halpin  for a Schubert programme.

Venue notes.
It was nice to see senior  NCH management  present among the audience.  The  lobby café coffee is dreadful.  To add insult to injury,  it is served in paper cups.  A glass of white wine will set you back  a whopping €6.95.  For that price I would expect a bottle to be plucked ceremoniously  from an ice bucket and poured   into  crystal by the starched  cuffed hand of a sommelier. 

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