Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Artistic Director: 2012 Season Preview and Concert Schedule (*REVISED WITH CONCERT SCHEDULE*)

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Vladimir Ashkenazy. Photo: Decca, Jim Steere.

It was good news that Vladimir Ashkenazy renewed his contract as artistic director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra through 2013. 2012 will be his fourth season with the SSO and the orchestra’s 80th anniversary. The Maestro will spend four months in Sydney conducting the orchestra himself in the summers at either end of the year, opening in February with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and ending in December with a concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera Queen of Spades. In his Mahler cycle especially, ending this year, Ashkenazy has shown how he is as excellent an interpreter of symphonies as of piano music, with an attention to detail and rapport with the musicians which brings out their best and an approach to the music which is genuine and strongly felt yet restrained, coming from a deep respect for and empathy with the composer. As a master pianist, he has a natural talent for choosing soloists — especially pianists — not least including 2011 invitees and collaborators Jean Efflam-Bavouzet and Stephen Osborne. As a complement to his good judgement, the Sydney Symphony’s expansion into organizer of international soloists’ recitals was an excellent idea, giving us concert goers a chance to hear the soloists on their own, after their concerti with Ashkenazy. These recitals brought some wonderful and seldom heard music to Sydney in 2011, though there is some repetition in 2012’s programs of certain pieces by Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.

The recitals will again take place in the City Recital Hall at Angel Place, not an intimate hall but the acoustics are quite good for the more dramatic piano works. It would be nice to hear these soloists in a closer hall, even the Utzon Room in the Opera House or one of the small theaters underneath the Concert Hall. In 2012, Behzod Abduraimov’s performance of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas and Beethoven’s Sonata no. 7 in March should be especially interesting as well as Angela Hewitt’s of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations in September.

One of the most exciting concert in Sydney of next year, in my mind, is a concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s late opera Queen of Spades in December, as part of Ashkenazy’s mini festival in honor of the composer at the end of the year. Tchaikovsky composed the tragic opera two years before The Nutcracker and it is based on the story by Pushkin with a libretto by the composer’s brother, Modest. The characters in it are music lovers — the opera has some lovely diegetic songs (and it will be fun if Ashkenazy plays the piano himself in Scene 2). It has some beautiful layered ensemble singing and rich choral singing of the Russian tradition, and it is quite verbal with exchanges between chorus and soloists, a comic opera-within-the-opera, a fantastic story of love complicated by class, psychosis, witchcraft and ghosts set in Catherine the Great’s St. Petersburg, so it should be well suited to a concert setting. And it has not been performed in Sydney since 1979. Now that operaphiles in Sydney have been left high and dry by Opera Australia’s recent dreary and disappointing turn further away from real, serious opera, toward the abridged, watery and soulless, blindly accepting ephemeral pop-culture’s promotion of the young, skinny and “attractive” in an effort to make money. We will either have to move to Melbourne (or farther) or become dedicated balletomanes (the Australian Ballet meanwhile is quietly creating sublime art with relatively low ticket prices, and managing to break even to boot with their 50th anniversary coming up next year). But the SSO’s announcement of Queen of Spades certainly gives something to look forward to in Sydney’s opera life, as will whatever the Pinchgut Opera decides to put on in 2012, given the small company’s continuing artistic success and skilled financial sailing. It is ironic that the main opera productions in the home of the world’s most famous, or at least most recognizable opera house is in one case not even in the Opera House and the other a concert opera, without sets or theatrics, but then again it was the Concert Hall in the western shell which was intended for opera in Jørn Utzon’s original design.

The lack of sets and theatrics shouldn’t be off-putting as it doesn’t necessarily preclude successful theatre, let alone successful music. The imagination can fill in, in some cases better than a material design and there can even still be spectacle in the more general sense of sensory stimulation. With Maestro Ashkenazy leading the excellent musicians of the Sydney Symphony and a cast of well-regarded ex-pat Australian and Russian and Russian-American singers, including tenor Stuart Skelton (to sing Hermann, the leading man) who claims heldentenor status and has had success in various Ring cycles singing Siegmund, and both musicians’ and audience’s intense concentration on Tchaikovsky’s marvelous music, which opera is first and foremost, in a hall with excellent acoustics for big Romantic orchestras, the concert will be definitely something to hear. I hope this starts a trend for concert opera in Sydney as playing opera in the concert hall is, irony aside, a neat temporary fix to the Opera Theater’s acoustic problems. Giving a neglected and deserving opera in concert is certainly better than neglecting it forever, and though the sets and costumes are important, the concert version can give ideas to the larger companies and donors for full productions. A concert opera shouldn’t be thought of as beneath a symphonic suite or piano transcription of a ballet, and is in fact much closer representation of the original as it preserves the libretto, plot, dialogue and poetry.

In the same vein as the concert opera is Beethoven’s choral Ninth Symphony, which Ashkenazy will play in February to open the Sydney Symphony’s 80th season. As both opera and symphony, but also neither, the Ninth is really its own animal, and though there are many recordings and it’s fairly easy to find a performance of it, it deserves this special occasion given it, in fact it demands it. I wonder who will get to conduct it again in 20 years for the Sydney Symphony’s 100th anniversary? Ashkenazy will play the piece in one of his dense programs which opens with Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen. The concert should be at least be satisfying to hear for those pining for the wonderful Mahler cycle, which ends this year, as the Ninth is in a way the grandfather and perhaps the more perfect original form, at the least inspiration of, Mahler’s symphonies. It will also complement the re-enactment of the Wagner concert (another huge figure near to Mahler’s thoughts, who often programmed Beethoven’s Ninth to open for his own works) which opened the Sydney Opera House in 1973, then with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting, but this time with Simone Young, who has made a name for herself conducting the Ring cycle and Tristan und Isolde in Hamburg, since Opera Australia pushed her out nearly ten years ago.

There is a bit of repetition from 2011 in the 2012 concerts, of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, Brahms’s Violin Concerto, the ‘Rach 2’ and generally heaviness on the classics of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, though these are all of course well worth hearing again and again and are excellent introductions to classical music for those who only know them through recordings or are lucky enough to be hearing them for the first time. There are some more unusual pieces which don’t get performed in Sydney very often, of interest to the adventurous and the jaded. Rachmaninoff’s original version of his final Fourth Piano Concerto will be performed by Scott Davie with Ashkenazy conducting in November, in its unrevised original form for the first time in Sydney; it often gets muscled out by the ultra-popular middle concerti. Igor Stravinsky gets a program to mark his 1961 visit to Sydney — though no excuse is needed to play Stravinsky. His Firebird Suite, music distilled later in his life from his first ballet for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1910 which marked the composer’s ‘discovery’, and his Violin Concerto, will share with another Ballets Russes piece, Ravel’s Mother Goose and, Mathias Pintscher’s towards Osiris in March. Pintscher himself will conduct. It would be nice to have an entire series of concerts devoted to Stravinsky since his music is so varied he cannot be understood much at all from two pieces but Stravinsky greatly admired Tchaikovsky, and in Ashkenazy’s miniseries for Russia’s 19th century master composer we may hear how some of this admiration influenced 20th century Russian music. Stravinsky also admired Glinka and was close to Rimsky-Korsakov, but the Sydney Symphony will not be playing either of their music.

On the other side of the iron curtain are also Shostakovich’s Fifth (Ashkenazy conducting), Sixth (Oleg Caetani) and Tenth (Ashkenazy again) Symphonies and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto (Ashkenazy and Behzod Abduraimov) and Classical Symphony (David Robertson conducting).

Henri Dutilleux is another 20th Century worthy who doesn’t get much attention and the SSO will play his Mystère de l’instant in September for a claimed first time in Australia (programmed to play with Beethoven’s 4th Symphony and Angela Hewitt playing the Mozart Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor). Also Francis Poulenc is represented by his Aubade – Concerto Choréographique in April (programmed with Mozart) and Gloria in May (with Mozart’s Requiem). Another adventure should be Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, played by Julian Rachlin in June.

The SSO will continue its Mozart-devoted series which was successful this year. The Idomeneo ballet music, the Oboe Concerto as well as some well known symphonies and piano concerti and the Requiem will feature, but of the 600-odd pieces he composed, it would be an opportunity to play a few of the hundreds of them which don’t get much of an airing, for example the fine completion of Mozart’s double piano and violin concerto in D which the SSO played earlier this year.

Richard Strauss gets a small series in 2012, centering on Vladimir Ashkenazy’s interpretations of Metamorphosen, Also Sprach Zarathustra (with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Lisa Batiashvili playing Brahms’s Violin Concerto) and An Alpine Symphony (paired with Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto with Stephen Kovacevich).

The SSO will play several Australian pieces next year. There will be a newly commissioned second piano concerto by well-established Australian composer and Musica Viva director Carl Vine played by Piers Lane and conducted by Hugh Wolff and a first symphony from Barry Conyngham to premier with Brett Dean’s Music for Ariel conducted by Richard Gill. Also Peter Sculthorpe’s Sun Song from 1989, not to be confused with the inventive and large four-part symphonic piece Sun Music, will be played alongside Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto played by Alexander Gavrylyuk, with Thomas Sanderling conducting.

All concerts take place in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday 8 February 8pm, Friday 10 February 8pm, Saturday 11 February 8pm, Monday 13 February 7pm
Richard Strauss – Metamorphosen
Beethoven – Symphony No.9 (Choral)

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Lorina Gore, soprano
Sally-Anne Russell, mezzo-soprano
James Egglestone, tenor
Michael Nagy, baritone
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs (Symphony Chorus, Chamber Singers and VoX)


Friday 17 February 8pm, Saturday 18 February 2pm
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.4
Richard Strauss – An Alpine Symphony

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Stephen Kovacevich, piano


Wednesday 22 February 8pm, Friday 24 February 8pm, Saturday 25 February
Beethoven – Coriolan – overture
Brahms – Violin Concerto
Richard Strauss – Thus Spake Zarathustra

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Lisa Batiashvili, violin


Thursday 1 March 7pm (at CIty Recital Hall, Angel Place), Friday 2 March 11am (at Opera House)
J. S. Bach – Orchestral Suite No.1
Maurice Ravel – Le Tombeau de Couperin
Wolfgang Mozart – Oboe Concerto in C, K314

François Leleux, oboe-director


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Tuesday 6 March 6.30pm
Richard Strauss – Ariadne auf Naxos: Prelude and aria “es gibt ein reich”

Richard Gill, conductor and lecturer
Anke Höppner – soprano


Wednesday 7 March 6.30pm, Thursday 8 March 6.30pm
A “Meet the Music” youth concert
Maurice Ravel – Mother Goose – Suite
Igor Stravinsky – Violin Concerto
Matthias Pintscher – towards osiris Australian Premiere
Igor Stravinsky – The Firebird: Suite (1945)

Matthias Pintscher, conductor
Isabelle Faust, violin


Friday 16 March 8pm, Saturday 17 March 8pm
Classic standards and contemporary hits

Chris Botti, trumpet and his band with the Sydney Symphony, Brett Kelly, conductor


Thursday 22 March 1.30pm, Friday 23 March 8pm, Saturday 24 March 2pm
Winner of the 80th anniversary Composition Prize
Sergey Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No.3
Berlioz – Harold in Italy

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor,
Behzod Abduraimov, piano
Roger Benedict, viola


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Monday 26 March 7pm
Dominico Scarlatti – Four Keyboard Sonatas
Beethoven – Sonata No.7 in D, op.10 No.3
Brahms – Variations on a theme of Paganini, Book 1
Camille Saint-Saëns arr. Franz Liszt/Horowitz – Danse macabre
Franz Liszt – Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude Mephisto Waltz No.1

Behzod Abduraimov, piano


Friday 30 March 8pm, Saturday 31 March 8pm
Beethoven – Violin Concerto
Dmitry Shostakovich – Symphony No.5

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin


Thursday 12 April 7pm
Francis Poulenc – aubade – Concerto chorégraphique
Wolfgang Mozart – Divertimento in D for strings, K136
Wolfgang Mozart – Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat, K271 (Jeunehomme)

Louis Lortie, piano-director


Thursday 19 April 1.30pm, Friday 20 April 8pm, Monday 23 April 7pm
Osvaldo Golijov – Last round
Manuel de Falla – Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker: Highlights
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake: Highlights

Andrew Grams, conductor
Louis Lortie, piano


Friday 20 April 11am
Gioachino Rossini – Il signor Bruschino: overture
Franz Joseph Haydn – Keyboard Concerto in D
Franz Schubert – Symphony No.5

Roger Benedict, conductor
Oliver She, piano
with the 2012 Fellows, Fellowship alumni and musicians of the Sydney Symphony


Thursday 10 May 1.30pm, Friday 11 May 8pm, Saturday 12 May 2pm
Berlioz – Benvenuto Cellini: overture
Beethoven Piano Concerto No.2
Edward Elgar – Falstaff
Berlioz – Roman Carnival – overture

David Zinman, conductor
Andreas Haefliger, piano


Wenesday 2 May 8pm, Friday 4 May 8pm, Saturday 5 May 8pm
Francis Poulenc – Gloria
Wolfgang Mozart – Requiem

David Zinman, conductor
Jennifer Welch-Babidge, soprano
Fiona Campbell, mezzo-soprano,
Paul McMahon, tenor
Paul Whelan, bass
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Monday 14 May 7pm
Franz Liszt – Selections from years of Pilgrimage: Book I (Switzerland)
Claude Debussy – Images, Series 2
Beethoven – Hammerklavier Sonata, op.106

Andreas Haefliger, piano


Friday 18 May 8pm, Saturday 19 May 8pm, Monday 21 May 7pm
George Gershwin
Cuban overture
rhapsody in Blue
George Gershwin Songbook
Catfish row – Symphonic Suite from
Porgy and Bess

Bramwell Tovey, piano-conductor
Tracy Dahl, soprano


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Monday 4 June 6.30pm
Wagner – Siegfried Idyll

Richard Gill, conductor and lecturer


Wednesday 6 June 8pm, Friday 8 June 8pm, Saturday 9 June 8pm
Brahms – Piano Concerto No.2
Dmitry Shostakovich – Symphony No.6

Oleg Caetani, conductor
Philippe Bianconi, piano


Thursday 21 June 1.30pm, Friday 22 June 8pm
Alban Berg – Violin Concerto
Anton Bruckner – Symphony No.8

Donald Runnicles, conductor
Julyian Rachlin, violin


Wednesday 27 June 6.30pm, Thursday 28 June 6.30pm
A “Meet the Music” youth concert
Wolfgang Mozart – Symphony No.31 (Paris)
Steven Mackey – Stumble to Grace – Piano Concerto (Australian Premiere)
William Barton & Matthew Hindson – Kalkadungu
Sergey Prokofiev – Classical Symphony
David Robertson, conductor
Orli Shaham, piano
William Barton, didjeridu


Friday 29 June 11am
Wolfgang Mozart – Symphony No.31 (Paris)
Steven Mackey – Stumble to Grace – Piano Concerto Australian Premiere
Sergey Prokofiev – Classical Symphony

David Robertson, conductor
Orli Shaham, piano


Wednesday 4 July 8pm, Friday 6 July 8pm, Saturday 7 July 8pm
Ralph Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Thomas Adès – Violin Concerto – Concentric Paths
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.6, Pathétique

David Robertson, conductor
Anthony Marwood, violin


Thursday 12 July 7pm
Wolfgang Mozart – Idomeneo: Ballet Music
Aaron Copland – Clarinet Concerto
Richard Strauss – Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme: Suite
Nicholas Carter, conductor
Lawrence Dobell, clarinet


Friday 20 July 11am
Aaron Copland – Clarinet Concerto
Richard Strauss – Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme: Suite

Nicholas Carter, conductor
Lawrence Dobell, clarinet


Friday 27 July 7pm, Saturday 28 July 7pm, Sunday 29 July 2pm

The Lord of the Rings, a screening of Part II of Peter Jackson’s trilogy with music by Howard Shore, performed live on stage.

Ludwig Wicki, conductor
Kaitlyn Lusk, vocalist
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Sydney Children’s Choir


Wednesday 1 August 8pm, Friday 3 August 8pm, Saturday 4 August 8pm
Brahms – Piano Concerto No.1
Antonin Dvořák – Carnival overture
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances

Tugan Sokhiev, conductor
Nicholas Angelich, piano


Thursday 9 August 1.30pm, Friday 10 August 8pm, Saturday 11 August 2pm
Die Meistersinger: Prelude
Tannhäuser: “Dich, teure Halle”
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod Götterdämmerung:
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey Siegfried’s Funeral March Brünnhilde’s Immolation

Simone Young, conductor
Christine Brewer, soprano


Wednesday 15 August 6.30pm, Thursday 16 August 6.30pm
A “Meet the Music” youth concert
Anatol Konstantinovich Liadov – Kikimora
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No.2
Peter Sculthorpe – Sunday Song (1984)
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Francesca da rimini

Thomas Sanderling, conductor
Alexander Gavrylyuk, piano


Friday 17 August 11am
Anatol Konstantinovich Liadov – Kikimora
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No.2
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Francesca da rimini

Thomas Sanderling, conductor
Alexander Gavrylyuk, piano


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Monday 20 August 7pm
Fryderyk Chopin – Complete Waltzes
Claude Debussy – Two arabesques Jardins sous la pluie (Gardens in the rain), Reflets dans l’eau (reflections in the Water), L’isle joyeuse (The Happy Isle)
Franz Liszt – Venezia e Napoli, S162

Piers Lane, piano


Wednesday 22 August 8pm, Friday 24 August 8pm, Saturday 25 August 8pm
Claude Debussy – Gigues and rondes de printemps (from Images)
Carl Vine – Piano Concerto No.2
Brahms – Symphony No.2

Hugh Wolff, conductor
Piers Lane, piano


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Monday 27 August 6.30pm
Claude Debussy – Prelude to the afternoon of a Faun

Richard Gill, conductor and lecturer


Thursday 30 August 7pm
Gounod – Little Symphony for Wind Instruments
Berlioz – Rêverie et Caprice
Wolfgang Mozart – Symphony No.33

Dene Olding – violin-director


Thursday 6 September 1.30pm, Friday 7 September 8pm, Saturday 8 September 2pm
Claude Debussy – Prelude to the afternoon of a Faun
Toru Takemitsu – From me flows what you call Time
Aaron Copland – Symphony No.3

Robert Spano, conductor
Rebecca Lagos, Colin Piper, Mark Robinson, Ian Cleworth and Timothy Constable, percussion


Friday 14 September 11am
Preludes, fanfares and canzonas by Giovanni Gabrieli, Richard Strauss, Wagner and Australian composers
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky – arr. howarth Pictures at an exhibition

Michael Mulcahy, conductor
Sydney Symphony Brass Ensemble


Wednesday 19 September 8pm, Friday 21 September 8pm, Saturday 22 September 8pm
Henri Dutilleux Mystère de l’instant
Wolfgang Mozart – Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Beethoven – Symphony No.4

Hannu Lintu, conductor
Angela hewitt, piano


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Monday 24 September 7pm
J. S. Bach – Goldberg Variations

Angela Hewitt, piano


Friday 5 October 8pm, Saturday 6 October 8pm, Monday 8 October 7pm
Giuseppe Verdi – The Force of Destiny: overture
Ross Edwards – Full Moon Dances – Saxophone Concerto Sydney Premiere
Maurice Ravel
Alborada del Gracioso
La Valse

Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor
Amy Dickson, saxophone


Thursday 11 October 1.30pm
Antonin Dvořák – Cello Concerto in B minor
Dmitry Shostakovich – Symphony No.10

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Jian Wang, cello


Friday 12 October 11am

Program includes
J. S. Bach – Cello Suite No.1 in G air on the G string arranged for cello and ensemble
Heitor Villa-Lobos
Bachianas brasileiras No.1 for 8 cellos
Bachianas brasileiras No.5 for soprano and 8 cellos

Jaqueline Porter, soprano
Jian Wang, cello
Cellists of the Sydney Symphony


Wednesday 7 November 6.30pm, Thursday 8 November 6.30pm
A “Meet the Music” youth concert
Claude Debussy – Ibéria (from Images)
Brett Dean – Ariel’s Music
Claude Debussy – First rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra
Barry Conyngham – Symphony Premiere

Richard Gill, conductor
David Thomas, clarinet


Friday 9 November 11am
Claude Debussy – Ibéria (from Images)
Claude Debussy – First rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra
Barry Conyngham – Symphony Premiere

Richard Gill, conductor
David Thomas, clarinet


City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Monday 12 November 6.30pm
Phil Jameson – Introduction and rondo
Wolfgang Mozart – rondo in D for piano and orchestra, K382

Richard Gill, conductor and lecturer
Kathryn Selby, piano


Thursday 15 November 1.30pm, Friday 16 November 8pm, Saturday 17 November 8pm
Carlos Chávez – Sinfonia India (Symphony No.2)
Joaquín Rodrigo – Concierto Andaluz
Manuel de Falla – El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician): Selections
John Adams – Lollapalooza
Alberto Ginastera – Four Dances from Estancia

Michael Stern, conductor
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (John Dearman, Matthew Greif, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant)


Wednesday 21 November 8pm, Friday 23 November 8pm, Saturday 24 November 8pm
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No.4 (australian premiere of the original version)
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Manfred Symphony

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Scott Davie, piano


Saturday 1 December 7pm, Monday 3 December 7pm
Pyotr Il’yich TchaikovskyThe Queen of Spades (sung in Russian with English subtitles)

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Dina Kuznetsova, soprano (Lisa)
Stuart Skelton, tenor (Herman)
Irina Tchistjakova, mezzo-soprano (Countess)
Deborah Humble – mezzo-soprano (Pauline)
José Carbo, bass-baritone (Tomsky)
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs


Thursday 6 December 1.30pm, Friday 7 December 8pm, Saturday 8 December 2pm
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.2
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.4

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano


For other details see the Sydney Symphony website (PDF, 6 MB).

About the author

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller lives in Sydney and writes mostly about music and theatre, especially ballet and opera.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sydney, and once studied the piano and trombone.

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