Sound of Charlotte Blog

Meet the Performers of Cirque de la Symphonie

Before you are bedazzled by the awe-inspiring performance of Cirque Goes to the Cinema, get to know the incredible Juilliard-trained musician and former Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Brothers performers that comprise Cirque de la Symphonie!

Janice Martin is a solo violinist who brings multiple talents. A Juilliard School of Music standout, she has won competitions such as the Washington International Competition and the Lena Na International Competition and was recipient of the Amadeus Career Grant Award and the Career Award Grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. In addition to being a concert violinist, opera singer and classical pianist, Janice has become an accomplished aerialist as well. 

Vitalii Buza began his gymnastic training in the Republic of Moldova and soon competed as an elite gymnast with the Russian national team. After a move to the US, he starred in productions at Sea World, Universal Studios, and Walt Disney World. He has been featured in numerous TV ads and won a role in the Walt Disney movie Enchanted. He excels in duo hand-balancing, straps, Cyr wheel, spinning cube, Chinese pole, and Russian bar.

Alexandra "Sasha" Pivaral has performed and headlined in countless productions around the world, including famous "Cirque Du Soleil". She has won prestigious awards for competing in top International Circus such as "Monte Carlo International Circus Festival" in Monaco and considered to be one of the most talented acrobats in her field of contortion, balancing and hula hoops. It is her stage presence, originality of elements and choreography that set her far above anyone else.

Vladimir Tsarkov provides a spell-binding performance with combinations of mime and juggling feats. A favorite of the younger members of the audiences, Vladimir's Red Harlequin act features rings, balls, and batons, and he's even been known to teach the maestro a trick or two! He is a veteran of Circus Circus, Cirque Ingenieux, and various Cirque de la Symphonie performances. 

Elena Tsarkova the "Lady in White," is a graduate of the famed Moscow Circus School and first-place winner of the prestigious National Russian Circus Festival. From her Master of Sports in gymnastics, Elena developed into a unique and graceful performer with the Big Apple Circus, Switzerland's Circus Knie, and Germany's Circus Roncalli. Her combination of contortion, balance, and graceful dance moves has made her a major star.

Pavel Prikhodko is a native of Voronezh, Russia, and is a 3-time national champion of Russia, 2-time World Champion, and 2-time Champion of the World Cup in acrobatic sport. A former veteran with Cirque du Soleil's "Varekai," Pavel is a multi-talented performer on straps, Russian swing, trampoline, and acrobatics. 

Ekaterina Borzikova is a graduate of the School of Olympic Reserve in St. Petersburg, Russia. A dynamic professional circus performer, Ekaterina has been involved with all aspects of the art form as a performer and creator of unique acts. She is a 10-year veteran of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, and is an accomplished performer on the aerial platform. She was the recipient of the Jean-Louis Marsan Award as an outstanding performer. 

Vitaliy Korshunov is a native of Ukraine, where he graduated from Kiev State Circus College. He began his career with the National Circus of Ukraine, winning first place at the New Ukrainian Circus Festival. His acrobatic experience includes worldwide tours with Nikulin's Moscow Circus.

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Welcome New Musician: Samuel Sparrow

A North Carolina native, Samuel Sparrow joined the Charlotte Symphony as Section and E-flat Clarinet in September 2017. Mr. Sparrow has performed with the New York Philharmonic, New World Symphony, and Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland. As a soloist, he has appeared with the Raleigh Symphony, Garner Sinfonia, and Triangle Youth Philharmonic. Other performance highlights include a featured appearance with Sting at the Main Assembly Hall of the United Nations and the West Coast premiere of Matthew Aucoin's chamber opera, Second Nature. The recipient of the Leon Russianoff Memorial Scholarship, Mr. Sparrow earned his bachelor's in music performance from Manhattan School of Music. His primary teachers include Mark Nuccio, Anthony McGill, and Pascual Martinez. During his summers, he has attended the Brevard Music Center's Orchestral Institute and the Music Academy of the West in California. In addition to performing, Mr. Sparrow enjoys teaching and maintains a small private studio.

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina
Why did you select your instrument?
My parents said the drums were too loud, and my band had too many flutes already, so the clarinet seemed like the next coolest instrument.
What would most surprise people about you?
I love a good adrenaline rush! I'm a big rollercoaster fan, and recently rode the world's largest free-fall swing.
If you could meet one composer, who would it be and what would you ask him/her? Shostakovich. How did you find the courage to keep composing after falling out of favor with the Soviet government?
What's your funniest/most compelling on-stage moment?
I once fell off the stage during a performance. We were playing Haydn's Farewell Symphony. Every musician's part ends at a different time, so to emphasize this, we played in the dark with stand lights and walked off the stage quietly after our part ended. As I turned off my light and starting walking off stage, there was one more stair on my riser than I realized. My instrument was okay, but my pride ... not so much.
Any pre-performance rituals?
A light meal and breathing exercises to relax
Other than your instrument, what would we find in your instrument case?
Pencils, reeds, earplugs, sheet music ...the occasional grocery list
What do you love most about being a professional musician?
Hearing from audience members about how the music positively impacts their life. Music-making is very personally rewarding, but reaching someone else is what really makes this job meaningful.
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7 Facts You Should Know about Pablo Sáinz Villegas

Before you step into Knight Theater to hear the romantic and fiery sounds of Rodrigo Guitar Concerto, check out these facts about our guest classical guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas, otherwise kown as "the soul of the Spanish guitar."

1. Pablo was born June 16, 1977 in La Rioja, Spain.
2. Sáinz Villegas has performed numerous world premieres, including the first guitar piece to have been written by five-time Academy Award-winning composer John Williams.
3. Pablo was given the honor of performing in the presence of the Dalai Lama as well as the Royal Family of Spain. He was also chosen to serve as Cultural Ambassador to the Vivanco Foundation and its museum, considered by UNESCO as the best museum of wine culture in the world.
4. Sáinz Villegas has an extensive history of winning prestigious awards. Perhaps his most honorable was when he became the first guitarist to ever win Spain's top classical music honor, El Ojo Crítico. Pablo also won the famed Parkening International Guitar Competition, and prior to that he was already the recipient of more than 30 international awards, including the Francisco Tárrega Award and the Andrés Segovia Award at age 15.
5. Pablo has helped serve over 15,000 children, as he is the founder of "The Music Without Borders Legacy," a program that seeks to bridge communities across cultural, social, and political borders for the benefit of youth.
6. Sáinz Villegas is well known for his emotional artistry with the guitar, whether it's been in an intimate setting or before more than 85,000 people, as he did while accompanying the admired tenor Plácido Domingo, at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.
7. In the 2015-16 season, Pablo accompanied Plácido Domingo on a floating stage in the Amazon River which was broadcast live to millions of people around the world. 

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Posted in Classics.

Welcome New Musician: Brice Burton

Originally from San Diego, CA, Brice Burton, principal percussion, has played percussion since age 8. Before joining the Charlotte Symphony, Mr. Burton received both his bachelor's and master's degrees in Percussion Performance at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he graduated summa cum laude. Mr. Burton has been a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, Music Academy of the West, National Orchestral Institute, and Round Top Festival Institute. In 2014 he won first place in the Atlanta Modern Snare Drum Competition.

He has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, and Santa Barbara Symphony, as well as New World Symphony in Miami Beach, FL. Outside of orchestral performances, Brice was also an active freelancer. He can be seen on productions such as FOX's 'Grease Live!' and SPIKE's 'Coaching Bad' and can be heard alongside actor Jack Black on one of LACMA's 'Sundays Live' radio broadcasts.

Hometown: San Diego, CA
Why did you select your instrument?

When I was 7 I had just quit playing piano and saw a percussionist performing with an orchestra. They looked really active and like they were having lots of fun so I begged my mom for lessons for my birthday!

Does your instrument have a special story?

My favorite snare drum I won as a prize from a snare drum competition.

What would most surprise people about you?

I've been fishing multiple times and never caught a fish - something I mean to change out here in NC!

If you could meet one composer, who would it be and what would you ask him/her?

I would like to meet Anton Bruckner. He had an incredible work ethic, but I would like to ask: what is the deal with only one cymbal crash in his 7th Symphony? (It's debated whether he really wanted it or not.)

What's your funniest/most compelling on-stage moment?

I was at a summer program in high school and was playing timpani on Elgar's Enigma Variations when the pedal on the lowest drum got stuck and the pitch would only go up. This happened right before a part where the percussionist comes over and plays on the timpani with snare drum sticks, and because it's an interesting sound people in the audience always look (it's also lightly orchestrated there). The pedal wouldn't budge with my foot so I crouched down on the floor and started pulling on it, somewhat unaware of what was going on around me. Apparently I was making a bunch of noise and the guy playing my drum had to bend over and whisper to me "just let it go". I looked back up and the whole audience was looking at me and the conductor looked furious.

Any pre-performance rituals?

I like to have a full stomach and make sure I use the bathroom before long concerts. There's nothing worse than sitting there uncomfortably during a long tacet moment with nothing else to focus on.

Other than your instrument, what would we find in your instrument case?

Earplugs, a towel, and contact lenses (in case I break my glasses).

What do you love most about being a professional musician?

Making beautiful music with my colleagues and the freedom of making my own musical decisions. I also love the opportunities that music provides - I've had some incredible experiences and met many interesting people (both musicians and classical music fans). People light up when you tell them you're a musician and I love hearing their stories.

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Welcome New Musician: Jason McNeel

Jason McNeel, section bass, began playing bass as a junior in high school. Mr. McNeel has since played with some of the best orchestras in the country, including the Cincinnati Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Rochester Philharmonic. As a regular performer with the Cincinnati Sympony, he was able to participate in international tours to Asia and Europe. As a student. Mr McNeel has studied at the University of Cincinnati (Bachelor of Music) with Albert Laszlo and Carnegie Mellon (Master of Music) with Micah Howard. Additionally, he has studied regularly with Solen Dikener, Jeff Turner, and Owen Lee.
Hometown: Winfield, WV
Why did you select your instrument?
The bass is very versitale instrument that can be played in several different genres of music. Early on and still I've had an interest in playing jazz, classical, and many other styles.

Does your instrument have a special story?
My first instrument was made my my father. He is a very dedicated amateur woodworker and took a year of his free time to make a bass that I still love playing to this day.
What would most surprise people about you?
I have spent most of my childhood summers working on the family farm in eastern West Virginia. One of my favorite chores was milking the cow.
If you could meet one composer, who would it be and what would you ask him/her?
Haydn, I'd ask him for another copy of the Concerto for Violone that has been lost.
What's your funniest/most compelling on-stage moment?
The time when I was playing an outdoor barge concert in West Virginia and a beaver ran from backstage, through the orchestra, and into the audience!
Any pre-performance rituals?
I have a good, light meal.

Other than your instrument, what would we find in your instrument case?
Whatever book I'm reading.
What do you love most about being a professional musician?
It's one of the great professions in the world. In studying music, you gain knowledge of culture, science, psychology, physical, and emotional well being, history, and the list could go on forever. I can honestly say that being interested in music has had a direct positive effect on my health and happiness.
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Spotlight On: Composer Gabriela Lena Frank | Using Music to Break the Glass Ceiling

Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms--all  well-known composers, all male. It is so rare we hear about the achievements of female composers in the classical music era, especially nowadays. That's not to say they do not exist, there are just far fewer female composers than there are male in the realm of contemporary classical music. That, however, is changing.

Meet Gabriela Lena Frank, one of the five composers that will be featured in the Rodrigo Guitar Concerto played by your Charlotte Symphony Orchestra on October 6 and 7.

Gabriela Lena Frank is an American composer from Berkeley, California. Although born in the US, her roots also align with the nationalities of her parents: her father, a Jewish Lithuanian, and her mother, who is of Peruvian and Chinese decent. The two met during Frank's father's visit to Peru with the Peace Corps in the 1960s.
Frank received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Rice University and a doctorate in Music Composition from the University of Michigan. She has studied composition with William Albright, Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, and Samuel Jones.
Style and Inspiration
Frank's compositions often draw from her multicultural background--particularly her mother's Peruvian heritage. Frank is admired for using sounds of Latin American instruments (such as Peruvian pan flute or charango guitar) throughout her compositions, though her works are typically scored for Western classical instruments and ensembles such as the symphony orchestra or string quartet. "I think the music can be seen as a by-product of my always trying to figure out how Latina I am and how gringa I am," she has said. This striking mixture of sounds can be found in her work Three Latin American Dances, which will be performed at the Rodrigo Guitar Concerto on October 6 and 7.
Not only is Frank known for her interesting work, but she is also  one of the most awarded female contemporary composers of our time. In 2009, Frank received her first Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a Latin Grammy Award for best Contemporary Classical Music Composition for Inca Dances. She has also won a Joyce Foundation award, United States Artists Fellow award, and a Medal of Excellence from Sphinx Organization.
In addition to these accolades, Frank's music has been commissioned and performed by the Kronos Quartet, pipa virtuoso Wu Man, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Chanticleer Ensemble, the Chiara String Quartet, the Brentano Quartet, Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project, the Marilyn Horne Foundation, guitarist Manuel Barrueco with the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, the King's Singers, directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Wu Han and David Finckel, soprano Dawn Upshaw and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, among others. She has also received multiple commissions from Carnegie Hall.
Frank is a Grammy Award-nominated pianist and a member of the prestigious roster of G. Schirmer, exclusively published and managed.

Want to learn more? Check out the following sites:
2.      "Carnegie Hall Commissions". Carnegie Hall website. Carnegie Hall. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
5.     United States Artists Official Website Archived November 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.

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9 Things You Should Know About Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

Before you step into the concert hall to experience the most performed orchestral work of all time, check out some little known facts about Beethoven's Symphony No. 9! Witness this unparalleled expression of joy live with Christopher Warren-Green and your Charlotte Symphony on September 22, 23 & 24!

1. Symphony No. 9 was the last of Beethoven's symphonies, completed three years before his death in 1824.
2. Symphony No. 9 was premiered in Vienna on May 7, 1824.
3. When the piece premiered, Beethoven was completely deaf. At the end of the piece, the crowd burst into applause but Beethoven, who had been a few measures behind the symphony, continued to conduct. The contralto, Caroline Unger, walked over to Beethoven and turned him around so he could accept the rousing applause.
4. It is the first symphony to incorporate vocal soloists and chorus into what, until then, had been a purely instrumental genre. Words are sung in the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus.
5. The words in the final movement were taken from the "Ode to Joy" poem written by Friedrich von Schiller in 1785.
6. The Ninth is the most epic of Beethoven's symphonies, both in length and performers utilized. The piece is scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, mixed chorus, piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings. 
7. Beethoven 9 was adopted as the European National Anthem in 1972. In 1985, it became the official anthem of the European Union.
8. When Philips started work on their new audio format known as a compact disc, many groups argued over what size it should be. They planned on having a 11.5 cm diameter CD while Sony planned on 10 cm. One bright chap insisted that one CD ought to have the capacity to contain a complete performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The duration ranges from about 65 to 74 minutes which requires a 12 cm diameter, the size of a CD.
9. Beethoven was a compositional rebel, rejecting standard classical practices in order to write with emotion. While many of his contemporaries were disgusted, if not intimidated by this, his influence on composers to come after him, like Brahms, Dvorak, and Mahler, shows how important a figure he was. 

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Posted in Classics.

Mahler Symphony No. 2: 5 Questions With...Kenney Potter

Director of Choruses Kenney Potter is busy preparing the 140 singers of the Charlotte Symphony Chorus for performances of Mahler Symphony No. 2 on May 12 and 13. We sat down with Dr. Potter to ask a few questions about the process of preparing for such a massive work.
CS: What moment should audiences listen for in the Charlotte Symphony's performance of Mahler Symphony No. 2?
KP: Wow - there are so many! I think the chorus opening would be my favorite. It is hair-raisingly quiet.

CS: What are the challenges in preparing a 140 person chorus for the Resurrection Symphony?
KP: Speaking of....getting them to sing so quietly at the entrance. Also, it is such a massive work, balancing the chorus and orchestra is always an exciting challenge.

CS: What percentage of the Chorus would you say has participated in it before?
KP: Very few 13 people out of the 140-member chorus, and I've only performed it twice.

CS: How do you connect the singers with the emotions of Mahler's work?
KP: It isn't that difficult to do. You play a recording one time and they are hooked - then they sing it with piano and it gets really exciting. Only when they perform it with the full ensemble do you understand why this piece is so beloved.

CS: What kind of response are you getting from the members of the Chorus about this piece? What makes Mahler 2 different for them?
KP: They seem to be enjoying it, other than the fact that some of them are terrified to sing from memory! The challenge is that it is so physically and musically exhausting, particularly to be such a brief portion of the overall work (roughly 15 minutes).

Mahler Symphony No. 2
Friday, May 12 & Saturday, May 13
8 pm, Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
Tickets are available online or by phone at 704-972-2000.

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8 Questions with...Oboist Gordon Hunt

Gordon HuntOboist Gordon Hunt joins us Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25 for the riveting Strauss Oboe Concerto. We asked Mr. Hunt a few questions about his friendship with Music Director Christopher Warren-Green, his relationship to the Strauss piece, and his instrument.

CS: Could you share a bit about your friendship with Christopher Warren-Green, both on and off stage?
GH: Chris and I have been friends for a very long time, going back to when he joined the Philharmonia Orchestra as concertmaster. We hit it off straight away, both musically, within the orchestra, and also out of work time, when we spent a great deal of time together.

CS: What is it like to perform with someone you know so well? Does it change the performance at all?
GH: It feels good to work with a close friend - and especially as I am a conductor too, I really appreciate having someone I trust beside me. However, I don't think it fundamentally changes the performance, as in a way the music itself is even greater than the friendship. We are both there to serve the composer and his intentions.

CS: What can listeners expect from the Strauss Oboe Concerto?
GH: The typical mastery of orchestration and understanding of instrumental balance one expects from Richard Strauss, but in this very late work, also a more classical approach than one would expect in his great tone poems.

CS:  What should they listen for specifically, if anything?
GH: The effortless way in which Strauss uses and develops the first simple four note motif, played by the cellos. In effect, he bases the whole concerto on this. Also listen for the very extended lines he weaves for the solo oboe, and the interplay between the soloist and the wind players.

CS: Do you recall the first time you performed this work? How did you feel?
GH: Yes, even though I have performed this piece well over 80 times now, I do remember the first time. I was 21 years old, in Oxford, England. I was excited to be facing this challenge (perhaps the greatest for my instrument), hoped there would be many more chances, and I felt immensely privileged to be playing such wonderful music.

CS:  What do you do just before you go on stage? Do you think any thoughts or have any rituals?
GH: I try to have a few minutes to myself, just being quiet, but I have no rituals!

CS: How would you describe this work?
GH: It is in a way nostalgic, looking to the past, and musically simpler than so much of what Strauss had written before (I have already mentioned the quite "classical" approach). In some way, Strauss is nodding towards his lifelong hero Mozart, but with the unmistakable fingerprint he himself leaves on all his works.

CS: Can you share a few fun facts about your instrument?
GH: As oboists, our lives can seem to revolve around reeds, and sometimes it seems impossible to have one that you really like. Ultimately, it is down to the player to make the instrument sing and to communicate, so I always say that 50% of success in playing the oboe is learning to make good reeds, and the other 50% is leaning to play on bad ones!

Dvorak Symphony No. 7
Friday, March 24 & Saturday, March 25
8 p.m., Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are available online or by phone at 704-972-2000. Read more

Posted in Classics.

5 Questions With … Steve Hackman, conductor and creator of Brahms v. Radiohead

Conductor and Brahms v. Radiohead creator Steve HackmanComposer, conductor, and producer Steve Hackman joins us Friday, January 27 for an exciting, one-night-only performance of his popular mash-up, Brahms v. Radiohead. Here, we chat with Mr. Hackman about how he created this interesting concept, why he chose Brahms, and what we can expect from this performance. 

CS: How and why did you think of this cool mash-up concept?
SH: I have always been passionate about both classical and popular music, equally. It doesn't matter to me if it is a Mahler symphony or a Kendrick Lamar song; if it's great, it's great. Mashing up Brahms and Radiohead is a way of illustrating this point, and even more, to show that this music is not as dissimilar as many people may think. Categorizing things and judging them based on those categories or labels is dangerous and destructive and a performance like this works against that.
CS: Tell us about these soloists. How did you select them?
SH: The soloists really make every performance of this show a total joy, and I know the audience is going to love them. Bill Prokopow is an old friend of mine, and one of the most talented and versatile musicians I know. He and I sung in the same a cappella group at the University of Illinois, where I went to undergrad, called The Other Guys. We have been collaborating ever since. Andrew Lipke was coming into prominence as a singer/songwriter in Philadelphia when I was in grad school there at the Curtis Institute of Music. I wanted to be like him, such an incredible songwriter and performer! We got to know each other and I learned he was a true student and lover of classical music, and again, a musician of extreme versatility. And Kérén heard about the show because of an ad I posted on Stagebill and boy did we luck out with her! She is a brilliant artist and writer.
CS: Why Brahms specifically? Why not, say, Mozart or Beethoven?
SH: Brahms took 20 years to write this First Symphony. You can feel all that tension and earnestness and toil and struggle in the piece (and he creates unbelievable release in the fourth movement). That balance towards tension is something this music shares with Radiohead. They also share a density and weight--each music is extremely substantial--and they can stand alongside each other. But there are specific musical reasons, too: The harmonic language is much more similar than you would think; the time signature of the first movement (6/8) allows for a mash-up with a very important song from OK Computer ("Subterranean Homesick Alien") and the overall key of C Minor was perfect for the seminal Radiohead song "Paranoid Android."
CS: What can concertgoers expect? Walk us through the evening.
SH: The most important thing regarding expectation is that the music of Radiohead will be presented through the lens of Brahms. I use only Brahms's orchestration. There are no electric guitars or ondes Martenot or any of the Radiohead synthesizers and keyboards. I have treated Radiohead's music with the same kind of scoring, voice leading and counterpoint that Brahms uses in his music. In that way, it is sometimes hard to distinguish if a theme came from Radiohead or Brahms! There are times when the singers are floating Radiohead melodies over the pure music of Brahms; there are many times when Brahms's melodies are superimposed over the songs of Radiohead.
CS: This is a really cool way to engage new symphony audiences. Do you find the attendance to skew younger/more diverse?
SH: Absolutely. Radiohead fans are the best. They are passionate about music, and they tend to be very creative, open-minded and adventurous folks. Beyond that, I think this concert is perfect for people that love music but have yet to really be introduced to classical music for whatever reason. It is such a pleasure and honor to share symphonic repertoire and the experience of seeing a symphony orchestra.

Brahms v. Radiohead
Friday, January 27, 2017
7:30 p.m., Knight Theater

For a performance preview and to purchase tickets to Brahms v. Radiohead, click here. Read more

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