Meet the Artist……Matthew Sear, guitarist

 

Who or what inspired you to take up the guitar and make a career in music?

I had collected music since a very young child, but my life changing moment was hearing the rock guitarist Randy Rhoads. He was Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist for his first two solo albums before his untimely death – Randy’s playing inspired me to go out and buy a guitar; he fused classical music with other styles such as blues and jazz into a unique heavy rock style. So I taught myself for a while and then began taking classical guitar and piano lessons before going to study guitar at the Guildhall School of Music. I became obsessed with classical music, I collected first everything I could find of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and then more modern classical music. I taught myself improvising and composition whilst I studied the guitar. I didn’t receive any formal orchestration and composition training until I became a private student of Baz Elmes and then when I studied under Dr Stephen Goss as a post-graduate at the University of Surrey,

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing?

As a composer J.S. Bach, John Barry, Leo Brouwer, Benjamin Britten have all been very influential on my writing style. However, in my thinking and approach to playing, there are people from various non-musical disciplines that have given me great inspiration. A lot of people are surprised to find out what a fan I am of people like the cyclist Victoria Pendleton and the footballer Jermain Defoe. Their outlook, their determination, and battles, on and off the track/football pitch, have inspired me greatly.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

As a mainly classical recitalist, the challenge is one many of us soloists face – and to put it bluntly it is attendance and generating a buzz about classical music. The music I perform is mainly contemporary with occasional programming of Bach or maybe Dowland. I use social networking and the internet to publicise things. I think for classical music to survive it really does have to move with the internet age.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my America Suite for classical guitar. It has brought a lot of good fortune and also cemented my friendship with the talented guitarist Jonathan Prag who performed the piece at the Edinburgh festival earlier this year.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Now that is a difficult one, because I have a very strict rule to only work with people I really trust and also to only perform somewhere that is exciting and has a warmth, so everywhere I tend to perform, I am very fond of. Having said that and if pushed I would say it is The Frax Foundation art gallery in Albir, Spain. The acoustics are great, the art work is fantastic – and the audience always are made of people that enjoy live classical music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I do enjoy opening a concert with Manuel de Falla’s Dance Of The Miller. That first chord really kicks people up the backside. The Bach Lute Suites are immensely difficult, but I do love them very much, especially BWV 997. To listen to, I never ever tire of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording is my favourite.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love a lot of what I think of as the musical mavericks, people like Glenn Gould, gypsy jazz guitarist Jimmy Rosenberg, and as mentioned previously, Randy Rhoads. All those guys broke out of what was the done thing and innovated and delivered something fresh and exciting to people who expected something different. They all had incredible technical facility but never once let that come before the music, that is so special and rare in a musician of any style.

It is difficult because there are things I like in almost everyone’s playing that I will go away and think, ‘well I wouldn’t have done that bit that way, but I did like the way they approached that section.’ There is ALWAYS something positive in every performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably The New Music Series for young composers’ concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I performed a recital of original pieces and it was first recital in St Martin’s. It was at the time the biggest thing I had done and I was so pleased, I thought if nothing ever happens again even, I have performed here, nothing can take that away.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think to stay single minded and remember if you ever meet someone who says something cannot be done, that it is their opinion and it most likely can be done. People, have a habit of, if they can’t do something themselves, to discourage others. So my advice, even at 38 years of age (when I should be starting to become older and cynical), is to follow your heart, have fun and do your own thing.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am writing new music for the German soprano Susanna Risch and the English guitarist Jonathan Prag. At the time of writing I am in the final mixing stage of my latest classical guitar album ‘Made In England’ an album of music by Dowland, Britten and also for the first time on a recording, my America Suite.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

This is an easy one – being in my home with my wife. We have thousands of DVDS, a lot of sheet music and my music room is my sanctuary, recording for hours and hours on my own is bliss. Add pizza breaks and then the promise of red wine and some alien documentaries at the end and I am a happy man!

 

Matthew Sear (b.1975) is a London-born guitarist, pianist and composer. He began teaching himself the guitar and piano aged thirteen (while also composing his first pieces), before commencing private instruction in both instruments.

At 1993, aged eighteen, Matthew was awarded an unconditional place to study classical guitar at the Guildhall School Of Music and Drama in London, where he stayed until 1996, leaving the conservatoire to write for the psychedelic rock band ‘Collusion’.

Through the 1990‘s he worked as a street musician and cafe guitarist, while studying composition under Baz Elmes and guitar with Martin Vishnick. The study culminated in Licentiates from the Royal Schools of Music and RGT, and a place on the University of Surrey’s Master’s Degree programme, in classical performance.

Matthew gave his classical guitar debut in 2006, performing on Valentines Day at St Paul’s church, Covent Garden, London. In addition to the warm reception from St Paul’s, his performance also received a glowing endorsement from Grammy nominee Antonio Forcione and also BBC Radio’s Jonathan Witchell – who later enthused on his show…

“…Vibrance, energy and the ability to really communicate through the guitar. Fantastic live music: A performer in complete command…”

Since then, Matthew has performed as a classical soloist in some of Britain’s most famous concert venues; including St James’ Piccadilly, St Martin In The Fields and St John’s Smith Square.

In addition to performances in his native country, he has given recitals throughout North America and Europe; performing across France, Sweden and Spain – and in 2010, under the mentorship of Carlos Bonell, was awarded a Fellowship from the London College Of Music, the college’s highest award.

His expressive playing style continues to receive praise from audiences and the media alike. The ‘Costa Blanca News’ (Spain) remarking after a 2012 recital…

“…A young virtuoso, whose playing was like a colourful waterfall..”

“America by Matthew Sear, created an an atmosphere containing both the bustling New York Metropolis and hints of Southern Bluegrass. The result was very characterful.”

Melinda Hughes, The 2013 Edinburgh Festival – Broadwaybaby.Com

Matthew’s work as a composer includes music for solo instruments and ensembles – and his pieces have been performed on a variety of indie and mainstream stations: including BBC and SW1 Radio. In addition to radio airplay, his pieces have been performed at St Martin-in-the-Fields ‘New Music Series’ for young composers, and most recently the Edinburgh Festival. Currently Matthew is honouring commissions from award-winning soprano Susanna Risch, guitarist Jonathan Prag and screen writer Edward Kelly.

Matthew lives happily with his wife Suzanne in south-east London, a musician in her own right.  In addition to classical and world music, they share a passion for English football, cinema, String Theory and autism. They also perform (and record) with their friend, the string player Alison Jones in the Gypsy Jazz Trio ‘String Theory’. 

Matthew Sear’s website
www.matthewsearguitarist.co.uk

Music samples (iTunes)
www.itunes.apple.com/us/artist/matthew-sear/id374847081

Music Notes – Himadri Chatterjee on musical taste

Some thirty-five or so years ago now, during my student days in Glasgow, I was walking quite late one evening from the university back to my digs. And I had the Act 2 trio from Don Giovanni circling obsessively around my head. I had recently seen a broadcast from Glyndebourne of the opera (it was on ITV, as I remember: haven’t things changed!), and, even more recently, had seen a Scottish Opera production conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson, and featuring Robert Lloyd and Willard White as Don Giovanni and Leporello; and what would I not have given then to have been able to hear that music that very evening, at that very moment? I knew then that I needed to listen to that music again, and listen to it often, and, given that this was back in the Dark Ages before YouTube or Spotify, I had no choice but to buy myself a recording. Even if it meant living on beans on toast for the rest of the term (which I was doing anyway – so no great sacrifice there), I had to have this music with me.

And so started my record buying, which, after a few years, became CD buying. Those of us unable to make music for ourselves must be content listening to those who can. Which is fair enough, I suppose: I’m not complaining.

I didn’t grow up with Western classical music, neither at school nor at home. My parents were Indian (Bengali, to be more precise: they were from the part of Bengal that stayed within India after Partition); I myself was born in Bengal, arriving in Britain as a five-year-old nearly 50 years ago now. The music I heard at home as I was growing up was Bengali music, and, inevitably, that meant Rabindrasangeet – the songs of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. It is a bit difficult to describe Tagore’s stature in the Bengali speaking world, as there is no equivalent in the West, but it isn’t going too far to say that he virtually defines the nation’s culture all by himself: for more than 60 years, he wrote a vast body of poems that are of the highest quality – an extraordinary variety, never repeating himself, forever renewing his art; he wrote also novels, plays, short stories, essays; he exhibited paintings; and he was, on top of all this, a gifted musician, composing both the music and the lyrics of literally thousands of songs. These songs, Rabindrasangeet, form, effectively, Bengal’s national music, and I know of no Bengali who would not be able to recognize at least a dozen or so of them. Personally, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know any of these songs: these are most likely the first music I ever heard.

As a teenager rebelling against parental values, I turned away from all this; now, in my mid-50s, I can’t believe how unutterably stupid I had been to have turned my back on such riches. As an illustration, here is one of my favourites, sung by two renowned practitioners of Rabindrasangeet, KanikaBandopadhyay and SuchitraMitra:

The lyrics, rendered into English, go something like this: 
Who is it who travels on the path?
Who calls to me as he passes, 
calls me from home? 
 
The music that drifts on breezes on the path 
echoes within my breast 
with pain and longing. 
 
In full moon night, the tide 
floods in from the sea, 
and tugs at my soul. 
 
Eyes, unbidden, open wide. 
Why should I now remain at home? 
What thoughts keep me here? 

 

(Please do not pass judgement on the poetic qualities of the original merely from this: I have made no attempt to reproduce Rabindranath’s poetry – that would be well beyond me. This translation is merely to give some indication of what the song is about.)

As for Western classical music, I knew nothing about it: it wasn’t, frankly, high on the list of priorities in the comprehensive school I’d attended in Glasgow. It was only in my late teens that I found myself, purely out of curiosity, trying to discover what this “classical music” lark was all about. I had heard of a few big names, of course – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven – and I remember on my eighteenth birthday, using the gift vouchers I had received, buying LPs of Beethoven’s symphonies without having the faintest idea what to expect. The recordings featured the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karl Böhm. I now know that these are rather good recordings, but in those days, I didn’t even know that interpretations of music could vary significantly: I know absolutely nothing. And what I heard changed me. Till then, music was merely something to listen to in the background while I tapped my feet or hummed along or did something else: I had no idea that mere music, mere arrangements of sounds, could have so powerful an effect: that seemed then, and seems still, a miracle. I could not believe what I was experiencing.

Soon, as a student in Glasgow (my parents had moved down to England by then), I found myself attending concerts at the City Hall: The Scottish National Orchestra had in those days Sir Alexander Gibson as Principal Conductor, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra had as Principal Conductor the splendidly named Karl Anton Rickenbacker. I remember particularly a tremendously fiery Beethoven’s 7th symphony performed by Gibson and the SNO; and a superb Mahler’s 1st Symphony from BBCSSO conducted by Rickenbacker. I was, in short, hooked. I even found myself getting the Student Discount seats at Scottish Opera: to my surprise, these seats were no more expensive, and were often cheaper, than tickets for rock concerts, and, despite all that I read nowadays about the elitism of the classical music world, there was no-one standing at the door telling me “Sorry sir, you can’t come in, this event is for an elite only”. Strange, that.

I was fascinated. I regretted deeply my lack of a music education, and I took to taking out books from public libraries – which were well stocked in those days with rather good books – to find out something about the music that was fascinating me so; and I took also to checking out classical records from the well-stocked record library. Unlike today, when an interested neophyte would most likely be fobbed off with some patronising “easy-to-access” guff, everything was all around me then: I had merely to pick it up.

It is strange how first loves tend so often to be the strongest. The range of music I listen to now is, naturally, far wider than it was then, but the music I got to know in those early heady days of discovery remains dear to me still. I remember, for instance, having LPs of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which I had bought mainly because I liked the tunes. I love Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores still – kaleidoscopic orchestral colours, endless melodic invention, an ideal marriage of grace and of passion … what’s not to like? And the day I tire of Mozart operas or of Beethoven symphonies is the day I think I should give on music altogether.

Of course, it wasn’t just recordings: I continued attending concerts also. But, unless one lives in London (which I didn’t till much later) and is a very regular concert-goer, it is difficult, for someone like me at least, to get to know works without recordings. With any work of art that has any depth to it, first acquaintance is merely a tourist visit: one gets but a superficial impression at best, and at worst, sometimes, a misleading impression. To know a country well, tourist visits aren’t enough:one has to live there. I have never been able to form reliable judgements on types of music, or of composers, or, indeed, of individual works, without repeated listenings over a long period. And for that, live concerts, though indispensable, aren’t, on their own, enough: I need recordings.

Over many years of CD listening, many recordings have, naturally, become favourites. I don’t mean to list them all: this post is long enough as it is. But, leaving aside all those tiresome debates on “Is Maestro X’s recording better than Maestro Y’s?”, it would be remiss of me not to mention, at the very least, those wonderful recordings of Mozart’s piano concertos with Robert Casadesus at the keyboard, and Georg Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra; or Schubert’s Winterreise performed by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten; Klemperer’s monumental studio recording of Beethoven’s MissaSolemnis; Bartók’s string quartets performed by the Juilliard Quartet; and a live performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik, with Janet Baker quite incandescent in that heartbreaking final song. There are many, many more I could pick, of course,but these five give, I think, a fair indication of the range of my tastes.

And opera: ever since I became hooked on opera in my student days, I’ve never tired of it. Shortly before the birth of our first child, my wife and I decided to have one “Last Big Night Out”, as it were: we bought tickets to see Le Nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden. (It’s a very favourite opera of ours: the first present I ever gave my wife, back in the days before we were married, was a recording of this very same piece.) On that night, Jeffrey Tate conducted; Thomas Allen and Carol Vaness were Count and Countess; Marie McLaughlin and Lucio Gallo were Susanna and Figaro.That whole evening was about as close to perfection as can be imagined. Many years later, we returned to Covent Garden to see the same opera, now conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras; and this time, we returned with our two children in tow, bothby now teenagers. I love all three Mozart-da Ponte operas, but, not surprisingly, Figaro has, over the years, acquired for me considerable personal significance. When I think of my favourite operas, it’s the three Fs – Figaro, Fidelio and Falstaff – that come most readily to mind. Throw in Boris Godunov, and maybe one of the products of Janáček’s extraordinary late flowering (The Cunning Little Vixen, say),and that would be a fair representation of my operatic taste.

My parents never really got my love of Western classical music: their ears – my late father’s ears, certainly – were too closely tuned to Indian idioms. As I was exploring Western classical music, it seemed to me that I was moving very far from my parents’ musical values; but my rediscovery later in life of Rabindrasangeet possibly indicates that the apple never does fall too far from the tree. However, fine as my tree is, I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to explore far beyond its immediate environs, and to claim as my own whatever I may find.

One final memory of a concert: in 2006, at the Edinburgh Festival, I attended, with my son (then aged 14), a concert performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. I must confess to not being a fully paid-up Wagnerian: my feelings towards his music remain deeply ambivalent. But that evening, I had no reservation at all: it was a splendid performance, and I remember coming out of it floating, as it were, on a cloud of joy. Most notable was the tenor singing Walther: I had not heard of him then. His name was Jonas Kaufmann. I had heard good singing before, but this really was special.Our lad, that evening, came out of Usher Hall a fully fledged Wagnerian, and his enthusiasm remains to this day undimmed. I didn’t go quite so far, but even I knew it was the kind of evening that could change lives. And that is no hyperbole.

Himadri Chatterjee is an operational research analyst. He lives near London with his wife and two teenage children, and what little spare time he has is taken up with reading, listening to music, and, lately, indulging his logorrhoea and love of literature and music on his blog The Argumentative Old Git

 

Meet the Artist……Alicja Fiderkiewicz, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I really do not know, perhaps my older sister’s lessons which I liked to listen to from the age of 3. She was not doing very well, in fact she hated practising the piano ( although she always loved the music but not the work involved) ,but I was learning a lot behind closed doors. We had a lovely grand piano and the piano & me were inseparable, very strange for a child of that age. I was also constantly glued to the radio, in those days in Poland, all you heard was either classical music or propaganda programmes. I chose music!!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My Russian teacher Professor Tatjana Kestner in Moscow, Professor Wanda Losakiewicz, Professor Zbigniew Drzewiecki in Poland and my last teacher, Professor Ryszard Bakst at The RNCM in the UK.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Challanges? In a musician’s life there are always plenty of challenges. You have to challenge yourself all the time otherwise your standards will drop. As I have had a long break from the piano for various reasons, my biggest challenge is to re-establish myself again on the concert platform.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my recital performance I gave few years ago at Chethams School of Music during their annual International Summer School Festival for Pianists in Manchester (where I am a frequent member of the Piano faculty) just few weeks after my beloved sister Eliżbieta lost her long battle with cancer. It was a very difficult recital for me to play, in fact I was not sure if I could get through it. I have dedicated that performance and a CD which was recorded live during that recital to her memory. It was a very memorable and moving experience, and I received a standing ovation…

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love playing Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, most romantic composers – and Chopin of course.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It depends what I am asked for. I find that very often I will be asked to give all-Chopin recital. But I like to mix my programmes and deliver a variety of styles: it makes it so much more interesting and demanding, as you can show the different sounds and colours of the piano, especially when playing Debussy and  Ravel.

I still like to add new works to my repertoire, and I enjoy learning new pieces although it is not quite as straightforward as it used to be!!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I think the most fantastic venue I ever performed in was La Scala Theatre in Milan. The atmosphere on the stage and backstage was incredible. To think of all those wonderful singers like Caruso, Pavarotti, Callas, Frenni and so many others using the same dressing rooms: unbelievable!! (By the way, dressing rooms were not all that grand!!) Sheer beauty of both, recital room and the main hall, is something I will never forget and will treasure for ever. Wigmore Hall is another wonderful place. And of course very close to my heart is Chopin’s birth place, Żelazowa Wola, and Lazienki Park in Warsaw where you perform in the open air underneath Chopin’s monument. Sometimes you think he is going to say something to you – a bit scary!!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Chopin’s 4th Ballade and 1st Piano concerto, Schubert’s B-flat major Sonata D960 and Franck’s Prelude, Chorale & Fugue all feature very highly as my favourites but….. There are just so many pieces I love playing and fugues are amongst my favourites, in any style. Give me a fugue and I can spend hours poring over it!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Rubinstein, Richte, Gilels, Argerich to name just a few….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few, but most probably the most intense and memorable because of where it was – Mozart’s Piano Concerto KV 466 in La Scala ,Milan.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

It is very important to play to others, especially if it involves a new piece never performed before. Play with a second piano if performing a concerto, and make sure that you study the orchestral score well so when it comes to first rehearsal you are not put off by some new tune you have not heard when playing with second piano! Also learn to take criticism and benefit from it. It is not always right, but there is always some truth in it, so do not be put off, and persevere .

What are you working on at the moment?

Works by Chopin including the Polonaise-Fantasie, Szymanowski Masques and Bacewicz Sonata no. 2. I am also learning a new work recently written for piano and orchestra but cannot disclose any details yet!!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Very happy to be on the beach in Villajoyosa in Spain or walking around Old Town in Warsaw.

What is your most treasured possession?
My piano and my cat Pudding.

What is your present state of mind?

Feeling hopeful that some of my wishes connected with stage comeback will come true.

Alicja Fiderkiewicz was born in Warsaw, Poland and began to learn the piano at the age of seven. Her studies continued at the Central School of Music in the Moscow Conservatoire, Warsaw School of Music and finally at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where she was a student of Professor Ryszard Bakst.

Alicja Fiderkiewicz began to fulfill regular professional engagements when she was 15 years old.

She has been awarded a Chopin Scholarship in Poland for 4 consecutive years. She is a winner and prize winner of several national and international piano competitions including Dudley International Piano Competition and Premio Dino Ciani International Piano Competition in La Scala,Milan, and she is also a recipient of Calouste Gulbenkian Music Fellowship.

Alicja has performed extensively in Poland, Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Spain, Japan, Cyprus and the UK at prestigious venues such as Wigmore Hall and St. John’s Smith’s Square, and in many other venues in the UK. She has performed as a soloist with Manchester Camerata, Da Camera, Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic, La Scala Theatre Orchestra, Halle Orchestra and many others.

Alicja has released 4 CD’s under Dunelm and Divine Art labels. She has appeared on BBC Radio 3 and BBC TV.

Alicja also has quite a busy teaching career. She has given masterclasses in the UK, Japan, Spain, Cyprus and was for many years a member of teaching faculty at Chethams School of Music in Manchester. She is also a frequent performer and tutor at the International Piano Summer School at Chethams-Manchester.

Her repertoire ranges from early baroque up to late 20th century works. 

Piano Day!

On Sunday 29th June a group of pianists and piano fans gathered in the beautiful tiny church of St Mary’s Perivale for a whole day of piano goodness. Hosted by myself and my friend Lorraine Liyanage (with whom I run the London Piano Meetup Group and South London Concert Series), the aim of the event – and this is true of all LPMG events – was to provide a friendly and supportive environment for pianists to meet to share repertoire, perform and receive tuition from two visiting tutors, Dr Mark Polishook and Graham Fitch.

The small size of the church and the fact that most attendees already knew one another and the tutors, made for a very enjoyable and convivial day, with much conversation and laughter interspersed with some very fine music. (Plus homemade cakes!)

The day began with warm up exercises in the sunny church yard. These exercises, devised by my teacher Penelope Roskell, are drawn from yoga exercises and provide a very comprehensive, yet simple warm up away from the piano. It is not obligatory to do them outside, but it is very nice to do so, in the warm summer sunshine! Then we were back in the church for the first masterclass of the day – improvisation for the classical pianist, led by the enthusiastic and ever-inventive Mark Polishook.

Improvisatory fun and games with Dr Mark Polishook
Improvisatory fun and games with Dr Mark Polishook

Mark’s approach is to take one on a journey of discovery, setting tiny seeds from which more involved improvisation can grow. Sometimes he begins with a piece which the participant is working on, but at Sunday’s class, he simply asked each participant to play a series of notes, very very slowly. His emphasis is on listening and appreciating not only the sound and quality of the notes, but also the spaces in between them. He gives the classical pianist, who may have come from a background of narrow and/or rigorous training, the freedom to let go of many ingrained preconceptions, to be “thankful” for wrong notes (these can be the impetus for further improvisation or musical explorations) and to engage the right hand side of the brain, banishing the more rational voice which might say “you can’t do that!”.

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Graham Fitch

Graham Fitch is a highly skilled and most encouraging teacher who has an innate knack of identifying what the student needs there and then, and can offer straightforward and practical solutions to even the most seemingly intractable pianistic problems – from creating intelligent fingering schemes to suggestions for creating vibrancy in Mozart’s semiquavers. His advice is relevant to all, whatever level and whatever repertoire, and everyone who has participated in and observed his classes can go away feeling they have the necessary equipment and, more importantly, confidence, to practise independently and creatively. (This approach is also reflected in Graham’s excellent blog – Practising the Piano.)

The day concluded with an informal concert by masterclass participants performing a range of repertoire by Chopin, Debussy, Poulenc, Liszt, Scarlatti, Pärt and Prokofiev, and a overriding sense of achievement and pleasure.

The London Piano Meetup Group hosts regular performance events and masterclasses with visiting tutors in and around central London. Please visit the LPMG website for further information about upcoming events.

Graham Fitch will give a concert with talk on Sunday 14th September 2014 at Craxton Studios, Hampstead, north London. The concert will be followed by afternoon tea. Full details and tickets here

More photos from Piano Day:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.703203133080692.1073741837.288965684504441&type=1&l=b6066b04b8

St Mary’s Perivale – West London’s Hidden Gem

Tucked down a narrow lane in Perivale, west London, a stone’s throw from the A4/Western Avenue, is St Mary’s Perivale, a beautiful 12th-century church. The tiny church became redundant in 1972, but has been transformed by the efforts of the Friends of St Mary’s Perivale into a fine music venue, serving west London.

Music events at the church (and also at sister venue St Barnabas, Ealing) are run by the indefatigable Hugh Mather, a retired doctor with a passion for the piano  and classical music in general. Hugh studied medicine at Cambridge, but was a chorister at Westminster Abbey and also played the piano and organ, achieving an FRCO while still at school. He subsequently completed the ARCM piano performer’s diploma. Throughout his medical training and career, he has continued to study the piano and gives many piano concert himself.

Inside the church

St Mary’s Perivale attracts an impressive roster of fine musicians, including pianists Viv McLean, Mei Yi Foo, Ivana Gavric, Karim Said and Rustem Hayroudinoff, and Leeds Piano Competition finalists Jayson Gillham and Andrejs Osokins. Concerts are free, with a retiring collection, and audience members can enjoy a free glass of wine and nibble, along with a distinctive “salon” feel thanks to the small size of the venue (it seats just 70 people). The church has a fine Yamaha piano, an excellent acoustic, and the audience can appreciate being closer to the musicians than in most other larger venues.

One of Hugh Mather’s main motivations for organising concerts at St Mary’s is to offer vital performing opportunities to young musicians, both those still at conservatoire and those just embarking on a professional career. The venue is also available for private hire and has proved a popular meeting place for the London Piano Meetup Group.

Full details of events at St Mary’s Perivale here

Students’ Concert at the 1901 Arts Club

This year my annual student concert was held at the 1901 Arts Club, a beautiful, intimate venue in a former schoolmaster’s house (built in 1901) close to London’s Waterloo Station. The venue boasts a lovely Steinway C grand piano and an informal, convivial atmosphere, thanks in no small part to the very welcoming personalities of the people who run it. I use the venue for the South London Concert Series, an innovative series of concerts which I organise and co-host with my friend and piano teaching colleague, Lorraine Liyanage. I felt the small size of the venue (it seats just 45 people in a gold and red salon redolent of a 19th-century European drawing room) would enable the young performers to feel less anxious and to relax into the special atmosphere of the place.

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club
The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

I cannot stress too highly the importance of performing, at whatever level one plays, and I have written extensively on this subject on this blog, my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and in my column for Pianist magazine. Music was written to be shared – whether in the home or the salons of other people’s houses, or in recital rooms or concert halls. But on another more important level performing builds confidence, not just in the sphere of music but in many other walks of life, and equips people (of all ages) with an important life-skill.

When I was the age of my students (9-14) I had few opportunities to perform for others. My then piano teacher never organised concerts for her students, not even small-scale events in her home, and as a pianist at school I was always rather sidelined (a solo instrument being deemed the epitome of showing off!), so my only real performance experience was either in the orchestra (where I played the clarinet) or in the choir, both instances where one’s performance anxiety is tempered by performing with others. One of the many decisions I took about my piano teaching when I established my practice in 2006 was that I would give my students performance opportunities. And so from little house concerts (with obligatory tea parties!) to the event this week at the 1901 Arts Club, the annual student concert has become an integral part of my studio’s activities.

Preparations begin many months before the actual date – and I know from my own experience as someone who has come relatively late to performing (in my late 40s) that preparation is everything. Being well-prepared is one of the best insurance policies against nerves and will enable one to pull off a convincing, enjoyable and polished performance on the day. Good preparation, including practising performing in less stressful situations, also means that any slips or errors in the performance on the day can usually be skimmed over and will not upset the flow of the performance.

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Many of my students chose to perform exam pieces – music which they had already played in an exam situation and with which they were therefore very comfortable. It’s always interesting to play exam repertoire after one has put it before the critical ears of the examiner: when I revisit my Diploma pieces (as I am now, in preparation for a concert in January) I notice a distinct sense of relaxation in the music – and my students have commented on this about their own pieces too. Some selected new pieces, and we also had solo clarinet and saxophone performances (it is so gratifying that a number of my students play other instruments – saxophone, trumpet, clarinet and cello – or sing in school choirs).

I always perform at my students’ concerts as well. I think it is important for them to see their teacher performing and to understand that I do my practising and preparation just as they do; also that I am also engaged in ongoing learning of new repertoire or revising previously-learnt music.

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The event at the 1901 Arts Club was really lovely. The young performers all played beautifully (no visible nerves whatsoever, though a number did say to me afterwards that they were really nervous!) and we had a lovely range of music from Arvo Pärt and Einaudi to Bartok and ragtime. Despite knowing my students pretty well now (some have been learning with me almost as long as I have been teaching), I am always amazed at the way they step up to perform with such poise. I don’t know what I do, but maybe by assuring them that their performance will be wonderful, they learn to trust me and this gives them confidence. Each performance was greeted with much enthusiastic applause by family and friends, and at the end of the event another piano teaching friend, Rebecca Singerman-Knight, awarded prizes for Star Performer (Tom Driver) and Most Enjoyable Performance (Eli Hughes). The children were presented with boxes of chocolate grand pianos (which I doubt lasted the homeward journey!). I have had some lovely feedback, from students and parents, and I think the general consensus is that this was a really enjoyable and inspiring event. I certainly felt so!

More about the benefits of performing:

On performing

Performing in a safe circle

Going into the zone

Strategies for coping with performance anxiety

Meet the Artist……Paul Chamberlain, accordionist

Who or what inspired you to take up the accordion, and make it your career? 

After beginning piano lessons at the age of eight, my initial interest in the accordion came from hearing Scottish traditional music and one day I just walked past the local music shop and decided that I would like to begin learning the accordion. A few years later I attended a concert given by the Russian accordionist Oleg Sharov who is professor of accordion at the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatoire in St. Petersburg. A whole new world of possibilities was opened to me as I realised that the accordion could also be a serious classical instrument.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

My father was a professional violinist and so I was immersed in classical music whilst growing up – his well honed performance skills and immense knowledge of repertoire, both orchestral and solo motivated me to focus on music as a career. I was very lucky to study with the Serbian teacher Dr Djordje Gajic, one of the most accomplished and inspirational performers I have met.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

The classical accordion is still a very unfamiliar concept to many people, who tend to think of the accordion as purely a folk instrument. I have worked hard to promote it’s diverse repertoire and bring it onto the concert platform as an equal with other instruments.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

As an undergraduate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I gave a recital which won me the Governors Recital Prize for Keyboard – a competition which was completely dominated by pianists, and this helped to raise the profile of the accordion within the Conservatoire.

In February 2012 I performed what I believe was the first solo accordion recital in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, as part of the Manchester Mid-Day Concert Series which was a great privilege.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

The Bridgewater Hall would have to be one of my favourite venues due to its wonderful acoustics which allow the sound of the instrument to fill the hall, but maintain pure clarity of tone. I have also greatly enjoyed performing in the beautiful setting of cathedrals such as Peterborough, Ripon and San Francisco.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I enjoy performing baroque works such as Bach and Scarlatti as they transcribe very nicely onto the free-bass accordion. ‘Romance’ by Franck Angelis is a contemporary work which allows the listener to descend into pure tranquility and is another of my favourite pieces to perform.

I listen to a wide range of music and have become fascinated with Tango – Astor Piazzolla took the genre from the dance halls to the concert stage and I am a founder member of the Scottish Tango Ensemble. Listening to the music being performed live by the Tango Orchestras on a visit to Buenos Aires in 2010 was an amazing experience.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many to choose from, but I admire the playing of Alexander Skylarov and Mika Varynen and I very much enjoy listening to the recordings of Horowitz as his musical mastery shines through.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This would have to be attending a concert of the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder in a performance of Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ in Manchester. He brought it alive in a terrific way, conjuring up such vivid images with the music.

As a performer sometimes the more intimate venues can be some of the most rewarding, and when in California earlier this year I gave a concert in Santa Cruz public library. Almost all of the audience were completely new to the concept of classical music being played on the accordion and had no idea what to expect. I began with Bach’s famous Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, and they were completely engrossed. A huge number of the audience came to speak to me afterwards and were astounded by the repertoire and possibilities of the instrument and it was humbling to hear their kind comments.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Trying to understand what the composer is really trying to convey in his music so that we can interpret it, taking into account things such as their influences, religious beliefs, emotional state. Just as an actor would get into character, as musicians we must do the same in order to fully engage with music and convey its message to the audience. I believe that the use of mental imagery is a great tool as the associations it creates, help to shape the performance and project it to the audience.

Being focussed and efficient in practise is essential, as is an understanding of the business and promotional aspects of being a musician so that they come out of music college knowing how to actually find and make work for themselves.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am currently working on some repertoire for a new CD to be released in July, which will include full transcription of Weber’s ‘Concertstuk’ as well as Piazzolla’s ‘Grand Tango’ for violin and accordion.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is being able to balance professional and personal life so that my practise time and performance schedule allow me to spend quality time with my wife and young daughter.

 

Paul Chamberlain’s new album ‘Accordion Sensations’ is released on 1st July. Further information and soundclips here

Paul Chamberlain was one of the first classical accordionists to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, where he studied with Djordje Gajic. He completed a BMus (Hons) degree and subsequently graduated from the conservatoire with a Master of Music Performance with Distinction.Whilst studying there he was awarded the acclaimed Governors Recital Prize for Keyboard, and was also one of the keyboard section finalists in the 2011 Royal Overseas League competition. Paul  is a highly accomplished player with appearances at international music festivals such as Baltica Harmonica in St. Petersburg – Russia, Sata-Häme Soi Accordion festival in Ikaalinen – Finland, and the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, held annually in Scotland. He has also performed in France, Italy, Greece, Bahrain and the USA. In February 2013 he undertook a very successful tour of concerts around the UK and California which included his Bridgewater Hall debut with a solo recital as part of the long established Manchester Mid-Days concert series.In 2011, Paul released his debut solo album entitled “Classical Accordion” featuring a mixture of transcriptions of works by J.S. Bach, Rameau, Moszkowski and Khachaturian, as well as original works by Alexander Nagayev and Franck Angelis.He has also performed with the Paragon Ensemble as part of their “Travelling Home” concert celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, with the Scottish Opera Connect orchestra, and is a founder member of the Scottish Tango Ensemble.Paul has been featured on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ programme with Sean Rafferty, performing live in the studio, BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Classics Unwrapped’ and California’s KDFC Classical Music Radio Station in San Francisco.

Paul Chamberlain’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Piano with……Norma Fisher

What is your first memory of the piano? 

A dark black shiny upright in my parents living-room that I couldn’t stay away from. Never mind dolls and toys…..this became the most irresistible, exciting, time-consuming and total love of my earliest years

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

I’ve always loved people and helping/ sharing: even as a child if I learned something myself – my joy was to share it with others, in order to derive complete enjoyment and satisfaction from it.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers? 

I was lucky with my teachers throughout: firstly, my earliest teacher (an unknown German lady called Else Schumann) inspired me, through her belief in my talent (I was 10 or 11 years old) and her encouragement of my natural gifts. Then, the wonderful Sidney Harrison who selected me (from those auditioning for the Junior Department at GSMD) to study with him, from the age of 11, and who continued to boost my confidence with his encouragement and delight in my abilities. Finally, the significance and importance of the legendary Greek pianist, Gina Bachauer, my mentor and “musical mother” and my beloved Ilona Kabos (the distinguished Hungarian teacher to so many of the great pianists) from the age of 15, who changed my way of thinking, attitude, and started me on the “road to artistry”. I also spent a wonderful six months in Paris, concentrating on French music with another legendary figure, Jacques Fevrier. Altogether the strongest and best influences one could ever hope for.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching? 

I think my work with Ilona Kabos planted the seeds from which my own “methods and ideas” grew: the importance of sound, understanding the depths and possibilities, the keyboard has to offer and how vital is stylistic awareness.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

All my teaching experiences have brought their own memorable and significant moments……but, I think (in terms of working with great young talent) the years of teaching for the Horowitz Foundation, in Kiev, Ukraine have been the most exciting and rewarding.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

If you mean, late beginners……. I have not much experience in this area but, would be fascinated by the challenge of dealing with the physical problems that may hamper the speed of learning to “make music”!

What do you expect from your students? 

A huge sense of responsibility to serve the music, at all times.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions? 

Wonderful experience, if dealt with correctly………from an emotional/psychological standpoint.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students? 

I repeat, that all we do has to serve the music………i.e. that every technical problem, ceases to be that, if making sense of and finding the spirit of the music, is the goal. Obviously, with beginners an understanding of how the hands and keyboard connect, and the raison d’etre, is vital.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching? 

Again, vital! I do believe it is imperative to have an understanding of what it means to perform, at a certain level, before one can deal with the problems the would-be-performer has to face. Also, it is only when one has prepared oneself at the highest level can one understand how to help prepare another.

How do you approach the issue of performance anxiety/tension? 

Very difficult and requires much thought and understanding of the student’s mentality and personality. Everyone is different and these different problems have to be dealt with, accordingly.

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why? 

I adore Murray Perahia and, on the odd occasions, when I’ve heard him teach……..I adore his logic and humanity. I’m sure, my idol, Grigory Sokolov, would make a fantastic teacher (if he were to have the time and desire!) as his understanding of sound quality/ quantity, is second to none.

 

Norma Fisher will be teaching at London Master Classes 2014 Summer Master Course, July 8 -13 at the Royal Academy of Music and Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, July 8-13 www.londonmasterclasses.com, Accademia J.S.Bach, Sardinia, July 19-29 2014, and MusicFest Perugia, Italy, August 2014 

Norma Fisher is acclaimed internationally as one of the UK’s leading pianists and teachers.  As a child she was recognised as ‘a rare musical talent’ winning an exhibition, at the age of eleven, to study with Sidney Harrison at the Guildhall School of Music.  At the age of fourteen she came to the attention of the celebrated Greek pianist Gina Bachauer who became her mentor, introducing her to the distinguished Hungarian teacher IlonaKabos, with whom she subsequently studied. A period was also spent in Paris studying French music with Jacques Fevrier. 

Her many, highly acclaimed, early performances for the BBC led to an invitation by the German radio station RIAS, in Berlin, to make her debut with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra – which launched her career in Europe. Success in the Busoni International Piano Competition as a top prize-winner followed and in 1963, when she shared the much-coveted Piano Prize in the Harriet Cohen International Music Awards with Vladimir Ashkenazy, her international reputation was sealed.  That same year she made her debut at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and became a favourite soloist with leading British orchestras including the London Philharmonic, Philharmonia, London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Hallé, Bournemouth Symphony, and the City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras. 

Norma Fisher is known for her versatility as a performer, receiving recognition worldwide as one of Britain’s leading pianists. This versatility extends to chamber music, which she plays with leading musicians throughout the world.  Her early relationship with the Dartington, Allegri and Delme String Quartets led to a much sought-after partnership with the Stamic Quartet of Prague, both in the UK and the Czech Republic. She has also performed regularly with the International Chamber Ensemble of Rome, Carmina Quartet and Reykjavik Wind Quintet and partnered such well known soloists as Stephanie Gonley, Alan Hacker, Maurice Hasson, Emanuel Hurwitz, Ralph Kirshbaum, Steven Isserlis, Peter Lukas Graf, GyorgyPauk, Hu Kun, Sylvia Rosenberg, GrigoriZhislin, Yossi Zivoni and singers Benjamin Luxon, Sherrill Milnes, Nelly Miricioiu and Sir John Tomlinson. 

Her reputation as a teacher is widely established and many of her top prize-winning students are well known on the international concert circuit. She is aProfessor of Piano at the Royal College of Music and a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music.She is invited to give masterclasses throughout the world and has taught at the International Musician’s Seminar at Prussia Cove, UK, the International Summer Academy in Lenk, Switzerland and the Horowitz Foundation Summer Music Academy in Kiev, Ukraine, amongst many others. She is regularly invited on the Jury of leading international piano competitions including Gina Bachauer (USA), Horowitz (Kiev, Ukraine), Joanna Hodges (USA), Boston Grand Amateurs (USA), Newport (Wales), Sydney (Australia), Tbilisi (Georgia) and Virginia Waring (USA),  

She is the Artistic Director of London Master Classes (www.londonmasterclasses.com) whose courses attract major talent from around the world to work intensively with top performers/teachers in London. London Master Classes 2014 will celebrate 26 years of offering these prestigious events. 

 

 

 

 

 

Emma Kilbey is The Ayn Lady

Brighton-based actor, singer, writer, dramaturg, director and trainer, Emma Kilbey brings vividly to life Ayn Rand,  American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter whose questionable beliefs still resonate strongly today.

Emma Kilbey

The play, written and performed by Emma Kilbey, will explore why Rand’s beliefs, including her philosophical system of objectivism, still resonate today, and the  impact of a powerful life lived without empathy.

The drama attempts to crack through the Russian-doll layers of this self-styled individualist, author and philosopher.

Expect thorny issues, heartbreak, humour and accents.

Emma introduces ‘The Ayn Lady’ here

‘I have seen many finished pieces that were much less cleverly constructed and consistently enjoyable than this. The company managed to give a lesson in both history and economics without ever falling into boring or hectoring the audience. The scenes from Rand’s life cleverly indicated where her “all about me” philosophy ends up, and the introduction of more contemporary quotations (Boris, Thatcher et al) made it plain that Rand’s insouciance about inequality and the most vulnerable in society not only persists but very much continues to inform the political debate.’ 

Ferment audience comments.

‘The Ayn Lady’ is a part of Ovalhouse’ FiRST BiTES series of new performance pieces, currently in development and presented as work-in-progress showings.

‘The Ayn Lady’ is at Ovalhouse, London SE11 from 2 – 5 July. Full details and tickets here

Review: The Pearl Fishers, London ENO

Penny Woolcock’s visually arresting “The Pearl Fishers” returns to the Coliseum in London in a revival of the 2010 English National Opera co-production with the Metropolitan Opera of New York.

The original production was praised for its stunning effects and staging, and this updated production proved mesmerizing, beginning with a beguiling underwater sequence in which pearl fishers, viewed through a gauzy screen, dive and swim, digitally-generated air bubbles trailing their lithe, fluid bodies (in fact, actors suspended on harnesses). When the curtain goes up, the scene is an exotic Ceylonese shanty town: rough wooden houses crowd higgledy-piggledy around the shoreline, tiny lights prick the early morning sky, telegraph cables sag between the buildings, and a cleverly conceived reflective surface across the entire stage creates the sense of water. The villagers gather around the ghats, dressed in sarongs, dhotis and saris in turmeric and paprika colors, and go about their business — hanging out washing, bathing, cooking at the water’s edge, gossiping. You can almost smell the masala dosas frying.

In later scenes, the houses have gone, leaving the glittering ocean across which a fishing boat glides. The illusion of waves is created through ingenious lighting effects and air-filled pillows, set low on the stage, which billow and swell like the sea. Longer scene changes are made behind the gauzy screen onto which are projected images of waves, including an impressive tsunami between Acts II and III.

Leila (Sophie Bevan) arrives (photo credit: ENO / Mike Hoban)

Bizet finished “The Pearl Fishers” in 1863, a year after Ingres painted “The Turkish Bath,” when Europe was gripped with a fervor for Orientalism, the term used by 19th-century Western scholars and artists in their study of Eastern cultures and peoples. At the time, the East was regarded as highly exotic — and erotic — and “The Pearl Fishers” resides in this tradition, with its recreation of an imaginary geography inhabited by ignorant, superstitious people who engage in transgressive sexual practices. The narrative is the age-old love triangle, with the added frisson of friendship, loyalty and religious observance.

In fact, Bizet’s opera is rather thin, particularly in comparison to his much-loved, vibrant “Carmen.” The libretto borders on cringe-making, and in this production unfortunately more than highlighted by the fact that it is sung in English and the language doesn’t always sit comfortably with the phrasing and shape of the music, as it surely would if sung in French. Apart from the famous aria (of which more later), there is little to hold the attention, musically, and while others might highlight inventiveness and variety in Bizet’s writing, this reviewer found it wanting, with Act III verging on turgid. Added to this, the characters are wooden and the narrative hardly believable. But of course, “The Pearl Fishers” is saved by the glorious tenor-and-baritone duet “Au Fond du Temple Saint” in Act I (with fragments and reprises in subsequent acts), whose sweepingly romantic melody stays with you throughout, and long after you have left the opera house, a pleasing earworm which will have you humming on your commute to work. On this occasion, what should have been a voluptuous celebration of friendship and unrequited love lacked conviction and depth: this was the first night and one hopes that as the singers (George von Bergen and John Tessier) settle into their roles, the richness of this great aria will come to the fore.

Soprano Sophie Bevan, making her role debut as Leïla, Priestess of Brahma, was a delight. Arriving by boat, veiled and submissive, her palms pressed together in obeisance, she proved a charmingly winsome and flirtatious Leïla, and full credit must go to Bevan for singing the role so arrestingly while recovering from a bug. By comparison, Zurga, sung by von Bergen, was underplayed, given his role (again one hopes his character will develop over forthcoming performances), but Nadir (Tessier) was more convincing, torn between his friendship with Zurga and his passion for Leïla. An attempt, via the setting, to comment on global warming and developing-world poverty seemed overly worthy and self-conscious, and an amused nod to the exigencies of Indian bureaucracy in the Act III scene in Zurga’s “office,” piled high with friable papers and bulging ledgers on rusting filing cabinets, felt unnecessary.

But if the music doesn’t always hold your attention (and all credit to the orchestra, whose muscular playing contributed much-needed vibrancy, together with some fine chorus singing), the visual effects will, along with the costumes: Nourabad, the High Priest of Brahma, could have stepped straight off a sculptural frieze on a South Indian temple, with his sadhu’s ash-smeared body, draperies, dreadlocks and top knot. Worth seeing if only for the arresting and finely wrought visual effects and staging.

The Pearl Fishers continues in repertory at ENO.

Date reviewed: Monday 16th June 2014.

Leïla, Sophie Bevan; Nadir, John Tessier; Zurga, George von Bergen; Nourabad, Barnaby Rea; Director, Penny Woolcock; Conductor, Jean-Luc Tingaud; Set Designer, Dick Bird; Costume Designer, Kevin Pollard; Lighting Designer, Jen Schriever; Video Designer, 59 Productions Ltd; Choreographer, Andrew Dawson; Translator, Martin Fitzpatrick. English National Opera, London Coliseum 

(This review was first published on CultureVulture.net)

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