The Straits Times

Comprehensive coverage of the

1990 Dimitris Sgouros Festival in Singapore


The Straits Times, Tuesday, February 13, 1990

PHOTO CAPTION: "I am a performer, not a prodigy," says Dimitris Sgouros, who unabashedly admits that he has girlfriends in many parts of the world. But the late, great Artur Rubinstein declared him to be the best pianist he had ever heard, including himself.

 

Greece lightning

Just 20 years old, Dimitris Sgouros is already hailed as one of the keyboard artists of the century. In his head, he carries a repertoire of more than 45 concertos and hundreds of solo and chamber works. LISA KONG talks to the amazing young Greek pianist who is here to play 12 concertos over two weeks.

When Dimitris Sgouros plays the piano, it seems effortless. No sweat, no tears, no glimpse of what pains the manufacture of such musical perfection involves.

The 20-year-old Greek pianist is one of a new genre of wunderkinder (child prodigies) on the performing platform. No pressured infants pushed on stage by ambition-driven parents, these; but poised youngsters who coast through Chopin or Cage with ease.

 Sgouros is in Singapore to perform in the two-week Dimitris Sgouros Festival, which begins this evening at the Victoria Concert Hall. This event is also part of the European Community's contribution to Singapore's 25th anniversary celebrations.

Prodigious talent, a photographic memory, perfect pitch and a wonderful hand-span (easily covering an octave and a half) have brought Sgouros fame and fortune at an early age. Yet, for one who has been hailed as one of the keyboard artists of the century, he does not seem to have a lot of trouble coping with success.

"It's normal, what I do," says the Athens-born-and-based pianist with the clean-cut looks of the boy next door.

What may seem normal to the highly energetic young man continues to amaze others. The doctor's son from a non-musical family started piano lessons at the age of six and had his first recital at eight. Four years later, he was a professor of piano at the Athens Conservatoire, giving piano advice to his professors!

'It's a miracle!" marvelled Mstislav Rostropovich, the great Soviet cellist-conductor, when he heard Sgouros play.

Sgouros' American debut under Rostropovich when he was 12 years old brought Carnegie Hall in New York to its feet, with a splendid rendition of Rachmaninoff's spectacular and demanding Third Piano Concerto.

The following year, he recorded that same concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and the late Herbert von Karajan [correction: should be Yuri Simonov. With Karajan he performed the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto].

"I am a performer, not a prodigy," he says with a smile.

Prodigies are usually pushed as fast and as far as possible by their families or agents, but music never interfered much with his childhood.

"My parents never pushed me. They said, 'Do what you want to do and take your own risks.' In fact, my mother was my worst critic. I'm the one who pushed" he recalls with a laugh, stealing a glance at his mother and manager, Marianthi Sgouros, an immaculately coiffured blonde who handles the non-artistic aspects of her son's life.

Although two thirds of his life is spent away from home, globe-trotting to concert capitals worldwide for 70 to 100 concerts a year, Sgouros is resolved not to let his life revolve around music alone. Linguistics and mathematics are his other loves.

With his quick memory and keen ear, Sgouros is adept at six languages English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, in addition to his native Greek.

And his hobby is studying for a maths degree at Athens University.

More down-to-earth interests include dating, swimming and disco-dancing to unwind after a performance.

"I have girlfriends in many parts of the world. I'm so busy I cannot keep one girlfriend in one place," he admits unabashedly. "But I'm not as busy with girls as the press sometimes make me out to be," he hastens to add.

Performing before an audience of 5,000 in Athens in 1981 to raise funds for earthquake victims in Greece was one of Sgouros' earliest triumphs.

The most touching moment, however, was playing before an audience of one - for the late Artur Rubinstein in Geneva two months before his death in 1982.

Rubinstein, the greatest of the Romanic pianists, declared Sgouros the best pianist he had ever heard, including himself.

Like Rubinstein and Sviatoslav Richter, natural pianists who seldom worked at the piano for more than two or three hours a day, Sgouros spends little time at the keyboards. After all, it is all in the mind. His mind, that is.

Countless hours are spent "filtering" and fine-tuning a piece of music in his head, "practising with my brains, soul, ears and fingers" before attacking the piano with gusto.

When he was four, Sgouros astounded his doctor father by memorising every phone number in his book of patients. This capacity to absorb and retain after one reading is what enables him to carry in his head a repertoire of more than 45 concertos and hundreds of solo and chamber works, ranging from the Classical to the Post-Romantic.

While it takes Sgouros two days to memorise a 200-page score, other musicians take months or even a year.

But the performance itself matters more than the speed of learning, he points out: "No matter how fast I learn a piece, I don't play it until I feel I'm ready to perform, which can be six months later."

The risks of burn-out and over-exposure are always present, but it seems doubtful Sgouros will stray from music, even if his multiple talents allow him many options.

"I hope to be in music for as long as I live," he says firmly, with that by-now familiar ring of confidence.

Only time will tell if Sgouros' staying power and circumstances allow his musical talent to reach full bloom.


 

PROGRAMME NOTES

The Dimitris Sgouros Festival, backed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Choo Hoey, spans 200 years of music and 11 composers, 12 well-loved piano concertos and one soloist. Lisa Kong gives the full programme and talks to some Singaporeans about the festival.

TODAY

Mozart (1756 - 91): The Magic Flute Overture

One of Mozart's great masterpieces, written in the last year of his life, it successfully sums up the mood of the opera, whose fairy-tale story is laden with magical and exotic elements.

Mozart: Piano Concerto In D Minor, K466 and Piano Concerto In C Major, K467 (Elvira Madigan)

Between 1784 and 1786, Mozart composed no fewer than 12 piano concertos. The D Minor Concerto and the C Major Concerto were composed almost simultaneously in 1875.

In spite of this, and their identical orchestration, the two works are very different in character the D Minor Concerto is disturbed and tragic while the C Major Concerto is positive and confident, almost assertive.

THURSDAY

Beethoven (1770 -1827): The Coriolanus Overture

This was written for Coriolan, the now all-but-forgotten play by Viennese writer Heinrich von Collin.

The tragic and romantic figure of the rebellious Roman general Coriolanus must have appealed strongly to the composer, for the music mirrors the tempestuous and strong-willed natures of both the general and Beethoven himself.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 In G

In the years following the composition of the Third Piano Concerto in 1800, the first signs of Beethoven's deafness were to appear, an affliction which must have hit him with the force of a thunderbolt.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the poised and vigorous confidence of the Third Concerto is replaced, in the Fourth Piano Concerto, by a work of unparalleled eloquence and poetic strength.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 In E Flat (The Emperor)

The most popular of Beethoven's five piano concertos, the Emperor Concerto successfully combines enthusiasm and high daring.

SATURDAY

Weber (1786 -1826): The Oberon Overture

Oberon was Weber's final opera and the overture is one of his best-known works. Already sickly when he was given the commission for the opera, Weber worked on it against his doctor's advice and the demands of supervising the opera's production undoubtedly hastened his death (he died two months after the premiere in April 1826).

Chopin (1816-49): Piano Concerto No. 1 In E Minor and Piano Concerto No. 2 In F Minor

These two piano concertos were written in 1829-30, just before Chopin left his native Poland for Paris, never to return.

In fact, the numbering of the two works is in reverse to their actual order of composition. The F Minor concerto was written when he was completely bewitched by the singer Constantia Gladouska, and first performed in March 1830.

Inspired by its success, he decided to write a second concerto, the E Minor, which he premiered in October that same year in Warsaw.

FEB 20

Mendelssohn (1809 - 47): The Ruy Blas Overture

In 1839, Mendelssohn was asked to write music for a benefit performance of Victor Hugo's drama, Ruy Blas. The play concerns a Spanish nobleman who induces his valet (Ruy Blas) to seduce the Queen of Spain and thus bring her into disgrace, a plot which backfires.

Disliking the play intensely, Mendelssohn supplied only one song for the concert and, after much persuasion, started work on the overture a few days before the concert, finishing it in little more than a day.

Grieg (1843 - 1997): Piano Concerto In A Minor

This is the Norwegian composer's only real large-scale work, written in 1868 at his secluded country cottage in Denmark. The work's natural lyricism and simple and direct charm has made it one of the most popular in the concert repertoire.

Liszt (1811 - 86): Piano Concerto No. 2 In A

Liszt was not only the most celebrated concert pianist of his-day, he also made important contributions to the development of a new form of music the symphonic poem.

He transformed the classical symphony of several movements into a one-movement work based on a story or literary theme with Romantic associations.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 In A, completed in 1849 and dedicated to his pupil, Hans von Bronsart, who also performed at its premiere in 1857, is based on one main theme.

FEB 22

Glinka (1864 - 57): The Russian And Ludmilla Overture

Glinka strove to establish a truly Russian style of composition. Although musically superior and incorporating the music of the Middle East, Russian And Ludmilla was a failure at its premiere in 1842.

Prokofiev (1891 - 1953): Piano Concerto No. 3 In C

Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto was planned during his student days at the Moscow Conservatory, as early as 1911, but was actually composed only in 1921.

Tchaikovsky (1840 - 93): Piano Concerto No. 1 In B Flat Minor

For many, Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto is the quintessence of Romantic music, in which the heroic pianist struggles alone with grand gestures and seductive melodies to wrest beauty from the instrument.

  FEB 24

Tchaikovsky: The Romeo And Juliet Overture

This overture does not portray the events of Shakespeare's play in chronological order. Instead, the mood of various characters and scenes in the play is depicted admirably and the overture justly deserves its enormous popularity.

Rachmaninoff (1873 -1943): Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor

Romantic melody, virtuoso piano-writing and exciting rhythms place this among the the world's best-loved piano concertos.

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 In D Minor

Now extremely popular, this concerto was seldom performed during the earlier years of its existence because the sheer physical staying power and digital brilliance needed was too demanding for all but a few pianists of the time.

All concerts will be held at the Victoria Concert Hall at 8.15 pm. Tickets at $25, $40, $50 and $60 are available at the Victoria Theatre, Centrepoint, Tangs and Forum Management Services (#03-01, Maxwell House, Maxwell Road, tel: 222-0590).


 

More than just a circus

ALTHOUGH a foreign pianist was said to have likened the Dimitris Sgouros Festival to a "circus", others were more enthusiastic about the event. The concert series looks set to be a glorious feast of music which will not only attract music lovers and students, but also the curious and sceptical who will want to witness this rare musical feat.

For newcomers to music, it will be a unique opportunity to listen to popular piano concertos performed by a major talent, all within the space of two weeks.

Here is a sampling of the views:

Choo Hoey, music director and resident conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra: "This is another step forward for the SSO. It proves the orchestra is of a high standard to be able to cope with concerts on alternate evenings is something I wasn't sure we could have done a few years ago. It shows the maturity of the orchestra and the wide repertoire we have built up."

Reginald Devaraj, managing director of Forum Management Services which is presenting the concerts: "We have a double treat here not just a major name but one performing so many major concertos. If we have Sgouros playing for just one night, that won't show the public what a tremendous repertoire he has at his fingertips."

Madelein Yap, piano teacher and former SSO cellist: "This series of concerts is good news. It is very rare that we have continuous concerts like this. Many of my students will be going I'm encouraging them to make it every evening if they can."

Cham Tao Soon, president of the Nanyang Technological Institute and a music enthusiast: "Sgouros has phenomenal technique but I wonder if he can do justice to all 12 concertos? I hope it doesn't end up like a circus trick."

Eleanor Tan, 26-year-old graduate of Indiana University and an aspiring concert pianist: "Talent is to be paraded. Sgouros will be covering a lot of ground apart from the technical aspects, this will also be a test of his interpretative powers because the programme spans so many musical periods."

Ong Lip Tat, pianist and music teacher: "A marvellous opportunity to hear so many major concertos in so short a time. I've heard Sgouros once but couldn't really judge his standard because the acoustics were so bad. But he must be really good to be able to do such a concert."


 
The Straits Times reviews the 1990 Dimitris Sgouros Festival
 

Dimitris Sgouros Festival: Day 1

Brilliant, but only skimming Mozart

REVIEW

Mozart: The Magic Flute Overture, Piano Concerto In D Minor, K466 and Piano Concerto In C Major, K467
Victoria Concert Hall
Tuesday
Terence Dawson

OVER the next 10 days, Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros will perform no less than 12 of the best-loved piano concertos in six programmes. This much-heralded event opened on Tuesday evening with him playing Mozart's concertos in D minor (K466) and C major (K467).

It was a bold choice, as both he and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra are instinctively more at home with the later romantic repertoire. The two works, moreover, although written the same year, provide astonishingly different challenges.

Still only 20, Sgouros has a technical proficiency second to none. The virtuosity of his playing, as for example in the marvellous two-part cadenza of the opening allegro of K 466, was breathtaking.

There were many such moments of superlative artistry, like the haunting second half of the romance from the same work, or the finales of both concertos.

But there is more to Mozart than prodigious or even adequate technique, and no work is more demanding in this respect than the D minor concerto. The kind of troubled drama it presents, and which is only tentatively resolved at the end, anticipates Beethoven. It is moving evidence of Mozart's intense personal restlessness at this period.

There was too little emphasis given to the underlying disturbance which makes this work unique in the Mozart canon. Our attention remained at the surface of things, sometimes passingly captured by a phrase, sometimes just riveted by the soloist's extraordinary fluency.

In many ways the C Major concerto was the more successful. It started with commendable bravura, and the finale beautifully captured the whimsical humour.

Sadly, the determination to rethink the second movement, popularised and banalised as the "Elvira Madigan" theme, resulted in a somewhat forced reading of this glorious music. It did, however, show off the orchestra splendidly. Indeed, their playing throughout the evening was admirable, with the oboes and bassoons in particularly fine form.

Given that both Sgouros and the SSO are at their best in the 19th-century repertoire, the coming concerts promise some fabulous music-making.

Today Beethoven: The Coriolanus Overture, Piano Concerto No. 4 In G, Piano Concerto No. 5 In E Flat (The Emperor)


Dimitris Sgouros Festival: Day Three

Sure-fingered Chopin

REVIEW

WEBER: THE OBERON OVERTURE
CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA NO. 1 IN E MINOR (OP. 11)
CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA NO. 2 IN F (OP. 21)
Victoria Concert Hall
Saturday
Terence Dawson

THE programme for the third concert in the Dimitris Sgouros Festival consisted mainly of Chopin's two piano concertos, works which owe so little to the classical concerto that they are really better thought of as pieces for piano and orchestral accompaniment.

The evening began with a brisk and atmospheric account of the overture to Weber's last opera, Oberon, with the strings of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra once again in outstanding form.

The orchestral writing for Chopin's two concertos was effective, but unimaginative. What made this performance so successful, and the most satisfying so far, was conductor Choo Hoey's sensitivity to the needs of his soloist.

Chopin, not surprisingly, gave all the interesting music to the pianist, and Sgouros made the most of it. Especially successful was the Larghetto of the E Minor, which demanded extreme lightness of touch, and its finale, which had such glorious passages that one forgot how loosely structured it was.

The whole was brilliantly performed, with the pianist outstanding in such moments as the broken chords of the Romance or the protracted scales and arpeggi just before the end.

Although carrying a later opus number, the Concerto In F was written a year before the E Minor when Chopin was 20. It is the more interesting of the two largely because it is less ambitious.

It is a tribute to soloist and orchestra alike that they managed the endless tremolos and the pizzicato accompaniment of the Larghetto so well as to obscure the overriding archness of the music. Equally impressive was the anticipation of Chopin's later Mazurkas in the Allegro.

These are not, in the usual sense of the word, great concertos, but the talent of the pianist certainly made them appear as if they may be. It was a memorable experience to hear such a young soloist perform them with such commendable confidence and versatility.

Yet once again, there was much more to impress than to remember. This pianist has a rare talent, not least of which is his ability to work so well with an orchestra, but he still has to learn to render a work so as to give the listener the sense that he is being offered some new insight into it.

Tomorrow Mendelssohn: The Ruy Blas Overture; Grieg: Piano Concerto In A Minor; Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 In A.


Dimitris Sgouros Festival: Day Four

Fine touches in odyssey

REVIEW

MENDELSSOHN: RUY BLAS OVERTURE
GRIEG: PIANO CONCERTO
LISZT: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2
Victoria Concert Hall
Last Tuesday
Tony Hung

NOW into the second week of his pianistic odyssey, Dimitris Sgouros traversed more familiar territory last Tuesday as he performed two popular concertos from the height of the Romantic era, music which seemed to suit his temperament better than the classical works he played earlier.

The Grieg concerto opened most promisingly. Neither trying too hard to impress, nor underlying this over-familiar work, Sgouros captured its spring-like freshness and vitality with playing of wonderful dexterity and spontaneity.

His treatment of the first movement was brisk and lively to just the right degree, culminating in a grand and imposing cadenza.

The slow movement, after a lovely introduction by the strings of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, emerged exquisitely beautifully in Sgouros' hands. Much of the beauty, however, resided on the surface and there were poetic depths in this music that were scarcely touched.

Though some of the dance rhythms of the last movement were not perfectly articulated by Sgouros, the outer sections had tremendous vigour and drive, which was nicely contrasted with the quiet pastoral interlude.

It was gratifying that he did not yield to the temptation of turning Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 into a vulgar, noisy showpiece (as one easily could). Both he and conductor Choo Hoey held the dynamic level in check, with the pianist often scaling his tone down to a whispered pianissimo, and rubato was sparingly and judiciously used throughout.

This does not mean that the virtuosity was played down, and Sgouros' handling of the demonically difficult parts was indeed breath taking in its power and precision. His crisp articulation of the martial third section and the whirlwind finale was something to marvel at.

The only disappointment lay in the slow section, with the tremendous cello solo sounding anything but an equal partner to the piano, and with Sgouros tinkling away nonchalantly with no suggestion of any sort of dialogue between the two instruments.

The rest of the performance was quite stunning and augured well for the other great virtuoso concertos to follow in the last two concerts.

 

Dimitris Sgouros performs the opening bars of Liszt's Piano Concerto No 2

accompanied by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, conductor Choo Hoey

 

notes.gif (299 bytes) Listen to Sgouros' performance of Liszt's Piano Concerto No 2 at the 1990 Dimitris Sgouros Festival

lofi.gif (90 bytes) Lo Fi Play hifi.gif (134 bytes) Hi Fi Play

Tonight: Glinka (1804-57): The Russian And Ludmilla Overture; Prokofiev (1891-1953): Piano Concerto No. 3 In C; Tchaikovsky (1840-93): Piano Concerto No. 11 in B Flat Minor.


Dimitris Sgouros Festival: Day Five

Brilliant skill and delicacy

REVIEW

GLINKA: RUSSIAN AND LUDMILLA OVERTURE
PROKOFIEV: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 3
TCHAIKOVSKY: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1
Victoria Concert Hall
Last Thursday
Tony Hung

GLINKA'S Russian And Ludmilla Overture is one of those perfect curtain-raisers: short, rousing, and (at conductor Choo Hoey's lightning-fast tempo) designed to keep the orchestra very much on their toes.

Its brevity, however, only accentuated the absurdity of wheeling the piano onto the stage after the overture instead of before it, a tedious ritual repeated night after night which took longer than the opening piece itself and seriously disrupted the audience's and musicians' mood.

Few works in the concerto repertoire capture the excitement of an all-out duel between the piano and orchestra as vividly as Tchaikovsky's First and Prokofiev's Third, and Dimitris Sgouros tackled them both on the same evening.

His speed, power and knife-edge precision were a great asset in the Prokofiev. Such passages as the ascent into the recapitulation in the first movement, which acquired the force and magnitude of a tidal wave in his hands, were particularly awe-inspiring, as was the cascading ending of the concerto.

What one missed was the wit and pungency of Prokofiev's coruscatingly brilliant score, especially in the whimsical and at times grotesque variations in the second movement, which came off sounding more like a set of pianistic exercises.

Sgouros was predictably at home in Tchaikovsky's ultra-romantic First Concerto, which he launched in grand style.

He was flexible but not wayward in matters of rubato and phrasing, and throughout much of the concerto displayed not only superhuman virtuosity but considerable sensitivity and delicacy as well, as in the second subject of the first movement and in the slow movement.

It was a pity that the slow movement, which Sgouros played ethereally, was marred by an unfortunate fluff in the woodwinds.

There were times when Sgouros yielded to the temptation to play faster and more loudly than anyone else.

The effect could be absolutely electrifying, as in the climaxes of the first movement (including the cadenza), but in the last movement this lapsed into crudity.

Surely brutality is a poor substitute for dynamism, and the spirit of 1812 is as alien to Tchaikovsky's First as Wellington's Victory is to Beethoven's Emperor Concerto.

Tonight: Tchaikovsky: The Romeo And Juliet Overture; Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor and Piano Concerto No. 3 In D Minor.


Dimitris Sgouros Festival: Day Six

More dazzling than ever

REVIEW

TCHAIKOVSKY: ROMEO AND JULIET OVERTURE
RACHMANINOV: PIANO CONCERTOS NOS. 2 AND 3
Victoria Concert Hall
Last Saturday
Tony Hung

AS THE composer apparently closest to Dimitris Sgouros' heart, Rachmaninov's two greatest concertos provided a fitting climax to the fortnight-long Dimitris Sgouros Festival.

The performances had the by-now-familiar Sgouros traits only in double measure, and running over.

The sheer virtuosity and bravura was more dazzling than ever, as the awesome technical difficulties of these scores dissolved into child's play.

Technically more immaculate even than Rachmaninov's own recorded performances, it is safe to say that pianistic wizardry of this order has never before been witnessed on these shores.

Fired by an irrepressible youthful ardour and impetuosity, Sgouros adopted tempi so fast that he left the orchestra scrambling breathlessly after him many a time, reminding one of a high-spirited teenager at the wheel of a super-powerful sports car.

The conclusion of the Third Concerto was so fast that one felt like giving Sgouros a steroid test or a speeding ticket.

In both works, with the adrenalin running high throughout, Sgouros was occasionally tempted to give too much too soon, piling climax upon stupendous climax till there was nothing in reserve.

The stupendous Third Concerto, which has become a sort of calling card for the pianist (having made his debut with it at the age of 12 and recorded it with the Berlin Philharmonic at 14), was the better performance.

Though his interpretation had not changed greatly since that recording, he now paid more attention to the softer dynamic markings in the first movement, which acquired an element of wistfulness to counter its former brashness.

The concert aroused the most tumultuous reception and the only standing ovation I had ever witnessed at the Victoria Concert Hall, which finally succeeded in cajoling a visibly exhausted Sgouros into giving his only encore in six evenings.


Dimitris Sgouros signs autograph for a Malaysian fan who travelled especially to Singapore for his concert

[Source - http://mychng.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/when-i-met-d-s/ ]

 

 Sgouros' Art: Sweetness, Intensity and Virtuosity

 

1990 Dimitris Sgouros Festival - Sheer excitement marks Sgouros' performances, Rostropovich on home stage at last  - Business Times, February, 1990

 

Where Talent and Intellect Meet  - Business Times, February, 1990

 

Dimitris Sgouros at the 12,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium with the USSR Festival Orchestra

The USSR Festival Orchestra comprises the principals of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Moscow Philharmonic, Lithuanian Philharmonic, Latvian Philharmonic, Bolshoi and Kirov Orchestras.  This orchestra represents the cream of the Soviet Union's musicians and is considered by critics and audiences as the orchestra of orchestras.

 

VIP cocktail reception in Singapore - Maestro Choo Hoey and Dimitris Sgouros with the cream of Singapore society

 

 

 

Musical nirvana - Maestro Choo Hoey and Sgouros bask in the sweet strains of Grieg's Piano Concerto

 

[photos courtesy of Marianthi Sgouros]


 

Dimitris Sgouros Interview on Australian SBS TV

 

Sgouros chats with Pria Viswalingam of SBS TV

Pria Viswalingam with a copy of The Straits Times


 


 

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