YSM percussionists to perform faculty composer’s double marimba concerto

Sam Um, left, and Georgi Videnov

On Friday, October 27, percussionists and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winners Sam Um ’17MM ’18MMA and Georgi Videnov ’15MM ’17MMA will perform YSM faculty composer Martin Bresnick’s concerto for two marimbas, Grace, with principal conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke recently with Sam and Georgi about preparing and performing Bresnick’s concerto.

Q: Grace was composed in 2000 for Yale Percussion Group Director Robert van Sice. How has working with Prof. van Sice informed your approach to the concerto? Has the piece changed at all since Prof. van Sice first performed it?

SU: Working with Prof. van Sice is always an exciting and illuminating experience. From the stories of how this piece came to life to his experiences of playing this piece in various places in the world, those stories influenced a lot of perspective and gave us more of a sense of attachment to the piece.

GV: In the case of Grace, Prof. van Sice usually uses it as a teaching tool by playing the first marimba part himself and giving the other to a student. This time, by working on it from the outside, he focused our attention on issues such as balance, stylistic approach, and interpretation. Even though the piece itself hasn’t changed, I believe that the relationship between each of the performers creates a unique version of it every time it’s played.

Q: Have you talked at all with Prof. Bresnick about the piece and, if so, what have those conversations yielded?

GV: Sam and I had the pleasure of playing it for Prof. Bresnick in a coaching and during my recital. One of the important aspects for him was to differentiate the “roles” of the two soloists — such as there is clearly a puppeteer and a puppet — as Heinrich von Kleist reflects on this relationship in his essay The Puppet Theatre.

SU: Prof. Bresnick and Prof. van Sice’s attention to the sound of the instrument was crucial in our process because we came to realize that the sound world of this piece is just so beautiful and complex. The idea of echo, nostalgia, and groove made us view the piece in an entirely different way.

Q: What unique aspects of the instrument and mallet technique does the piece exploit?

 GV: The piece exploits a number of techniques utilizing the entire five-octave range of the marimba. In its climactic points, Sam plays in the low register of the instrument, while I cover its high register, allowing the marimba to express its sonorous qualities to its fullest potential. What I find particularly interesting is the interlocking gestures that both marimbas have between each other to create a continuous texture.

SU: In order to achieve a huge sound without being aggressive requires a mature approach to the instrument. Trying to find that balance of making it sound weighty was a special technique, which was very challenging.

Q: What are the most challenging aspects (either technically or musically) of the piece? And what are the challenges of performing the piece with an orchestra?

GV: Due to its nature and the fact that we fill each other’s rests, it is almost harder to play and practice the piece on your own. Early on in the process, Sam and I started rehearsing it together before we even had fully mastered our individual parts to get a sense of how it fits together.

SU: Again, the sound has to be one of the most challenging parts about this piece. To create the beautiful texture and to almost tag-team with different groups of instruments to become one super-instrument will be challenging.

Q: How have you gone about ensuring a consistency of sound and color (between you)?

SU: We did lot of counting work and breathing together whenever we had entrances together. With such responsive instruments like percussion, we have to focus a lot on each other’s ictus and try to match our strokes. In the third movement, where we have passing, flowing lines, we sang those lines out loud to match our dynamics and tempi.

GV:  The marimbas are set up in such a way (facing each other) that allows us to constantly check in with each other, both visually and aurally, on our sound and color. As Sam mentioned, we are quite aware of our stroke preparations and how we feel the groove, both when we are playing and when we have rests.

Q: How would you introduce the piece to audiences who might be new to marimba concerti and even to contemporary music?

GV: Despite the fact that the marimba has found its place in the contemporary solo concerto repertoire, the choices for a double marimba concerto are quite limited. Here is an example that doesn’t try to impress with virtuosity (even though it requires such), but with grace.

SU: I’d love to say that just because it’s new music, it’s not all complicated and difficult to listen to. Contemporary composers are mostly influenced by great musicians people are familiar with such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, and they all share the same vision of making music important in their culture. I strongly believe that experiencing and being exposed to new music can be beautiful, nostalgic, and heartwarming, as well.

Q: What are your thoughts about performing a concerto by a YSM faculty composer here, at YSM, with an orchestra of your peers?

GV: Even though I’d like to share this piece with audiences outside of YSM in the future, I don’t think there is a better place for it than where the piece was conceived and having the opportunity to work on it with our professors and Maestro Oundjian — especially at Yale’s Woolsey Hall!

SU: I am very happy to have this opportunity where we can perform a piece by Martin Bresnick, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest composers and pioneers of today’s music. And to say that I am part of the same community (YSM) as him defines the great experience that students can have here at Yale. Performing this concerto has become so much more than giving a great concert. As percussionists, we unkowningly become ambassadors of new music and percussion. With this concert, I hope that we’ll be able to soften some opinions and break any barriers and fears that people have toward new music. I am grateful to be a part of the Yale School of Music, where the School provides its full support for the new music scene with concert series and opportunities like this.

Principal conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia will perform in Woolsey Hall on Friday, October 27, at 7:30 pm. The program features the world premiere of the International Bruckner Society’s new edition of the composer’s Eighth Symphony, which was created by Yale School of Music Professor of Musicology and International Bruckner Society editorial board member Paul Hawkshaw. Special offer: tickets are free for all students.

LEARN MORE ABOUT AND BUY TICKETS TO THE OCTOBER 27 YALE PHILHARMONIA CONCERT

Published October 24, 2017
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Violinist Ariel Horowitz ’19MM, on broadening her horizons and playing “Ein Heldenleben”

Ariel Horowitz

Violinist Ariel Horowitz’s first performance at the School of Music was the Yale Philharmonia’s season-opening concert, which included a performance of Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring. “It was really an amazing experience,” she said. “The second I sat down, I felt like a professional. I felt like I needed to bring my best artistry, because my colleagues were bringing theirs.”

Horowitz ’19MM, who was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, earned a bachelor of music degree from The Juilliard School, where she studied with Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho, before enrolling at YSM. Here, Horowitz studies with Ani Kavafian while exploring what Yale University has to offer.

Studying at YSM, she said, was an “opportunity to … develop myself as a person and an intellectual and an artist.”

In addition to playing the violin, Horowitz’s artistic practice includes composition. Her Juilliard recital featured a performance of Woman, a performance “collage” she created that includes music, dance, and the recorded voices of various women in her life. For Horowitz, art is a vehicle through which she contributes to the needs of several communities. She’s a co-founder of The Heartbeat Project, which provides music training for Navajo schoolchildren in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Horowitz hopes that being a student at Yale will “contribute to my understanding of global politics and global affairs.”

“To just be around people who are scholars, I think, is just going to be such a unique and different experience for me,” she said.

Still, she’s here at YSM to play and study the violin. And that includes playing in the Yale Philharmonia. When the orchestra performs Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben on Friday, Oct. 13, under the direction of guest conductor David Robertson, she’ll be the concertmaster, playing the solo part.

“I have never played it in context,” Horowitz said.

Talking about Strauss’ storytelling, she said, “I almost feel like Heldenleben is more of a dramatic work” than a piece of music. The violin solo “is a depiction of [Strauss’] wife, Pauline.” Having studied and read about the piece, Horowitz said, “I feel like I have a lot of insight into how Pauline was actually feeling,” and that the composer, “whether he intended to or not, shows how much power Pauline has.”

The solo part is challenging, particularly in terms of having “enough variation in my sound to be able to express the depths of Pauline’s character. Those character changes are so important to bring that story out.”

Practicing the part, Horowitz said, “really feels like learning lines to a play. I don’t want to be Ariel when I’m playing,” she said. “I want to be Pauline.”

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Published October 5, 2017
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Guest conductor David Robertson, on leading the Yale Philharmonia

David Robertson. Photo by Jay Fram

On Friday, October 13, guest conductor David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, will lead the Yale Philharmonia and violinist Laura Park in performances of William Walton’s Violin Concerto, Christopher Rouse’s Rapture, and Richard Strauss’ breathtaking tone poem Ein Heldenleben. We recently reached Mr. Robertson in St. Louis and asked him about championing American music and working with ascendant artists.

Q: You’ve conducted a lot of Christopher Rouse’s music. Would you talk about the importance of programming Rapture (and Rouse’s work) and bringing it to our audience here in New Haven?

A: I think that Chris’ music is really unique in the way that he has taken his experience of popular music culture, which is inescapable in the United States … I think it’s universal now. But it was possible to hold it at arm’s length in certain cultures that maintain the sort of strong roots of classical music in Europe – whereas in the United States, there’s never been this strict dividing line that the Germans have, say, between ernste Musik and Unterhaltungsmusik or serious music and entertainment music, translated loosely. So the interesting thing is that each American composer from Ives on out has really had to deal with How do they feel about this? How does it influence them? And the fascinating thing with Rouse is that it has allowed him to gain a certain amount of energy from the current and popular music, and at the same time keep all of the refinements that we know from sophisticated forms of music. And so the result is really a personal amount of or fusion of these things at a far deeper level that you can really point to and say, “Oh, well, you see this is the popular influence,” which you might be able to do, say, in a composer like Copland or possibly Virgil Thomson. With Rouse, they are fused in the same way that they are fused with Steve Reich or with John Adams. And I find that his particular take on the almost naïve emotional content that one often associates with the American experience, naïve in the best sense of the word – in the sense of pure, and unadulterated – is something that he brings out. And in Rapture it is the constant exploration of that sort of feeling of joy and autonomous peace. And the sort of feedback loop that this gives within the work. And so it’s this extraordinary build, which I don’t know that you could do in quite the same way and not have it be allied say as Ravel does with Bolero, with an actual dance form. He manages to make this cumulative in a number of remarkable ways. And so it felt like it was a great way to start a program that contains the other two works, both of which being emotional expression and storytelling in their own way. MORE

Published October 4, 2017
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Yale Philharmonia principal conductor Peter Oundjian on “The Rite of Spring”

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

On Friday, September 15, the Yale Philharmonia will perform Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring, which was written for the Ballets Russes and whose 1913 premiere in Paris sparked protests. We spoke to principal conductor Peter Oundjian about the piece, its place in history, and what the audience can expect to experience.

Q: How have stories and reports of the audience’s reaction to the premiere of The Rite of Spring framed the work’s place in the repertoire? And what should today’s audiences understand and take away from that reaction?

A: The “riot” which occurred is one of the reasons the piece achieved such prominence. If anything, it had more to do with Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography than the music, as far as we can tell. Just imagine this first audience witnessing dancers stomping their feet for long durations, strange costumes … it was just bizarre! Stravinsky was unhappy about it; however, the events of that night stimulated him to promote the piece and make sure its excellence was appreciated.

Q: In what ways, musically, does The Rite of Spring represent a watershed moment in music history?

A: The piece is the antithesis of 300 years of development of Western art music. Everything that had come before was relatively uniform. Style and musical forms had been created. What Stravinsky did with this symphonic arch was annihilated by his new concepts. We should also remember that Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s music was radical, as well, and he was Stravinsky’s contemporary. The Rite of Spring was completely fresh and new. Harmonically, is it polytonal … it was all quite dissonant. Rhythmically, it was quite a departure from the musical norms of the day.

Q: What are your reasons for programming The Rite of Spring as part of the Yale Philharmonia’s season? In what ways and to what degree is the piece a unique teaching tool?

A: I am sure some of our students have played it before. It is, after all, one of the most important pieces in the repertoire. It is not only for the students in the orchestra, but also for our audience, who are bound to be curious to hear and witness a live performance of such a masterpiece.

Q: How do you approach the work each time you conduct the piece?

A: I think I approach it as though the pagan ritual were occurring before my eyes, and the sacrificial virgin is about to dance herself to death. It’s a new girl each time.

Q: What if anything is lost (or gained) by performing The Rite of Spring as a concert work as opposed to a fully produced ballet?

A: There is not a performance of this piece that is not ballet, in some aspects. If you come, you’ll see some sense of spectacle. The omission of the visual aspect allows people to focus on the inventiveness of the music and the power and drama behind it.

Q: Besides the obvious, what can audiences experience through a live performance of the piece that they can’t by listening to a recording?

A: To see all these musicians playing off the beat of the conductor, from an audience perspective, it’s alarming to see this being reproduced in front of your eyes. It is an extraordinary experience!

The September 15 Yale Philharmonia program includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as well as Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and Tallis’ “Why Fum’th in Fight,” performed by the Yale Voxtet. Learn more and purchase tickets.

Published September 8, 2017
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Paolo Bortolameolli named assistant conductor at LA Phil

Paolo Bortolameolli

Conductor Paolo Bortolameolli ’13MM has been appointed an assistant conductor to Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel at the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the upcoming season. Bortolameolli previously served as a Dudamel Fellow, an initiative, Dudamel said in a press release, that “continues the LA Phil’s commitment to supporting and training the next generation of exceptional conductors.”

While at YSM, Bortolameolli was an assistant conductor of the Yale Philharmonia. He has served as a cover conductor for Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and led the New Haven Chamber Orchestra during his final year at Yale.

A native of Chile, Bortolameolli has worked with the top ensembles in that country including Orquesta Filarmónica de Santiago, Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile, Orquesta de la Universidad de Concepción, Orquesta USACH, Orquesta de Cámara de Chile, and Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional Juvenil.

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PAOLO BORTOLAMEOLLI

Published August 1, 2017
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New oratorio by Martin Bresnick to be premiered at International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Martin Bresnick. Photo by Nina Roberts

A new oratorio by School of Music faculty composer Martin Bresnick will be premiered at Yale on June 20 as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, which commissioned the piece. The oratorio, Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom, will be performed again on June 21 at the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. The oratorio, which celebrates the work of its namesakes — Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and distinguished literary critic Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale — will be performed by the Yale Choral Artists and members of the Yale Philharmonia. Vocal soloists include YSM faculty tenor James Taylor, who’ll sing Bloom’s words. The oratorio is modeled on Bach’s St. John Passion. Bresnick assembled the libretto using poems by Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson and excerpts from Bloom’s The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime.

Talking about the poetry of the 19th century writers he’s celebrating, Bresnick said, “These particular works have been part of my mental universe since I was a young student. Still others I only recently got more closely acquainted with.” He’s been familiar with Bloom’s work for many years. In the mid-1980s, Bresnick composed music for the PBS series Voices & Visions, which, through interviews with such experts as Bloom, explored the lives of American poets. At that moment, Bresnick said, he felt that Bloom, who earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1956, had established himself as a kind of Marlon Brando of critics, inasmuch as the “degree of passion and devotion he brought to his explanations” was “almost poetic.” It was while working on For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, based on the William Blake poem, that Bresnick got to know Bloom and appreciate the shared “commonalities in our origins and points of departure.” In incorporating excerpts from The Daemon Knows into his oratorio, Bresnick had permission from Bloom to use “anything I wanted.”

Modeling the oratorio on Bach’s St. John Passion was a logical step considering that Bloom’s voice in the piece is not unlike that of the Evangelist — the narrator — in Bach’s passions. And Taylor, Bresnick pointed out, is a “well-known Evangelist in the world of the two Bach passions.” In addition to Taylor, Bresnick said, “I needed some very special singers.” Enter the Yale Choral Artists.

“Several of the soloists for this performance also happen to be YSM alumni, from both the Institute of Sacred Music’s voice program and from Yale Opera, including two former students of Jimmy’s — Paul Tipton and Sherezade Panthaki,” YCA founding director and YSM professor of choral conducting, Jeffrey Douma, said. School of Music alumni who’ll be performing include mezzo-soprano Katherine Maroney ’06MM, soprano Megan Chartrand ’13MM, soprano Sarah Yanovitch ’15MM, tenor Colin Britt ’10MM, tenor Gene Stenger ’15MM, and tenor Steven Soph ’12MM. Bass-baritone Tipton ’10MM will sing Melville’s words, while Maroney and soprano Panthaki ’11AD will sing text by Dickinson. Additional vocal soloists include tenor Brian Giebler, who’ll sing words by Whitman, bass Glenn Miller, who’ll sing the words of Captain Ahab, from Melville’s Moby-Dick, and baritone Thomas McCargar, who’ll sing the words of Melville’s Ishmael.

“During his composition process,” Douma said, “Martin often showed me excerpts of the solo writing he was developing, and would describe the kinds of voices he was hearing. This helped me choose singers from within the ranks of the Choral Artists best suited to each role.”

Bresnick’s oratorio, Douma said, “references not only Bach but also Brahms and other composers. People who know the St. John Passion will hear distinct echoes of its opening chorus (“Herr, unser Herrscher”) in Martin’s opening chorus (“Shine! Shine! Shine!”). For me as conductor, knowing that Bach was a starting point for Martin has influenced my thinking about the melodic writing in the piece and its relationship to the text. Martin may not be quoting Bach, but his careful attention to the natural rise and fall of the language and his singularly expressive way of emphasizing particular words reminds me very much of Bach’s use of melody, especially in the extended recitatives we hear in his passions. It has reinforced how important it will be for the audience to connect with the language in a very direct way.”

Of the literary works that inspired the oratorio, Douma said, “I love all three of the writers who inhabit this piece, but I will admit that my understanding of each of them — especially Melville — has been enriched greatly by the process of preparing this music.”

Originally, Bresnick said, he conceived a piece that would celebrate Bloom’s writings on Whitman. “I found that that wasn’t congenial for me,” he said. “That wasn’t enough.” The piece “needed more contrast.”

Bloom, Bresnick said, is “very shy about the fact that this whole thing, in some ways, is about him.”

Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom will receive its world-premiere performance, as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, on Tuesday, June 20, at 8 pm, in Morse Recital Hall at the Yale School of Music. The oratorio will be performed again on Wednesday, June 21, at 7:30 pm, at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS & IDEAS PERFORMANCE
NORFOLK PERFORMANCE

Published June 15, 2017
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Winners of 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition Announced

The 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition took place on Saturday, April 8. This year’s competition yielded three winners: violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM, performing Niccolo Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola; violinist Laura Park ’18MM, performing William Walton’s Violin Concerto; and percussion duo Georgi Videnov ’17MMA and Sam Um ’17MM, performing Martin Bresnick’s Grace, concerto in three movements for two marimbas and orchestra.

As winners, these Yale School of Music students will perform with the Yale Philharmonia during the 2017-18 season. The judges noted that they were very impressed with the high level of talent that was demonstrated by all performers. Violinist Rachel Ostler ’18MMA was selected as an alternate, and honorable mentions were given to hornist Scott Leger ’18MM, mezzo-soprano Anne Maguire ’17MM, and violinist Diomedes Saraza Jr ’17MMA.

The judges were flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, who serves on the faculties of the Purchase College Conservatory of Music, Bard College Conservatory of Music, and Manhattan School of Music, Jonathan Yates, music director of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra, and cellist Robert Martin, the director of faculty and a professor at the Bard Conservatory of Music.

Published April 11, 2017
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Paul Hawkshaw awarded Fulbright for Bruckner research, residency in Vienna

Paul Hawkshaw

Professor of Musicology Paul Hawkshaw will be a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in Vienna in the spring of 2018. During his residency, he will teach classes at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Musicology and at the city’s University of Music and Performing Arts, in addition working at the Austrian National Library on a project titled A Bequest and a Complex Legacy: Untangling Anton Bruckner’s Revisions in Later Times, which aims to sort out the many different revisions of Bruckner’s music that have resulted from, in Hawkshaw’s words, “unauthorized tampering in Bruckner’s scores by well-meaning students and friends of his.”

According to Hawkshaw, the International Bruckner Society recently began a new Collected Works Edition under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the Vienna Philharmonic. The New Anton Bruckner Collected Edition will eventually include new definitive scores of Bruckner’s complete works. Hawkshaw, who serves on the society’s editorial board, will work on three of the symphonies: numbers Seven, Eight, and Nine.

“In some cases,” Hawkshaw said, “previous editions had errors as a result of misreading the sources. For others, new, more reliable manuscript sources have surfaced since the older printed scores appeared.” MORE

Published April 5, 2017
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Inside YSM: Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18AD, piano

Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18 AD

On Friday, February 24, 2017, pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18AD performed Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1 with conducting fellow David Yi and the Yale Philharmonia. Asked about his approach to playing Shostakovich’s music, Slava said, “I love music by Shostakovich — his symphonies, ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,’ his ballets, chamber music, experimental opuses like the ‘Aphorisms’ … A lot of his pieces contain not only powerful feelings but also encrypted messages. It was the only possible way to express what he really thought. He lived in a Soviet era when a lot of people felt imprisoned, both in a moral and often in the real physical sense. Shostakovich was under a pressure which we cannot imagine. It is often understood as a restriction on his artistic freedom. But in fact this pressure, among other factors, created his unique musical individuality: this combination of being wildly against the system with a lot of extremes, but with such a huge humanity, real passion, and tenderness at the same time.”

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Published March 24, 2017
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Inside YSM: David Yi, conductor

David Yi

On Friday, February 24, 2017, YSM conducting fellow David Yi led the Yale Philharmonia and student pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov in a performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin,” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.

Asked when he became interested in conducting, David said, “I first started with the piano and then played the violin. For some reason, I always wanted to become a conductor, ever since I was a child. I always loved playing in the orchestra as a violinist/pianist. There is something great about making music with a large group of people. As a conductor, nothing is more satisfying than the moment when I realize that we are making music together.” 

In addition to his studies with Yale Philharmonia principal conductor Peter Oundjian, David’s approach to leading an orchestra has been shaped by several other notable conductors.

“Hugh Wolff at the New England Conservatory had a huge influence on my approach to score study,” David said. “Nicolás Pasquet at the Franz Liszt Conservatory in Germany helped with physical conducting. I had an opportunity to study with Riccardo Muti. He emphasized the importance of showing drama through music.”

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Published March 24, 2017
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