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June 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – John Sturt premieres ‘Beyond the Cradle of Humanity’ (15th June); The Octandre Ensemble play Frank Denyer (17th June); emerging young Trinity Laban composers storm The Ivy House for ‘Hidden Messages: Contemporary Music’ (18th June)

10 Jun

John Sturt: 'Beyond The Cradle Of Humanity', 17th June 2018

“Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever…” – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

It’s been a highly productive year for emerging Trinity Laban composer John Sturt. His ‘Pulsar’ (for cello and percussion) premiered at the college back in February, several vocal works were also premiered the same month up at the Old Royal Naval College chapel in Greenwich, and his string quartet ‘Volatilis’ will getting its continental European premiere in Switzerland in July.

This month he’s premiering his largest work to date, at the college’s Laban Building in Deptford. Responding to the concept of the colonisation of space, ‘Beyond The Cradle of Humanity’ is a larger scale work for orchestra, chorus and narrator. I can’t tell you much more about it beyond that, or providing the video clip above. There are some five-year-old pre-Laban synthesized symphony demos over on John’s Soundcloud page (along with his cute and deceptively clever experimental faux-muzak effort ‘Space-Lift Waiting Room‘). However, this summer John is also releasing his first record – ‘The Cloths of Heaven: The Vocal Work of John Sturt’ – with a preliminary taster available below: and perhaps this, plus the Soundcloud clip of his church choral work ‘Breaking of the Bread’, are better pointers to what ‘…Cradle…’ might be like.

 
John Sturt: ‘Beyond the Cradle of Humanity’ World Premiere
Studio Theatre @ Laban Building (Trinity Laban University), Creekside, Deptford, London, SE8 3DZ, England
15 June 2018, 6.00pm
– information here

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Sticking with Trinity Laban for a moment: three days later, a gang of composers and musicians from the college will be showcasing their own music at a free concert in Nunhead.

“Inspired by Easter eggs hidden in video games, twelve composers attempt to hide references, clues and secret messages within newly written pieces of music performed by three fantastic ensembles. These ensembles will also be performing music of their choice, in response to their newly written works. Come and celebrate the start of the summer and the end of exams!”

'Hidden Messages', 18th June 2018

Event organiser Mikey Parsons explains “most Trinity Laban student events take place on campus at the student union bar. We were frustrated by this, because it meant that only other students or teachers generally saw our work. I also personally was frustrated by the formalities observed in a classical music setting. My background is in performing with rock bands in pubs: I prefer the laid-back atmosphere there and wanted to organise a concert of our work that was for all intents and purposes the same vibe as a rock gig in a pub. In the future I want to organise gigs that feature rock bands and classical groups on the same bill. I’d love to see a string quartet open for a punk band!

“The groups playing at the Ivy House are a brass quintet, a vocal sextet and a mixed group (flute, clarinet, baritone sax, percussion and guitar). We divided the twelve composers across the three groups. The brass and vocal groups are also going to choose some repertoire in response to their new pieces: it’s an opportunity to bring some of their music into a fresh context.

“The theme was inspired by video game easter eggs. My first easter egg was the one in ‘Grand Theft Auto 3’ where you find a hidden area and there’s a sign saying something like “You weren’t supposed to be able to find here”. The thing I enjoy about them the most is the looking for them. For example – when I wrote the brief and sent it to the composers, I told them that I had hidden an easter egg in the message. Some of them went crazy trying to find it and one in particular spent a whole weekend on it, re-reading the message! In the end none of them got it but they came up with some interesting theories. I found it fascinating that they would spend time on a simple piece of text like that, and that they would read all kinds of messages out of it that I hadn’t intended at all.

“So what I’m hoping to achieve with the audience at this concert is the same focused attention of trying to work out what the music is trying to say, feeling delighted when discovering a reference to something, and perhaps coming up with their own theories as to what the answer could be.”

Despite being forthcoming about motivations and inspirations, Mikey’s not sent me composer names and work titles yet. I’ll post some up in a later edit if I get the chance…

Porcine Moth Promotions presents:
‘Hidden Messages: Contemporary Music’
The Ivy House, 40 Stuart Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3BE, England
Monday 18th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Update, 12th June – the following composers will be having their work performed: Mikey Parsons, Samuel Pradalie, Caitlin Harrison, Aurora Nishevci, James Layton, Theo Finkel, Markas Michmel, Sam Carr, Jess Ward, James Taylor, Haribaskar Ganesan and Marisa Munoz Lopez. Here are some of their past pieces…

 
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Octandre Ensemble

In between, there’s the second in the ongoing run of “composer portraits” at west London’s Print Room, presented by ritual-and-timbre-focussed chamber group The Octandre Ensemble.

Frank Denyer is an interesting contemporary classical contradiction (and marketer’s nightmare) – he’s a dedicated composer, musical thinker and ethnomusicologist who, in spite of having always written for “strange combinations of instruments” including non-Western ones, has declared a lack of interest in hybridization or crossover work. He’s specialised in a knack for acoustics and timbre, for interest in quietness or in “radical melody”, and – according to ‘The Strad’, music with a “semi-theatrical, almost ritualistic atmosphere”; but while he’s composed for non-Western instruments such as shakuhachis and ocarinas, it’s been primarily for their opportunities of tone-colour and readily-available microtonal pitches rather than for cultural histories, which he respects but makes no effort to ape.

 
Clarifying Frank’s position, the late fellow musicologist Bob Gilmore‘s introduction to the Denyer website asserts that his work “suggests that all instruments bear the imprint of the tradition of which they are a part, whether that tradition be nascent, mature or decaying, and that at the beginning of the twenty-first century we cannot afford to be complacent about which musical traditions we consider to be ‘ours.’…his concern with musical instruments can also be seen as a metaphor for the larger question of what can be salvaged, artistically, from the chaos of civilization as we begin our new century.”

In a 2007 interview with ‘Paris Transatlantic’, Frank himself stated that “many composers seem happy with the inherited traditional models of music making, albeit with the occasional minor modification, but for me, in the rapidly transforming social environment we find ourselves in, this seems woefully inadequate. We urgently need a fluidity that will allow a multiplicity of new models of musical collaboration to emerge.”


 
For this concert, Octandre and guests will perform an hour’s worth of Denyer music (plus interval) spanning from 1972 to 2017. ‘Screens’ (composed in 2017 and being performed by EXAUDI soprano Juliet Fraser plus violin, viola and two percussionists), requires four “visually arresting dressing screens to conceal performers” as well as elements of stage lighting; while 1983’s ‘After The Rain’ (for shakuhachi, three ocarina players, percussion and violin) is “a work of unique beauty… inspired by Denyer’s experience of the breathtaking regeneration of the Kenyan landscape after an extended drought.”

The other pieces in the programme includes some of Frank’s early ’70s pieces – the bass flute quartet ‘Quick, Quick the Tamberan is Coming’; ‘Unison 1’ (for female voice, two flutes, violin and viola) and ‘Hanged Fiddler’ (for violin, sustaining instrument – in this case, viola – and percussion), while his twenty-first century work is also represented by ‘Two Voices and Axe’ (for female voice, male voice, violin, viola, flute, double bass, and doubled percussion).

As with the other Way Out East sessions, the composer will be discussing his work in a pre-concert interview, and socialisation with the musicians afterwards is encouraged.

Way Out East: Composer Portraits presented by Octandre Ensemble – Frank Denyer
Print Room @ The Coronet, 103 Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 3LB, England
Sunday 17th June 2018, 5.00pm
– information here and here

Some assorted Denyer work, for the curious…

 

May 2017 – upcoming London classical gigs – polygender opera with ‘Binary Optional’ at CPT (May 25th & 26th)

21 May

One of the month’s more interesting London opera events…

'Binary Optional', 25th & 26th May 2017

Oedipa & Lucia Lucas present:
‘Binary Optional’
Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, Euston, London, NW1 2PY, England
Thurday 25th & Friday 26th May 2017, 9.00pm
information

From the press release, spliced with a little more research:

Oedipa collaborates with the extraordinary female baritone Lucia Lucas (Wuppertaler Bühnen, Deutsche Oper, Chicago Opera Theatre) on an evening of song in transition: from masc to femme, classical to queer and oppression to freedom.

“A freelance opera singer based in Germany (who has previously held full-time contracts with the Badisches Staatstheater, Kalsruhe, Theater und Orchester Heidelberg and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin), Lucia Lucas is a strong dramatic baritone specializing in Verdi roles, and has sung roles including Ford in ‘Falstaff’, Iago in ‘Otello’, Escamillo in ‘Carmen’, Le Grand-Prêtre in ‘Samson et Dalilah’, Jochanaan in ‘Salome’, Alberich in ‘Das Rheingold’, Thoas in ‘Iphigenie en Tauride’, Figaro in ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, Leporello and Giovanni in ‘Don Giovanni’, Mephistopheles in ‘Faust’, Don Pizzaro in ‘Fidelio’ and Nick Shadow in ‘The Rake’s Progress’.

“Beyond this, Lucia is one of the small but growing number of transgender woman performing significant operatic roles (a list of singers which includes Breanna Sinclairé and Emily De Salvo, whose own unusual range covers baritone to soprano). As Lucia commented in an interview in ‘Slipped Disc’ a couple of years ago, “I am performing all of the same things. Still singing angry old men on stage, but fringe projects have also started appearing as possibilities”. ‘Binary Optional’ is one such project – singing Bizet, Britten, Wagner, Purcell and Adams, flirting with Sarah Vaughan and ‘Rocky Horror’, Lucia draws on her experience singing classical repertoire across the world to tell her incredible story and celebrate the fluidity and plurality of gender in opera.


 
“Oedipa is the alter ego of writer/director Finn Beames (who’s dedicated himself to working “against the male perspective”) and a diverse range of varying collaborators. As Oedipa, groups of artists create and produce live performances in theatre, opera and related forms, often with an emphasis on music.

“Based in London and working internationally, Finn won the 2015 Genesis Future Directors Award at the Young Vic for his production of Man: 3 Plays by Tennessee Williams in the Clare theatre. He also holds the 2015 Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship, granted by the British Council for research into the eponymous Brazilian architect and the creation of a piece of theatre. For his own company, bodycorps, he recently directed a sold-out run of a new opera about depression, funded by The Wellcome Trust and ACE. Finn has commissioned further new work for bodycorps, including a musical based on The Sorrows of Young Werther. In 2014 Finn wrote, directed and designed a new music theatre work for the London Sinfonietta with composer Gavin Higgins, which they are currently expanding into a triptych. Finn is a director/librettist on the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh Music, and a member of the Young Vic Directors Network and Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York.”
 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – selections from the Sheffield Classical Weekend (17th-19th)

6 Mar

There’s plenty going on at the three-day mid-March Sheffield Classical Weekend, with the city permeated with music including many old and new favourites. Among what’s on offer are two different performances of Arvo Pärt’s ‘Fratres’ (one by a wind band, one by a host of strings), two Dreams of China concerts covering formal Chinese classical compositions) and a host of choral shows (the classic monk’s-debauchery of Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ via Schubert’s ‘Mirjam’s Siegesgesang’ and Brahms’ ‘Ziguenerlieder’, through to a variety of pops choirs.) Though I’d advise checking out the entire, pleasingly diverse programme, here are my own brief and subjective picks from it, if you’re interested.

* * * * * * * *

Oliver Coates & cellists: ‘Canticles of the Sky’ – Kelham Island Museum, Alma St, Sheffield, S3 8RY, England, Saturday 18th March 2017, 3:30pm & 5.00pminformation

“A UK premiere featuring star cellist Oliver Coates (Radiohead, ‘Under The Skin’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’). Olly and a host of cellists will surround the Kelham Island audience and lift you skyward with this ethereal and dreamy work from Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer John Luther Adams. Also featuring extracts from J.S Bach’s Cello Suites.”

* * * * * * * *

Five Choirs: Sounds From Heaven – St Marie’s Cathedral, Norfolk Row, Sheffield S1 2JB, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 2:30pminformation

“Perched around the sides of the excellent acoustic space within the Cathedral Church of St Marie, five Sheffield chamber choirs – Abbeydale Singers, Sheffield Chamber Choir, Sterndale Singers, Sheffield Chorale and Viva Voce – will “create a swoonsome heart-lifting soundscape of song.” As well as old and new choral standbys by John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Felix Mendelssohn and others, the concert will include the premiere of ‘Kraal’ a commission for five simultaneous choirs written by Jenny Jackson (a member of Sheffield’s own contemporary composer collective, Platform 4).”

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More music fostered by Platform 4 will be popping up a few times over the weekend. Flautist Rachel Shirley performs “a selection of colourful and inventive works for flute, piano, blown bottles and saxophone“; there’s an evening date at Yellow Arch Studios with players from Sheffield Music Academy, performing the collective’s own “imaginative cutting-edge compositions”. There’s a “mind-bending” collaboration with Opera On Location in which “stories are turned upside down and endings become beginnings in (a) selection of operatic palindromes, where the music is the same both backwards and forwards… featuring Paul Hindemith’s short opera ‘Hin Und Zurück’ (‘There And Back’), plus new bitesize and puzzling pieces…” Platform 4 also contribute the cello-and-electric keyboard piece ‘Upright Stance’ to be performed alongside Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto at Oliver Coates’ concert with Sheffield Music Hub Senior Schools.

  • Opera On Location with Platform 4 – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 8:30pminformation (contains strong and sexually explicit language – recommended for 18+)
  • Rachel Shirley: ‘Hooting & Drinking’ – Channing Hall @ Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, Saturday 18th March 2017, 3.30pminformation
  • Oliver Coates & Sheffield Music Hub Senior Schools: ‘From The Heart: Shostakovich’ – City Hall Ballroom @ Sheffield City Hall, Barkers Pool, Sheffield, S1 2JA, England, Sunday 19th March, 12:00pminformation
  • Platform 4 with Sheffield Music Academy – Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 6:30pminformation

* * * * * * * *

On the Friday and the Saturday, there are some thoughtfully programmed Sound Laboratory events centring on the music, ideas and influence of Pierre Boulez. Saturday sees a triple-banked set featuring pianists Beate Toyka and Matthew Odell, violinists Darragh Morgan and Lucy Phillips, clarinettist Sarah Watts and the University of Sheffield New Music Ensemble.

Each of these mini-concerts sets one of Boulez’s first three Piano Sonatas against another piece. ‘The Conflict And The Passion’ pitches ‘Piano Sonata No. 1’ against Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in a study of thwarted passions. ‘Deconstruction & Digitalisation’ presents the classical deconstruction of ‘Piano Sonata No. 2’ and the electro-acoustic contrasts of ‘Anthemes II’. ‘Choice And Chance’ (the only one of the concerts to feature two Boulez compositions) offers ‘Piano Sonata No. 3’ and the clarinet-and-orchestra piece ‘Domaines’, contrasting a piece in which major options are available to the performer and one which is considerably more ordered and regimented.

The series opens on Friday with a special Boulez-inspired concert in which “the avant-garde becomes child’s play… primary school children from across the city explore the curious frontiers of contemporary electronic music and present the results of their musical experimentation.”

Sound Laboratory:

  • ‘Computer Music’ – Firth Hall @ University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 1:30pminformation
  • ‘The Conflict & The Passion’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 1:30pminformation
  • ‘Deconstruction & Digitalisation’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 3:30pminformation
  • ‘Choice and Chance’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 5:00pminformation

* * * * * * * *

Among the Chinese-inspired events is one in which Chinese and European chamber music merge as celebrated guzheng zither soloist Xia Jing teams up with The Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan on violin, Adi Tal on cello and Mary Dullea on piano). They’ll be presenting a concert of brand-new musical premieres – Gao Ping’s ‘Feng Zheng’ (‘Kite’), Jeroen Speak’s ‘Silk Dialogues 7’, Dylan Lardelli‘s ‘Shells’, and ‘Time Bends In The Rock’ by Sheffield-based composer Dorothy Ker.

Fidelio Trio & Xia Jing: ‘Global Soundtracks: Silk Dialogues’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 9:30pminformation

* * * * * * * *

In addition, there’s a variety of pop-up performances across the three days, featuring abbreviated sets by event headliners plus showings by small instrumental and vocal groups. It’s an open-minded spill moving out from classical forms to embrace folk, alt.chamber and other kinds of music.

One promising set of contributors are Manchester quintet Kabantu, who’ve thankfully dropped their previous name Project Jam Sandwich and who also “throw away the rulebook to bridge countries and cultures, creating an exuberant and joyful soundworld… vocal harmonies from South Africa coalesce with everything from Celtic reels and Brazilian samba to Balkan folk music and beyond.” Featuring violin, guitar, cello, double bass and percussion in addition to voices, they’re playing a pop-up show but also two separate consecutive-but-entirely-different sets at Yellow Arch Studios.

Classical by Night – Kabantu @ Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 6.30pm & 9:30pm – information here and here
 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – Project Instrumental’s 21st century string quartets and Julian Dawes’ Passover cantata in London: Britten Sinfonia tours Bartok, Schumann and a new Bryce Dessner work across the east of England.

29 Mar

On the first day of April, Project Instrumental offer another performance of their current twenty-first century string quartet programme:

Project Instrumental, 2016

Late Shift @ NPG presents:
Project Instrumental
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, Westminster, London, WC2H 0HE, England
Friday 1st April 2016, 6.30 pm
– free event – more information

“Described as “simply knockout” (Alex Julyan, Wellcome Trust Fellow) and selected as a Time Out London Critic’s Choice, Project Instrumental brings thrilling performances to unbounded audiences. Instrument-inspired, rather than genre-led, the group evolves around a core of strings and what can be done with them, across genres and instrumental combinations, to create truly enlivening performances, for anyone. Bold, imaginative and boundary defying, this virtuosic group strips back the peripherals with their straightforward contemporary approach to, to create not just concerts, but experiences.”

Programme:

Thomas Seltz: String Quartet No.1
Joby Talbot: String Quartet No.2
Nico Muhly: Diacritical Marks

This concert is, for the most part, a repeat performance of Project Instrumental’s late February free appearance at the Southbank Centre. I’ll just requote from the preview that I wrote at the time:

“Though Project Instrumental haven’t made this explicit, all of the contemporary classical composers whose quartets are being played either originally stem from, or confidently dip into, a broad field of popular music. Nico Muhly has long been a byword for latterday classical/pop crossovers, balancing operas and contemporary music ensemble commissions with arrangements and co-writes for Grizzly Bear, Björk, Antony and the Johnsons and Philip Glass. Joby Talbot spent nine years playing on and expanding Neil Hannon’s chamber-pop songs for The Divine Comedy before moving on to a diverse compositional career of ballets, concerti, orchestral and choral works and madrigals (while still doing film scores and arrangement works relating to pop, such as his reworking of songs by The White Stripes for choreographer Wayne McGregor). Thomas Seltz, spent his teenage years recording and touring as a rock guitarist and songwriter with French rock bands (most notably TORO) before making the shift to classical composition at the University of Edinburgh from 2006. Since then, he’s maintained his interest in the classical/popular faultline, writing an electric bass guitar concerto (for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and John Patitucci), ‘Awesome X’ (a comic opera about reality TV) and ‘Mandarin’ (a concerto written for Chinese erhu player Peng Yueqiang and Edinburgh crossover-chamber ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber).


 

All four composers refuse to be pigeonholed either by their established classical reputations or by their current or past roots/impingements upon pop and rock, seeing it all as a set of disciplines between which they can step as they choose. Seltz’s quartet (completed only last year) documents and honours his musical history, in particular his transition from rock musician to contemporary composer, via rock-inspired “strong dynamic, rhythmic and melodic elements”. Talbot’s possesses a wheeling dovelike softness in its graceful minimal approach, while Dessner’s takes tips from Reich, Adams and Glass but explodes them with a hoedown vigour. Sidestepping his confessed anxieties regarding the emotional exposure of the form, Muhly’s is bookended by an emphasis on lively ticking mechanisms and accents, counterbalanced by a more rhapsodic (and possibly concealing) middle section.”

* * * * * * * *

Back during the February performance, the Project Instrumental string quartet performance had an additional piece in the programme – ‘Tenebre’, written by Bryce Dessner, who divides his time between playing and composing for rock group The National and working the classical music and high-art world: curating Cleveland’s MusicNOW New Music festival, performing as part of classical improvisers Clogs and generating a large number of pieces for assorted classical ensembles. Although Project Instrumental might not be playing his work this month, a new Dessner composition is the centrepiece of the latest Britten Sinfonia At Lunch tour, which is on the road a little later in the month:

Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Four’

Bryce Dessner (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Bryce Dessner (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Programme:

Béla Bartók – Selection of Duos
Bryce Dessner – EL Chan (world premiere tour)
Robert Schumann – Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op.47

Performers:

Thomas Gould (violin)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Caroline Dearnley (cello)
Huw Watkins (piano)

“Bryce Dessner, known to many as the guitarist from The National, has been leading a double life as a prolific composer and curator in the realm of creative new music. His music, marked by a keen sensitivity to instrumental colour and texture, features in this hour-long programme alongside Bartok’s folklore-inspired pedagogical Duos and Schumann’s ever-popular Piano Quartet.”

The London gig includes a pre-concert discussion between Bryce Dessner and Dr Kate Kennedy at 12.15pm (free, but places must be booked in advance); the Cambridge gig includes a 2.15pm post-concert discussion led by a member of the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Music (free to ticket holders). More information here.

* * * * * * * *

At around the same time, London sees the premiere of a new work by British composer Julian Dawes (who recently had a retrospective concert of his work performed at The Forge). As with much of Julian’s work, it draws on Jewish themes and is performed by several outstanding British-Jewish musicians: in addition, it’s being performed at one of London’s most culturally-enthused and artistically open synagogues:


New London Synagogue presents:
Julian Dawes: ‘Pesach Cantata’
New London Synagogue, 33 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London, NW8 0AT, England
Sunday 10th April 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Pesach Cantata, 2016Set from a libretto by Rabbi Roderick Young, ‘Pesach Cantata’ is a new cantata for soloists, chorus and chamber ensemble in which the story of Pesach (Passover) is told by a grandfather to his grandchild, and which includes three other characters, Miriam, Aaron and Rabban Gamliel.

Performers:

Cantor Jason Green – Grandfather
Z’ev Green – Grandchild
Martha Jones – Miriam
Mark Nathan – Aaron
Julien Van Mellaerts – Rabban Gamliel
The New London Singers
The New London Chamber Ensemble
Vivienne Bellos – conductor

There’s a short ‘Pesach’ excerpt below:


 

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Coming up – news on the first Facemelter of the month, and more…
 

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