Press

Mon, July 2, 2012

On an Evening of Wilting Heat, the Soaring Harmonies of Sacred Works
The New York Times

Last week Mr. Wachner conducted Novus NY, Trinity’s new contemporary-music ensemble, in Paola Prestini’s “Oceanic Voices.” And on Sunday evening he presided over a candlelit concert of recent sacred works by Nico Muhly, with oldies by Herbert Howells and William Byrd, at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Actually, Mr. Wachner and company could have easily lost the candles, given the heat in the chapel, but the choristers soldiered on with such robustness and energy that most listeners, however wilted, remained happily engaged…

...To open the second half Mr. Wachner gave a vivid account of Mr. Muhly’s “O Antiphon Preludes” (2010), a set of seven organ fantasies preceded by choral renderings of the Advent chants on which each is based.

Tue, June 26, 2012

The Mediterranean Sea, Singing Along in Italy
The New York Times

Paola Prestini has been at work on “Oceanic Verses,” a multimedia folk opera, since Carnegie Hall commissioned part of it for a composers’ and singers’ workshop in 2009. She presented a section of it at New York City Opera’s Vox readings last year, and offered the New York premiere of the finished piece on Monday evening at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, as part of the adventurous River to River Festival…

...Julian Wachner conducted the Novus NY ensemble, the Washington Chorus and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in a polished, robust performance.

Sun, June 24, 2012

Paola Prestini’s ‘Oceanic Verses’: Opera’s music is mostly compelling
The Washington Post

“Oceanic Verses,” the opera/event that had its world premiere at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Saturday night, arrives freighted with so many ideas that its program notes make it sound absolutely deadly: a “meditation on fading civilizations,” with videos presenting “an abstraction of [each character’s] essence” within a “larger ‘video environment’ ” and so on…

...The composer, Paola Prestini, and her creative team have high ambitions but also, evidently, some common sense about what works onstage: characters you can connect to, music that engages. They’ve also been working on this material for a long time: “Oceanic Verses” originated in 2009 as the result of a professional training workshop staged by Carnegie Hall.

Add video by Ali Hossaini, in the same vein of exalted symbolism (lots of crashing wave patterns), the Washington Chorus as the voice of the Mediterranean and the energetic participation of Novus NY, the contemporary music ensemble of Trinity Wall Street, all under the energetic baton of Julian Wachner, and you get, undeniably, a cohesive 80-minute package..and the applause, at the end, was long and loud. The show goes on to New York, where it will be performed as part of the River to River Festival on Monday night.

Sun, June 3, 2012

Forces of Nature and Ecstasy: Julian Wachner’s Trinity Choir at Zankel Hall
The New York Times

Since the conductor and composer Julian Wachner became the director of music and arts at Trinity Wall Street in September 2010 he has pursued at least two distinct agendas. He has increased the amount of contemporary music performed by the church’s admirable Trinity Choir, bolstering that move by inaugurating a new instrumental ensemble, Novus NY. He has also taken steps to make the choir more visible outside its native habitat of Lower Manhattan, like mounting one of its cherished annual performances of Handel’s “Messiah” at Alice Tully Hall last year.

On Thursday evening those two initiatives merged when Mr. Wachner led the Trinity Choir in a concert at Zankel Hall that consisted almost entirely of contemporary works. The program proved that the choir is up to Mr. Wachner’s challenges. In music that allowed no margin for error with regard to intonation and rhythm, its work was airtight. Singing in acoustics far different from those to which it is accustomed, the ensemble was superb…

Mr. Wachner’s “Rilke Songs,” six settings of poems about animals real and legendary, showed an imaginative flair for allusive text setting, evoking a caged panther’s restless stalking and contrasting a swan’s clumsy gait on land with its elegance in water. The chorus handled the silken complexities of Mr. Wachner’s close harmonies gracefully.

Mon, May 21, 2012

Wachner and Washington Chorus deftly navigate ‘Essential Wagner’
The Washington Post

There’s usually a difference between conductors and choral conductors. Conductors lead orchestras, and sometimes opera; choral conductors tend to have focused on the voice.

Julian Wachner, who has led the Washington Chorus since 2008, is something of an exception in that he trained as a conductor (as well as a composer), and has led several orchestras and operas across the country. This difference emerges in the Washington Chorus’s programming, particularly in the series performed for the past four years that focuses on musical highlights of composers such as Puccini and Mahler, who don’t often show up on amateur choral concerts. The latest installment came Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center, a program called “The Essential Wagner.”

To say this was risky is an understatement. Wagner is a challenge to conduct, especially with an orchestra that doesn’t regularly play together, and Wachner didn’t shy away from the big guns: Isolde’s “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde,” the overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” and “The Ride of the Valkyries” from “Die Walkuere.” A program like this, part artistic challenge and part pops concert, could be an act of hubris, and it could be a complete train wreck. It’s to Wachner’s credit that it was, instead, a rollicking good time.

Wachner is conductor enough to make it all go…emphatic and theatrical and at home in opera so that he could bring out the requisite sense of drama.

Mon, May 21, 2012

Wagner program reconciled the beauty of the music with the complexity of the man
DC Performing Arts Examiner

Sunday’s Kennedy Center concert by The Washington Chorus was a continuation on “The Essential Series” birthed by music director Julian Wachner.  First it was Puccini, then it was Rachmaninoff and crowning the 50th year anniversary of the chorus was an all Mahler blowout.  This time around, The Washington Chorus and orchestra with guest soloists performed a complete program of selected works by Richard Wagner…

The orchestra was superb and the brass and percussion particularly brought a sense of fiery execution to the music.  Conductor Wachner was a combustion of energy on the podium, which came across in the vocal delivery of the singers.  There were so many opportunities to hear wonderful combinations of voices.  In the ‘Norweigian Sailor’s Chorus,’ the tenors and basses of the choir sang with a nice, hefty sound that projected nicely over the orchestra.  In the ‘Festmarsch’ from Tannhäuser, the brilliance of the women’s voices created a cushion of sound for the resonant male voices.  The sopranos of the choir especially did not disappoint, wailing into the rafters with assured authority.

Fri, May 11, 2012

Operavore: The Jesus and Opera Chain
WQXR.org

Opera traces its roots to Florentine composers enamored of a time that predates Jesus. For the first 20 years, works were exclusively devoted to the stories of classical antiquity…By definition, Jesus was never invited to the party. “Even though opera lived in the world of the aristocracy, it really was not necessarily a religiously-condoned activity,” explained Julian Wachner, the director of music and arts for Trinity Wall Street. “Certainly you’re not going to bring additional ire from the church, in the same way that you would never have a representation of Mohammed.”

What Wachner also points out is that, during the heyday of Baroque opera, stage works were prohibited during Lent. Such an edict gave way to the oratorio, a vocally dramatic loophole to the equation. As such, operatic composers prohibited from honing their craft for 40 days and 40 nights and supplementing this break with an Old-Testament–based oratorio work. The last thing many wanted to do upon returning to opera was look for another Biblical story. Opera went from depicting ancient myths up to the early works of Mozart, and then verged into nationalist and verismo works that were concerned with depicting real people. “Jesus had a hard time finding his way into that,” said Wachner.

Wed, May 2, 2012

Local conductor to embark on a series of Feldenkrais workshops
DC Performing Arts Examiner

Julian Wachner, music director of The Washington Chorus has inserted yet another feather into his cap.  This weekend, he will begin leading several Feldenkrais workshops in New York City and later this month in Montreal.  What is Feldenkrais?  Feldenkrais is an educational method aimed at improving movement repertoire through self awareness in order to reduce pain and limitations in movement and thus promotes well being.  Designed by Moshé Feldenkrais, the method leans towards body/mind exploration.  The upcoming classes are aimed at helping artists deal more effectively with issues such as stress, fatigue and discomfort.

Tue, May 1, 2012

CD Review: Triptych
American Record Guide

Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded elclectic, but his music has something to say. Each concerto requires patience and investment from the listener, but the careful pacing and colorful orchestration make for a big payoff. Some of that, of course, has to do with the performances - all excellent. Both soloists and orchestras play with professionalism and artistic conviction.

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Patrick Hanudel, American Record Guide

New York City conductor and composer Julian Wachner (b 1970) travels north to present a pairing of his Triptych for organ and orchestra (2004) with his earlier Clarinet Concerto (2002). The Triptych, performed here by French-Canadian keyboardist Philippe Bélanger and the Orchestre Métropolitain of Montréal, is a three-movement, 40-minute tour-de-force of imposing power, virtuosic toccatas, quiet meditation, and joyful celebration. In contrast, the Clarinet Concerto, courtesy of Saint Louis Symphony Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews and the McGill Chamber Orchestra of Montréal, is a single-movement, 13-minute piece in two sections - the first mysterious contemplation, the second a lively dance with hints of jazz.

Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded elclectic, but his music has something to say. Each concerto requires patience and investment from the listener, but the careful pacing and colorful orchestration make for a big payoff. Some of that, of course, has to do with the performances - all excellent. Both soloists and orchestras play with professionalism and artistic conviction.

Tue, May 1, 2012

CD Review: Triptych
The WholeNote

Sparked by multiple talents of composer-conductor Julian Wachner, this disc succeeds on all fronts! In Triptych…organist Philippe Bélanger and Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain offer an exciting, insightful performance… Wachner’s eclectic Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra receives loving treatment… Andrews’ clarinet manages to be Coplandesque, jazzy, klezmerish and more in the expressive introduction and motoric allegro. Highly recommended.

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Roger Knox, The WholeNote

Sparked by multiple talents of composer-conductor Julian Wachner, this disc succeeds on all fronts! In Triptych, commissioned for the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph’s Oratory, organist Philippe Bélanger and Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain offer an exciting, insightful performance. Out of orchestral chaos the organ enters with chordal grandeur in the introductory “Logos.” An introspective two-part organ passage plus its aggressive string response become the bases for the following allegro. I was especially struck by the quiet return of the organ passage over a pedal note, now continued effectively with chimes. Bélanger and selected instrumentalists are beautifully reflective again in the middle movement “Agape,” the violins serene and inspired in the closing melody. The organist shines in the final “Angelus,” building steadily with the orchestra through tricky metre changes to a great, moving conclusion. Himself a virtuoso organist, Wachner has created long sonorities, repeated chords, and busy passages that are static harmonically to suit the highly reverberant space. Producer Johanne Goyette and engineer Anne-Marie Sylvestre deserve special mention for the sonic results.

On a lighter plane, Wachner’s eclectic Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra receives loving treatment from St. Louis Symphony principal clarinettist Scott Andrews and the McGill Chamber Orchestra. Andrews’ clarinet manages to be Coplandesque, jazzy, klezmerish and more in the expressive introduction and motoric allegro. Highly recommended.

Mon, April 23, 2012

The Feldenkrais Method, and why singers should take note
Vocal Area Network

What do Jiu Jitsu, physics and neuroscience have in common? The answer is The Feldenkrais Method, so named for its founder, Moshé Feldenkrais, whose extraordinary life and professional career reads like it came from a John Le Carré spy novel. An Russian physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator, Feldenkrais drew on his wealth of experience to develop a ground-breaking form of somatic education—a category which includes such disparate forms as Yoga and the Alexander Technique—that aims to improve movement repertoire and the way in which the mind and body work together, in order to reduce pain or limitations in movement, and promote general well-being…

So, what does all of this mean in practical terms, and why should singers take note? On Friday, May 4 and Saturday, May 5 in New York City, and Friday, May 11 in Montréal, conductor/composer Julian Wachner (pictured above, of Trinity Wall Street) and dancer/choreographer Maud Tizon (Opéra de Lyon) will explore this very question with a Feldenkrais workshop designed specifically for musicians, actors, dancers and other artists…

Julian Wachner began his Feldenkrais training in order to maximize his own potential as a musician. He received his diploma as a certified Feldenkrais Practitioner following a four year course of study in the south of France. He has taught the Feldenkrais Method at the Tanglewood Music Center, Glimmerglass Opera Young Artists Program, McGill University, Yale University, and at Boston University, and maintains a private practice in New York City.

“Several years ago, I found myself in a very dark place where I would see a problem and not meet it with softness,” he says “When you are a conductor or leader, when you hit a problem, you have to find ways through it with creativity, with compromise and with team work. The Feldenkrais Method got me to the point where I have a more balanced approach. I think it’s part of the next wave of our human development.”

Wed, April 4, 2012

Passions Alight in Sacred Season
The New York Times

The action moved downtown on Sunday, centering on an afternoon performance of the “St. John Passion” by the superb Trinity Choir and Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Julian Wachner…

The afternoon service, as it was now fashioned, began and ended with hymns (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Now Thank We All Our God”); included a prayer and a blessing; and replaced an intermission with a sermon. Listeners were encouraged to sing along with the hymns and with the chorales throughout the Passion, rendered in English translations, provided in the program along with the music in four parts…

The ovation was fully deserved…it then momentarily drowned out the postlude, a magnificent performance of Bach’s “St. Anne” Prelude and Fugue (BWV 552) by the Trinity organist, Renée Anne Louprette, on the chapel’s wonderful Schlicker organ.

Mon, March 26, 2012

Another Passion Rises to Prominence This Season
The New York Times

But this spring, for whatever reasons, “St. John” reigns.  Of the four major Bach Passion performances in New York…only one offers the “St. Matthew.”

The Trinity Choir…is going all out for its performance of the “St. John Passion” within a liturgical context on Sunday afternoon at St. Paul’s Chapel. As a sort of preparatory antidote, Trinity Wall Street announced on Monday, the Trinity Choir will present an “improvised Passion” on Sunday morning at Trinity Church, using a text created by the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice.)

Fri, March 23, 2012

NSO and Washington Chorus offer deeply felt performance of Dvorak’s ‘Stabat Mater’
The Washington Post

Top honors vocally, however, go to the amassed voices of the Washington Chorus, which had a beautifully tuned and balanced sound, due at least partially to standing in mixed formation. Here is music that was made for a chorus of this size. Dvorak wrote home to his friend about leading more than a thousand musicians at a performance in London’s Royal Albert Hall, and the Washington Chorus filled the Concert Hall with sound — on the iterated howls of “Fac!” in the “Eia mater” movement, for example — yet also brought remarkable suavity to the many more delicate passages, such as the legato of “Tui nati vulnerati.”

Sat, March 10, 2012

Cadenza Radio Interview
WWFM, The Classical Network

...Last Monday WWFM presented the first in our series of live broadcasts coming to you from St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan of the Trinity Church Wall Street’s Bach at One concerts, featuring the Trinity Choir and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, all under the direction of the Director of Music and Arts at Trinity Wall Street (and my guest today), conductor, organist, composer, Julian Wachner.  Mr. Wachner is only in his second season at Trinity.  It has been a year [in which] he has refocused the entire music output and profile of that historic and venerable church.  He instituted the Bach at One series, each Monday presenting cantatas of Bach at St. Paul’s Chapel, a few blocks up Broadway from Trinity, and right next to Ground Zero.

Wed, March 7, 2012

After Fiscal Woes, Trinity Church Revives Lunchtime Series
WQXR Classical Music Blog

...they established the series Bach at One, featuring the extraordinary Trinity Choir, led by its equally extraordinary music director Julian Wachner. These 45-minute concerts…quickly established themselves as a midday respite in downtown Manhattan.

This week, Julian Wachner performed a Bach organ prelude – and conducted the choir – when Bach at One returned to St. Paul’s. As Trinity Church Vicar Anne Mallonee put it on Monday, “Spread the word! Bach is back!” And the concert was, as expected, glorious. These professional musicians were clearly thrilled to be there, doing what they do best.

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After Fiscal Woes, Trinity Church Revives Lunchtime Series
Wednesday, March 07, 2012 - 03:42 PM

By Naomi Lewin : WQXR Host

When I was a fledgling opera singer, Trinity Church Wall Street was one of New York's musical powerhouses, with noonday concerts at St. Paul's Chapel every Monday and Thursday, and at Trinity every Tuesday.

The monthly flyer for those concerts listed performers with embryonic careers like mine side-by-side with the likes of Paula Robison and Eliot Fisk, the Crystal Cathedral Choir and Anonymous 4 (who were somewhat more anonymous at the time). And Trinity Church also sponsored Concerts-to-Go, an outreach program that sent folks like me to perform in nursing homes all over the city.

Apparently, Trinity Church has backed off from that kind of music outreach. Instead, they established the series Bach at One, featuring the extraordinary Trinity Choir, led by its equally extraordinary music director Julian Wachner. These 45-minute concerts (with a tiny dollop of religion) quickly established themselves as a midday respite in downtown Manhattan. 

So it was fairly distressing for the music faithful when, at the final installment of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio this January, the announcement came that Bach at One was being temporarily suspended. After that, Trinity canceled the premiere of Robert Sirota’s opera Iscariot, which had been scheduled for this May. The explanation? "Expenses for the music and arts program exceeded what was anticipated for 2011."

This week, Julian Wachner performed a Bach organ prelude  – and conducted the choir – when Bach at One returned to St. Paul’s. As Trinity Church Vicar Anne Mallonee put it on Monday, "Spread the word! Bach is back!" And the concert was, as expected, glorious. These professional musicians were clearly thrilled to be there, doing what they do best.

Back in the day, the Trinity Church music flyer always had a little note at the bottom, saying that their free concerts were made possible by the Church, and "an anonymous gift to the glory of God and in honor of Johannes Brahms." I don’t know if that Brahms lover endowed the Trinity concerts in perpetuity, but word is that the church has received additional donations for the music program, and has provided some additional funding itself. I can’t think of a better, more spiritually satisfying use of their money.

Wed, March 7, 2012

Trinity Wall Street resumes Bach at One
Downtown Express

Bach is back. Trinity Wall Street’s popular Bach at One concerts at St. Paul’s Chapel resumed on March 5 with a Bach organ prelude in E-flat major, two Bach motets, a motet by Bach’s predecessor, Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) and a reading by Anne Mallonee, Trinity’s vicar, of a meditation for Lent.

The audience enthusiastically applauded the reappearance of Trinity’s free midday music program that was put on “hiatus” in January…

Tue, March 6, 2012

Bach at One Series Returns in New York
The New York Times

Bach at One, the flagship series of Trinity Wall Street’s music program at St. Paul’s Chapel, which was suspended in January, returned on Monday afternoon in a modest way. Julian Wachner, the director of music and arts, conducted 12 members of the Trinity Choir in a shortish program of motets, two by Bach, one by Heinrich Schütz…

The format has been tweaked slightly to make the concert feel more like a service; in addition to the usual brief prayer and now a Lenten reading, an Offertory hymn has been added, with the audience encouraged to sing as a congregation. Bach at One actually starts 10 or 15 minutes before 1, with a performance on the chapel’s restored Schlicker organ, and Mr. Wachner led off here with Bach’s great “St. Anne” Prelude (BWV 552a).

Fri, March 2, 2012

Frolicking With Bubbly Saints and Marching With the Band
The New York Times

This time Mr. Morris pairs his hourlong version of the Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein opera “Four Saints in Three Acts,” from 2000, with the exuberant premiere of “A Choral Fantasy,” set to Beethoven’s Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra. Both feature the splendid 24-member Trinity Choir, which Stefan Asbury, of the dance company’s music ensemble, conducts…

It’s a touch that creates harmony between the dancers and the beautiful voices of Trinity Choir. As the libretto for “A Choral Fantasy” declares: “And all a choir of spirits resounds in response,” this meeting of dance and music is reciprocal. “Accept then, oh you beautiful spirits/Joyously of the gifts of art.” 

Sun, February 26, 2012

Hawaii Opera Theatre brings the best out of ‘Pearl Fishers’
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

...Wachner’s pacing was excellent for both singers and storyline. His balance made it easy to hear the singers and orchestra as a single melded soundscape, which is especially important for French opera. 

Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers” has its quirks, but HOT’s production is excellent — and it may be the last chance to see it live for another quarter-century.

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Hawaii Opera Theatre brings the best out of 'Pearl Fishers'

By Ruth Bingham / Special to the Star-Advertiser

February 26, 2012

Most people know Georges Bizet only for his "Carmen," one of the most popular operas ever composed.

For the first time in 25 years — during which there have been four "Carmen" productions — Hawaii Opera Theatre is performing one of Bizet's "other" operas, "The Pearl Fishers."

"Pearl Fishers" is an early work — composed when Bizet was only 25 — and its librettists, Carre and Cormon, quite frankly could have done a better job. Still, it is a charming work when performed well, and it has the same atmospheric painting and tunefulness that audiences love in "Carmen."

The title "Pearl Fishers" is really more about the opera's exotic setting than its storyline, which revolves around a love triangle involving two friends and a woman. It is an intimate story with only five characters, all typecast by voice: Leila, the soprano, a beautiful high priestess passionately loved by two men; Nadir, the tenor, who of course gets the girl and has been best friends since childhood with the baritone, Zurga, who is elected king of the pearl fishers in the first scene; Nourabad, the bass, the high priest accompanying Leila; and the Chorus, a major character in this, as in many French operas.

There are several wonderful arias in "Pearl Fishers," but in a paean to friendship, Bizet gave the baritone and tenor the opera's best love duet, the famous Act I "Au fond du temple saint" ("In the Depths of the Temple"), which received an extended ovation on opening night.

The plot of "The Pearl Fishers" revolves around the baritone, the only character who grows and changes, but it is the tenor and soprano who literally and figuratively run away with the focus. Among other problems, that tug-of-war between focal points — leading character and lovers — caused Bizet no end of struggles and yielded a variety of endings. Part of the fun is to see which ending the director has chosen — and no, this review won't give anything away.

For its scenes to work, "The Pearl Fishers" needs good staging, and HOT's production has that in spades.

Director Karen Tiller minimized the libretto's weaknesses and brought its scenes to life with vivid, fluid staging. Scenes unfolded smoothly, and she arrayed the Chorus especially well, further highlighting its role.

Designer Peter Dean Beck conjured the story's exotic setting in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) with a single set framed in giant bamboo, temple domes and a sun/moon backdrop, using minimal alterations to convey different scenes. The dramatic lighting — blood-red sunsets, blue-black nights, lightning flashes — was fun to watch, but Beck's most interesting touches were subtle: the patterns of light and shadow cast onto Zurga's bedroom floor, for example.

The cast members, most in their HOT debuts, were uniformly strong, their timbres and styles capturing their roles. Baritone Jerett Gieseler (Zurga) had an appealingly rich tone that identified him as The Good Guy, while tenor Vale Rideout (Nadir) had the tonal brilliance and power to steal the girl and the spotlight. Rideout was especially noteworthy. Leila belonged to Nadir the moment soprano Sari Gruber started singing, her power and clarity an obvious match with the tenor's. The exceptionally tall and imposing bass, Matthew Boehler (Nourabad), made an excellent stern priest, dark in timbre and demeanor.

HOT's chorus, co-directed by Beebe Freitas and Nola Nahulu, delivered delightful scenes one after another throughout the performance. Overall, its sound and balance was excellent, and its acting was fully engaged, even when not singing.

In keeping with another long tradition in French opera, HOT included frequent ballets, choreographed by Minou Lallemand and danced by six dancers who added much to Bizet's atmosphere-setting passages.
The orchestra had a warm, transparent sound under conductor Julian Wachner and contributed exciting solos, especially those by flute, harp, cello, oboe and clarinet. The orchestra occasionally overwhelmed the singers, but Wachner's pacing was excellent for both singers and storyline. His balance made it easy to hear the singers and orchestra as a single melded soundscape, which is especially important for French opera.

Bizet's "Pearl Fishers" has its quirks, but HOT's production is excellent — and it may be the last chance to see it live for another quarter-century.

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