La Scena Musicale

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bear-like Pianist Denis Matsuev a Knockout

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

There was a bear on stage at Roy Thomson Hall Wednesday night, and he consumed the black Steinway concert grand like a toy piano.

OK, the Siberian-born pianist Denis Matsuev isn’t a bear, but the 34-year-old with all his Russian roar was bear-like in his performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 — lovable and cuddly on the outside, powerful on the inside, and prone to be violent in extreme situations.

Backed by conductor Valery Gergiev and the touring Mariinsky Orchestra (formerly the Kirov Orchestra), the Rach 3 was the centrepiece of an all-Russian program that marked the end of the Mariinsky’s two back-to-back concerts in Toronto.

Matsuev, a pianist with inhuman techniques, was more than generous in his delivery of the world’s toughest piece of piano music. The sound was big, to say the least, and depending on where you sat in the hall, it often drowned out the entire orchestra with seemingly little effort. At least that was the case sixth row from the stage and off centre to the right.

That being said, Matsuev was a pure knockout. His lyricism was subdued (lovable and cuddly), his sense of harmonics multi-dimensional (powerful), and his blistering climaxes extreme (prone to be violent). Even as he pounded across the keyboard in full force and oversaturated intensity, the lid shaking and all, there was something ecstatic about his playing that made you want to stay with the music instead of tuning out.

Gergiev and the fabled Mariinsky Orchestra did their best to keep up with the soloist, but there was only room for one bear on stage.

The crowd gave Matsuev a persistent standing ovation before receiving a solo encore prior to the intermission. With the orchestra still seated on stage, Matsuev played Figaro’s aria from Rossini’s Barber of Seville in a flashy Liszt-like transcription.

This is a pianist with a big heart and he holds nothing back. If you like things hot, you’ll love Matsuev. If you have a low tolerance for heat, Matsuev is better appreciated in small doses.

The rest of the program consisted of Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15.

Anatol Liadov (1855-1914) was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and teacher to Prokofiev. In The Enchanted Lake, which opened the concert, Gergiev created a romantic soundscape with serene colours and rich textures. Conducting baton-less and without a podium, Gergiev’s hands didn’t beat times (they musicians know how to count perfectly well by themselves). Rather, his incredibly soft-looking and what seemed like battery-run tripe-jointed fingers fluttered about in the air, sending out vibrations of feelings.

As a listener, Gergiev’s hands were intriguing to watch throughout the concert. However, by the end of the concert, in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15, one wondered whether it was a necessity, a conducting style, or a nervous tic that those fingers fluttered as much and fast as butterflies do.

The Mariinsky Orchestra was a powerhouse in Shostakovich’s last symphony, which isn’t an easy piece to take in for an average listener. Throughout its barren four movements — the fastest being allegretto — the musicians responded to Gergiev’s ever-animated hand gestures and displayed a well-absorbed understanding of the piece’s dark inner meaning. The solo cello was especially haunting and beautiful while the percussions offered a striking blend with absolute precision.

Gergiev gave an encore following another standing ovation. After several more bowings, he signaled section principals to exist the stage and waved goodbye at the audience.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pressler at Pollack

By Hannah Rahimi and Kali Halapua

The 86 year-old Menahem Pressler appeared last night at Pollack Hall before a packed house of appreciative musicians and music lovers. A generous performer, Pressler smiled throughout the evening, possessed with a twinkling energy that fueled his playing and spread throughout the audience. Well-programmed, the concert consisted of Dvorak’s Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, performed with the Cecilia String Quartet, McGill’s graduate quartet in residence, followed by Schubert’s beloved “Trout” quintet, performed with McGill faculty members, Jonathan Crow (violin), Douglas McNabney (viola), Matt Haimovitz (cello) and Ali Yazdanfar (double bass).

The young Cecilia Quartet presented an elegant interpretation of Dvorak’s lyrical, folk-inspired work, to a standing ovation. They showed their best in the livelier moments of the piece, displaying an impressive unity of expression and articulation. At times, their phrasing and melodic contrasts could have been more strongly emphasized to give the piece a greater intensity. Pressler’s exquisite phrasing stood out; he transformed the piece with melodic expression that seemed as natural as breathing.

After intermission, the performance of the Trout quintet exemplified the best of chamber music with highly responsive, nuanced playing. Crow displayed his remarkable sense of phrasing and tone, enjoying a brilliant rapport with Pressler. The blend of sound between Crow, McNabney, Haimovitz and Yazdanfar was beautifully rich and varied.

Watching Pressler interact with the other performers was a reminder of the pure joy that can arise from playing chamber music. Music appears to be an energizing force that has carried Pressler through 86 years with no sign of slowing down.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview: Sondra Radvanovsky at The New Classical 96.3 FM

(b) Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in Concert at the New Classical 96.3 FM
(t) Radvanovsky interviewed by broadcaster Alexa Petrenko (Photos by Soula Zisidis)

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is Canada's - and Toronto's - best kept secret. I say that because the internationally renowned soprano sings in all the important opera houses of the world, yet hardly ever in her adopted country of Canada. The American-born Radvanovsky is married to a Canadian, Duncan Lear, who is also her business manager. They have been living near Toronto for quite some years now. Yet the only time she has sung in Toronto was a brief appearance in LUNA, an opera concert during the Luminato Festival three years ago. But things are going to change. This Saturday March 20 8 pm, Radvanovsky and the Russian baritone sensation Dmitri Hvorostovsky will give an opera concert at Roy Thomson Hall. This is part of a tour sponsored by Show One Productions that will take them to Montreal and New York. They have sung together in many opera productions, but particularly in Verdi's Il Trovatore. They will reprise the opera at the Arena di Verona this coming summer. This fall, Radvanovsky will be making a belated COC debut, as Aida, which will also be her role debut. An authentic "Verdi soprano", Radvanovsky has a dark-hued and sumptuous soprano of beauty and power, with a remarkable range, from mezzo lows to a high E-natural. She is also capable of a full range of dynamics, from honeyed mezza voce to knock 'em dead fortissimos. I have heard Regine Crespin and Gwyneth Jones live, two legendary sopranos known for the huge sounds they made. Judging by yesterday's concert that Radvanovsky gave at the New Classical 96.3 FM, our Sondra has them beat in the volume department, and beautiful too!

For an hour, Radvanovsky sang a very generous recital of six arias, including four very substantial pieces. She began with 'Tacea la notte placida' from Il Trovatore. Hearing that vibrant, dark-timbred soprano up close was thrilling. She followed by "Tu che le vanita", Elisabetta's last act aria from Don Carlo, which she just sang in Paris last week. This long, 7 minute aria requires a true grandi voce and Radvanovsky has it in spades. The third aria was 'Ernani, involami', complete with the vocal fireworks, followed by Amelia's 'Morro, ma prima di grazia' from Ballo, a role she is going to tackle next season. She then surprised us with the chestnut, 'O mio babbino caro' - not something in her repertoire, but of course one of the most recognizable arias. It was amazing to hear her huge voice singing this essentially soubrette piece! Her last piece was an even bigger surprise, a song made famous by Canada-born Deanna Durbin, "Beneath the Lights of Home", a sentimental piece sung with great feeling by Radvanovsky. In between, she chatted with the host Alexa Petrenko. After the concert, I had a chance of interviewing the soprano. She is a completely delightful person, very down to earth with no trace of the diva. Here is a transcript of our interview:


JS: Is it true that you started your career at the age of eleven? What were you singing at that age?
SR: I was singing a lot of Italian art songs. I did my first opera as a smoke girl in Carmen, at 13! It was in a little town in Richmond, Indiana.
JS: Have you always had this dark timbre in your sound?
SR: Yes, I have. Actually my voice developed very early. I started as a mezzo...that's where the colour came from. Maybe it's also the Czech part of my heritage. My father is Czech and my mom Danish.
JS: Can you still speak Czech?
SR: Yes, a little.
JS: Where did you do your vocal studies?
SR: I went to USC and UCLA, as a theatre major. I also studied privately with Martial Singher when I was at UCLA.
JS: You also studied with Ruth Falcon?
SR: Yes, for fourteen years - I left her two years ago.
JS: What about Diana Soviero? Do you still work with her?
SR: Yes, I work with her on and off - it's just hard to find the time. I work mostly with my coach in New York: I've been with him now for sixteen years. I basically know how to sing...I just need a set of ears to tell me if something is right or not.
JS: You said your voice changed drastically the last year and a half....can you explain?
SR: When a singer is forty, the voice starts to deepen and is a maturity thing that singers go through. I'm learning about my voice...
JS: Does that mean Norma is beckoning?
SR: Yes it does! I have three contracts for it, maybe even four...It'll be in 2012. I did Lucrezia Borgia a year ago and it's a really good step into Norma. I also have the three Queens (Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux, and Anna Bolena) slated. I'll be doing them together in one place...can't say where yet, but it's in a very large opera house (laughs). I'll then be doing them separately around the world....
JS: I'm so looking forward to your Aida....
SR: It's a role that has scared me for the longest time, I must say. There is so much tradition associated with this opera...
JS: With your high pianissimos it'll be perfect...
SR: What scares me more is the first aria, 'Ritorna vincitor' - it's so dramatic and so easy to get caught up in the drama as opposed to staying calm. Yes, I'm excited but a little nervous!
JS: Would you say the Trovatore Leonora is your signature role?
SR: Absolutely! I've done it hundreds of times.
JS: What about Elena in Vespri?
SR: Oh I do love sing Vespri! You get to show off so much of your voice - I throw in the high E-natural at the end of the Bolero. She has three really great arias...
JS: It's not done very often, is it?
SR: I think it's because it is such a big production, and it really requires some sincere, honest, true Verdi singers to carry it off. I'll be doing it in Torino in March 2011.
JS: Who had the biggest influence on you when you were growing up and studying to be an opera singer?
SR: The biggest influence was Placido Domingo. I saw him on TV singing in Tosca at the Arena di Verona when I was eleven. I said to my mom - 'I want to do that'! The first recording I bought was La forza del destino with Leontyne Price, Domingo and Sherrill Milnes. I listened to Price and I thought - oh, where did this voice come from?! It's so beautiful, like molten lava, the chocolaty warm sound. Then I found Maria Callas! Domingo, Price and Callas had the biggest influence on me. I was very lucky to find and be attracted to voices that are similar to mine too!
JS: What do you love most about your work, as an opera singer?
SR: I love to sing, I really do. It sounds cheesy and simple, but the thrill of standing on stage emoting, telling the story to the audience, capturing them for three hours, transporting them to a different world, having people forget their worries for three hours...for me, the visceral feeling of singing - there's nothing like it in the world! And I get paid to do it...
JS: Do you still study? Do you vocalize every day?
SR: Yes, studying - it's a constant, ongoing thing. During the opera season I vocalize every day, but in the summer time, I like to take time off. We sing such heavy music, I need a rest in the summer. I try to take three months off, but things sneak in. I'll go to Vienna for a Verdi Requiem, and then I go to Verona to sing Trovatore with Dmitri. I sang there six years ago. I was doing 'D'amour sull'ali rose', and a shooting star went across the sky - you think, where else in the world can you have this...
JS: Now, what do you NOT like about your profession?
SR: (Big laughs) The travelling! For me, travelling, and being away from home is difficult. Luckily, my husband travels with me, so I bring part of my home with me. It's become such a hassle after 9/11. Just simple things like taking a bottle of water on the plane, being body feel so violated. Just the hassle of it.
JS: Have you ever missed an engagement because of this?
SR: No, thank goodness! But I've missed a plane because of it. That part of it is tough...missing birthdays, weddings, anniversaries. You really get to know who are your real, dear friends. Unfortunately, they often have to come travel to you. But you make it work. The good thing is you know when you are going to be home. I have my schedule for the next 6 or 7 years - I'm booked to 2016-17, so I know when I'll have a free week to go to the Bahamas!
JS: How many performances do you sing a year?
SR: It depends, maybe 40 operas. Including concert, it's maybe up to 50, 55.
JS: If you do have spare time, what do you enjoy doing?
SR: Sitting at home (laughs) I'm a real homebody...sitting at home and having friends over. It's such a simple joy. We have a new house we bought in September and I haven't seen the flowers grow yet. We have ten acres, trees, pond...I love going into the garden.
JS: Do you enjoy your life here in Canada?
SR: I do, I really love it! We live right by the forks of the Credit now...walking down there right by the river. Canada is breathtaking...this area is spectacular, and the people are so nice.
JS: When you are not learning music, not studying, what do you listen to?
SR: A lot of pop music...I just bought Barbra Streisand's CD - she's a good friend of ours. I also like Josh Groban... he's also a friend of ours. Love Billy Joel, 80's music... of my generation. It's fun, easy listening.

A short 2 minute video clip of the Radvanovsky concert at The New Classical 96.3 FM can be found on Youtube:

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cette Semaine à Montréal / This Week in Montreal (16 – 23 mars / March)

Musique / Music

The prodigious German violinist Christian Tetzlaff makes his debut with the OSM on March 15 and 16 in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. This concert will feature the renowned conducting skills of Sir Andrew Davis, who will also lead the orchestra in performances of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Elgar’s first symphony. (, 514-842-2112) – Hannah Rahimi

The Molinari Quartet celebrates the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke with a series of lectures and performances at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. On March 17, 18, and 19, audiences can attend free lectures at 5 p.m. Each evening at 8 p.m. various Schnittke quartets will be performed (tickets are $5). The series culminates in a marathon concert on March 20 with performances of all four string quartets, In memoriam Igor Stravinsky for quartet, and the piano quintet with guest Louise Bessette. (, 514-527-5515) – Hannah Rahimi

Pour clore la saison de leur 40e anniversaire, l’ensemble de musique de chambre Musica Camerata de Montréal présente Les Russes et le klezmer, comprenant deux œuvres pour clarinette, violoncelle et piano : le Trio Pathétique de Glinka et Les Noces du Klezmer de Srul I. Glick. Une première canadienne terminera le programme: un Quintette pour piano et quatuor à cordes de Sergey Taneyev. Le concert aura lieu le 20 mars à 20 h – et non en avril, comme indiqué au dépliant – à la salle Redpath de l’Université McGill. (514-489-8713, – Renée Banville 

Polyphonie européenne et musique traditionnelle latine, c’est ce métissage unique que présente le samedi 20 mars à 20 h l’Ensemble Caprice dans la Salsa baroque sous l’habile direction du flûtiste Matthias Maute. Reconnu sur la scène internationale, l’ensemble instrumental est récipiendaire avec le SMAM du prix Opus
« Concert de l’année – Musiques médiévale, de la renaissance, baroque » et d’un prix Juno « Meilleur album de musique classique – Catégorie musique vocale ou chorale ». (Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-
Bon-Secours. 514-423-3611, – Renée Banville

Le dimanche 21 mars à 19 h 30, le Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (SMAM), aussi lauréat aux prix
Opus, présente un concert avec les Voix Humaines. Intitulé La Traversée de la Manche, le programme comprend des oœuvres pour voix et violes signées Gibbons, Jenkins, du Caurroy, Lejeune et Bouzignac. Les oeuvres choisies démontreront ce qui se faisait de mieux autour de 1600 des deux côtés de la Manche, dans le domaine tant sacré que profane. (Église Saint-Léon-de-Westmount. 514-861-2626, – Renée Banville

Le dimanche 21 mars à 15h30, la Chapelle est heureuse d’accueillir pour la première fois le pianiste belge de réputation internationale Olivier de Spiegeler. Encensé pour son jeu d’une grande clarté au timbre subtil et au toucher délicat, le pianiste interprète des œuvres de Schumann, Frank et Chopin. (Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur, 514-872-5338) – Renée Banville


Amateurs de musiques improvisées, prenez note ! Le mardi 16, la série hebdomadaire Les Mardis Spaghetti met sa main aux pâtes (sic) avec son Marathon Macaroni, soit 14 heures ininterrompues de musiques créatives tous azimuts, et ce, dès 10 h le matin. Plus d’une cinquantaine de prestations défileront sur la petite scène du Cagibi (5490, boulevard Saint-Laurent, angle Saint-Viateur) avec des participants d’ici et d’ailleurs (Canada, É-U. et Europe).

Mar. 16
* Le marathon Macaroni. La série hebdomadaire de musiques improvisées Les mardis Spaghetti fête ses deux ans au Cagibi de 10 h à minuit. [Programmation en ligne :]

* Jean-Nicholas Trottier Big Band. Maison de la culture Mercier. [872-8755] 20 h

Mer. 17
* Quartette du tromboniste Jean-Nicholas Trottier. (Lancement du disque sur Étiquette Effendi.) Upstairs Jazz Bar. 20 h 30 (En reprise, le 24 au même endroit.)

Jeu 18
* Quartette du batteur Simon Delage. Jazz Club Restaurant Dièse onze. 20 h 30

Mar. 23
* Le guitariste Larry Coryell et son ensemble. L’Astral. 20 h

Marc Chénard

Arts visuels / Visual Arts

Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, jusqu'au 2 mai 2010


The Centaur follows up with The Comedy of Errors, a co-production with the National Arts Centre. Inspired by Montreal’s crazed festival season, the play provides a modern look at one of Shakespeare’s earliest and most comedic plays. It tells the story of a family divided by business. Two sets of twins, separated for 33 years, suddenly find themselves in the bustling city of Ephesus. Needless to say, mass confusion and hilarious accidents ensue, including mistaken identities, infidelities and wrongful beatings. Yet, the family is reunited through love in the end, and establishes a richer and deeper bond than ever before. The Comedy of Errors runs from March 2nd to the 28th. – Jessica Hill

Theatre: In March at the Segal, a co-production with Théâtre du Rideau-Vert brings us Old Wicked Songs, the story of a young American piano prodigy and his teacher. The young virtuoso, hoping to re-ignite his artistic spark, ventures to Vienna. However, he ends up colliding with his Viennese music teacher instead. Separated by their experiences, their ideas and their generations, it is their mutual love for music that becomes the one bond strong enough to bridge the gap. Robert Schumann’s songs are woven throughout the play as past and present confront each other through these two men.

Theatre: Infinitheatre presents Fatherland during the month of March. It tells the story of a quiet Westmount family that finds its sheltered world shattered one Sunday morning. A young boy is busy writing an essay about Saddam Hussein’s two sons and the aftermath of the American invasion, when his uncle lets slip to his father that he owes money to a mobster and that the mobster is on his way over to collect. Outrage, desperation and tumult arise, leading the boy to draw parallels between Saddam’s sons and his own father and uncle: brothers trapped in an opulent house while a mortal enemy draws near. Fatherland explores the power of blood ties and the mutual debt owed between sons and fathers
Jessica Hill


EXCUSE-MOI. L’auteur de la télésérie Aveux n’a plus besoin de prouver sa maïtrise du suspense, son don pour faire vivre avec sensibilité les personnages de gens ordinaires qui cachent de douloureux secrets. Dans cette nouvelle pièce attendue, Serge Boucher ramène le protagoniste de 24 Poses et , François, confronté ici à deux épisodes charnières de la vie de ses parents. Jusqu'au 27 mars, au Théâtre Jean-Duceppe

HUIS CLOS. On n’a plus guère l’occasion, à Montréal, de voir sur scène le théâtre de Jean-Paul Sartre. Quelle résonance aura aujourd’hui l’impitoyable – et la plus célèbre – pièce du philosophe existentialiste, créée en 1944 ? L’infernal trio condamné à passer l’éternité à se faire souffrir prend ici les visages de Pascale Bussières, Patrice Robitaille et Julie Le Breton. Jusqu'au 3 avril, au Théâtre du Nouveau Monde

Marie Labreque

Danse / Dance

Jusqu’au 21, Tangente y va d’une programmation tous azimuts avec, notamment Caroline Dubois, Andrew Turner et Isabel Mohn. Du 5 au 20, Paula de Vasconcelos revient séduire avec sa dansethéâtre en racontant l’histoire de la découverte de la route des Indes dans Boa Goa. La danseuse tétraplégique France Geoffroy (voir le photo) se produit quant à elle au Monument national du 17 au 27, dans une chorégraphie d’Estelle Clareton précédée d’une pièce de hip hop. Du 18 au 27, les GBCM nous offrent un programme triple de pièces de Jiri Kylian alors qu’Harold Rhéaume se déplace de Québec pour mettre son âme à Nu sur la scène de l’Agora. Organisé par le Studio 303, le Festival Edgy Women s’invite à Tangente du 20 au 28 pour son volet danse et c’est avec du flamenco contemporain que mars rejoint avril.

Fabienne Cabado

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Monday, March 15, 2010

This Week in Toronto (March 15 - 21)

Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Sondra Radvanovsky
(Photo: Pavel Antonov)

The big news for voice fans this week is the blockbuster concert starring Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Sondra Radvanovsky on Saturday 8 pm March 20 at Roy Thomson Hall. It is part of a concert tour the two are taking to a number of cities in North America, including Montreal and New York. This event is not to be missed! For a little preview, Radvanovsky will be giving a mini-recital live from the concert lobby at The New Classical 96.3 FM tomorrow (Tuesday 16) at 1 pm. You can tune in to your radio, or listen to it in a webcast. I am not positive but the concert may even be available for view on the website. Go to (Note: I just had confirmation from Linda Litwack, the publicist of this concert for Show One Productions that the concert will indeed be videocast live on the internet!)

Hvorostovsky is of course a frequent visitor to Toronto - I must have heard him here close to ten times since his first appearance here, around 1992. And I try to catch him wherever I can in my operatic travels. It is rare, however, to find Sondra Radvanovsky singing on local stages. This is particularly strange as she has been living in the GTA for quite a number of years, having married a Canadian. I heard her at the Met and Santa Fe as Violetta in La Traviata, but in Toronto, it was limited to only the LUNA concert of the first year of the Luminato Festival. If memory serves, she sang Casta Diva from Norma and wowed everyone. With her voice, it just takes two seconds and you just know that this is not your usual soprano voice. It is dark, rich, powerful, expressive, with stunning breath control and exemplary agility. It is, in fact, an authentic Verdi soprano, an extremely rare species. She arrives home fresh from a triuAdd Imagemph as Elisabetta in Don Carlo at the Opera Bastille in Paris. I spoke with a friend who was lucky enough to catch her at the performance last Friday. She was in fabulous form, receiving endless ovations from the enthusiastic audience. Here is the photo of a smiling Radvanovsky backstage at the Opera Bastille after Don Carlo last Friday.

(Photo: Pierre Couture)

Another exciting event this week is the appearance of Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra (formerly the Kirov Orchestra), all the way from St. Petersburg. Anytime this orchestra tours, it is always an unforgettable event, so this time it'll be no different. There will be different programs on the two nights. The first, on March 16, has Berlioz's Royal Hunt and Strom from Les Troyens and selections from Romeo et Juliette, and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5; the second performance has Denis Matsuev playing Rach 3, and Shostakovich Symphony No. 15! Either program is terrific and if you can, go!

The Aradia Ensemble under conductor Kevin Mallon presents the music of Purcell's Theatre Music (Don Quixote presented with excerpts from Thomas D'Urfey's play Boduca), on Sunday, 8 pm March 21, at the Glenn Gould Studio. The soloists are sopranos Eve Rachel McCleod and Laura Albino, tenor Nils Brown and bass Jason Nedecky. For more information, go to

The Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music presents a staged version of Massenet's Cendrillon conducted by Uri Mayer with stage direction by Graham Cozzubbo, with students from the GGS Vocal Program and Opera in Concert Chorus. I once saw this show at Santa Fe Opera, in the Laurent Pelly production, and it was incredibly funny. I am sure with the youthful enthusiasm of the GGS students and the expert baton of Mayer, this will be a very good show. It opens on March 20, 7:30 pm at Koerner Hall, with additional performances on March 21, 23, and 35, at different times. For details and tickets, go to

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