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United Strings of Europe, String Ensemble

Biography

The United Strings of Europe (USE) has earned a reputation for being an ‘ebullient’ and ‘virtuosically expressive’ ensemble (The Times ★★★★), delighting audiences across Europe and the Middle East with its original programming, high-profile collaborations, and educational initiatives.

Into the second season of its New Horizons International Artist Concert Series at Conway Hall in London, USE fosters collaborations with celebrated soloists including violinists Amalia Hall and Itamar Zorman, and flautist Sébastian Jacot. Soloists in 2020 include soprano Héloïse Werner (1 Feb), as well as pianists Simon Callaghan (24 May) and Denis Badault (6 June). The ensemble holds annual residencies at Brummana High School and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon as well as at the Théâtre Molière in Sète, France, and gives regular performances in Switzerland. USE will be releasing its debut CD Something to Tell You in 2020, featuring world premiere recordings and original arrangements.

Working closely with a number of composers, USE has a track record of developing audiences for new music by curating original programmes featuring new and neglected repertoire.

Recent highlights include bespoke arrangements of Gareth Farr’s Mondo Rondo and Arturo Corrales’ Mono Espacial, the world premiere of Houtaf Khoury’s ‘Et le vent qui souffle…’ and of Mateja Marinkovic's Violin Concerto ‘Balkan Tales’, national premieres of works by Osvaldo Golijov, Matthew Hindson, Stevan Hristic, Cyril Squire, Bechara El-Khoury and Charbel Rouhana, as well as the world premiere of David Winkler's Double Concerto No. 3 written for pianist Walter Delahunt, violinist Julian Azkoul and the United Strings of Europe. In 2020 USE is commissioning a new work entitled send back the echo from British-Malaysian composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman for its Beethoven Anniversary Celebration concerts.

Formed in 2012 at the Royal Academy of Music in London, all the members of the United Strings of Europe are distinguished chamber musicians and principal orchestral players who share a passion for ensemble playing. The group has developed an important outreach programme which includes innovative workshops tailored to young people, side-by-side projects with music students, composers and conductors, and work with refugees and disadvantaged youth in partnership with NGOs and foundations in the UK and Lebanon.

Photo credits: Dimitri Djuric 

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Programmes

Celebrating tradition and innovation in equal measure, this sumptuous collection of masterworks by the great Viennese composers includes bespoke arrangements of chamber music by Schubert and Beethoven and a transcription of Alban Berg's haunting one-movement Piano Sonata Op. 1. Upon moving to Vienna, Mozart developed an interest in Baroque music, his Adagio and Fugue paying homage to the works of J. S. Bach. The programme displays the variety and ingenuity of musical developments in Vienna right up until the First World War.

Schubert – Quartettsatz (arr. Azkoul)
Berg – Piano Sonata No. 1 (arr. Van Kleveren)
OR Mozart – Adagio and Fugue
Beethoven – String Quartet in B flat Op. 130 (arr. Azkoul)

Often overlooked in the history of string music, Bohemian composers of the Czech school were pioneers in instrumental writing. In his vivid recounting of a battle, Biber's work foreshadows striking compositional mechanisms including polytonality and the technique of col legno when players strike the string with the wood of the bow. Janacek's Suite displays great mastery of string textures and, despite being a relatively early work, anticipates the idiosyncratic style that would later define his work. The programme concludes with Dvorak's much-loved Serenade, a mature take on a genre that continues to inspire composers today.

 

Biber – Battalia
Janacek – Suite for Strings
Dvorak – Serenade

USE presents a programme spanning nearly 300 years of musical responses to the enigmatic and beguiling theme of 'the night'. Boccherini's depiction of nocturnal scenes in 18th-century Madrid and Vivaldi's evocation of ghosts and dreams sets the stage for the towering musical depiction of Demel's poem Transfigured Night, a tale of betrayal, acceptance and redemption. Schönberg's masterwork is introduced by a new transcription of Gesualdo's 16th-century vocal setting of the Maundy Thursday responsory Sad is My Soul, the works gliding seamlessly into one another across distance and time.

Boccherini – Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid (arr. USE)
Vivaldi – Violin Concerto in G minor ‘La Notte’ RV 104 (with optional theorbo or harpsichord)
Gesualdo – Tristis est anima mea (arr. Wiancko)
Schönberg – Verklärte Nacht

Capturing the spirit and pathos of Russian music, and reflecting the sweeping political changes the country underwent in the 20th Century, this programme brings together some of the greatest music ever written for string ensemble. Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony based on his 8th string quartet is a profoundly personal work, exhibiting both defiance and acceptance, written during a visit to a hollowed-out Dresden, at the time still reeling from Allied bombing during WWII. This is contrasted with Tchaikovsky's exuberant Serenade and its nod to Russian folk music. Borodin's beautiful Notturno captures the intimate salon culture of the Russian upper classes and Scriabin's Preludes, inspired by Chopin's famous set, reflect his evolving musical style at a time of great social and political change.

Scriabin – Selection of Preludes (arr. Kaipainen) 
Shostakovich – Chamber Symphony
Borodin – ‘Notturno’ from String Quartet No. 2 (arr. Azkoul)
Tchaikovsky – String Serenade

For this programme harnessing the magic of fairytales, dance and folk traditions, USE is joined by soprano Joanna Songi to explore themes of loss and transformation. Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss is inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's fairytale The Ice-Maiden, which plays hommage to the ballet works of Tchaikovsky. Argentinan composer Golijov took inspiration from his own varied background, including his Jewish roots and the travel of Europeans to Latin America, to evoke a magical soundworld in his Three Songs. Mendelssohn's dramatic String Quartet was written after the death of his beloved sister, Fanny, and this arrangement for string orchestra heightens the grief and inner turmoil that imbues the music. 

Stravinsky – Divertimento from The Fairy's Kiss (arr. Ledger) 
Goljiov – Three Songs for soprano and string orchestra
Mendelssohn – String Quartet in F minor Op. 80 (arr. Azkoul)

Reviews

The performers delivered both light and shadow, and the counterpoint was dazzling.

Le Midi Libre

Full of life and of an exceptional calibre…The audience will remember the impeccable quality of the ensemble, especially the joy they exhibit playing together, palpable throughout their performance.

L'Impartial

Ebullient... virtuosically expressive.

The Times

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