United Strings of Europe and Emily Thorner


Matthew Whiteside – Emptiness (w.p.)
Claude Vivier – Zipangu
Caroline Shaw – Entr’acte (arr. Julian Azkoul)
Henryk Górecki – Three pieces in the old style
Houtaf Khoury – et le vent qui souffleIn
Joanna Marsh – Winters House (arr. Julian Azkoul)
Jessie Montgomery – Starburst

Matthew Whiteside – Emptiness
Song text:

No one here by that name exists.
Only hints.
Nothing here belongs to us.
We just borrow stars.
Our self, a dream, a burning cloud.
Illusions on the wall
One breaking mind
Driving one fragile body
On one dying planet.
Vast distances of nothing.
We are cosmically mundane.
Looking at infinity.
At Emptiness. Pointlessness.

Claude vivier – Zipangu
Canadian composer Claude Vivier (1948-1983) was a pioneer of spectral music remembered for his extensive exploration of sound and harmony and for being one of the first Western composers to include elements of Balinese music into his compositions. His work Zipangu (1980) for string orchestra was inspired by a trip he made to Japan in 1976 where he witnessed kabuki theatre and was struck by the ritual-like nature of both the music and physical performance: 

“‘Zipangu’ was the name given to Japan at the time of Marco Polo. Within the frame of a single melody I explore in this work different aspects of colour. I tried to “blur” my harmonic structure through different bowing techniques. A colourful sound is obtained by applying exaggerated bow pressure on the strings as opposed to pure harmonics when returning to normal technique. A melody becomes a colour (chords), grows lighter and slowly returns as though purified and solitary.”

(Claude Vivier)


Caroline Shaw – Entr’acte
Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte Originally conceived for string quartet, Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte is increasingly popular in its version for string orchestra. On the genesis of the work, Shaw writes: ‘Entr’acte was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Op. 77 4 No. 2 – with the spare and soulful shift to the D flat major trio in the minuet. It is structured like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further. I love the way some music (like the minuets of Op. 77) suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition.’ Entr’acte is a refreshing take on the Classical minuet and trio form, inventive and entertaining in equal measure. It explores a variety of ensemble textures and features a smorgasbord of extended string instrument techniques including bow noises, slides, harmonics and Bartók pizzicato. Ostensibly traditional harmony is gradually infected with subtle dissonance and the work demands a high degree of rhythmic precision throughout. Shaw successfully creates contrasting colours and moods ranging from the frenetic to the whimsical. The version for string orchestra differs slightly from the original with some of the cello material taken over by the bass. Switching back to the bare string quartet texture when the minuet material returns gives an added sense of nostalgia to the music.
Notes by Julian Azkoul 

Henryk Górecki – Three pieces in the old style
Although initially associated with the post-Stalinist avant-garde movement in his home country, Polish composer Henryk Górecki (1933-2019) gained international recognition through a recording of his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs towards the end of his life by which point his compositional style had moved away from the hard-nosed serialism of his youth into what has been characterised as sacred minimalism. His Three Pieces in an Olden Style (1963) for string orchestra combine elements of folk music with contemporary musical techniques. Musicologist Tadeusz Zieliński wrote about this piece for 1975 Warsaw Autumn Festival:

“The intentionally simple yet delectable releasing of the purely sonoristic characteristics of string sounds, the differentiating and contrasting of their thickness and dynamics take us right to the core of Górecki’s individual style. These pieces represent a modest (as it were, simplified, adapted to the archaic theme), but effective and charming sample of this style and the typical aesthetic-technical issues of their creator.”

Houtaf Khoury – et le vent qui souffleIn
When in late 2014 Yodit Tekle was diagnosed with stomach cancer, her partner, Martin Anderson, who runs Toccata Classics, asked a couple of composer friends to write some music to bring her comfort in her illness. As her life slipped away, he had the idea that she could be remembered in music and so he began to commission other pieces for string orchestra in her memory. To his surprise, almost everyone he asked generously accepted and I was among those composers. It was a project for the remembrance of Yodit Tekle and I was happy to be involved.
-Houtaf Khoury

Joanna Marsh – Winters House (arr. Julian Azkoul)

Joanna Marsh (arr. Azkoul): In Winter’s House Described in The Guardian as ‘one of today’s leading composers for the voice’, Joanna Marsh has written extensively for some of today’s leading vocal ensembles. Com – missioned for the tenors and basses of Tenebrae Choir, In Winter’s House is a setting of a poem of the same name by the Oxford-based poet Jane Draycott. Although the poem’s verse structure and rhyme scheme resemble those of a carol, the text is not religious. The poet conjures up a fairy-tale landscape using the imagery of darkness and light, renewal and rebirth. The music by Joanna Marsh has the reso – nance of an old folk song, introducing a simple lilting motif at the start and gradually transforming it. Each of the five verses takes the initial musical idea and unravels it in a different direction. Over time it becomes more fundamental to the structure, leading to a spacious ending. My adaptation for string orchestra expands the pitch range, enhancing the sense of spaciousness of the original. I am grateful to the com – poser for her advice and for encouraging me to adapt her work.

Notes by Julian Azkoul 

Jessie Montgomery – starburst
African American composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery (1981-) writes about her piece Starburst for string orchestra (2012):

This brief one-movement work for string orchestra is a play on imagery of rapidly changing musical colours. Exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle fleeting melodies in an attempt to create a multidimensional soundscape. A common definition of a starburst: “the rapid formation of large numbers of new stars in a galaxy at a rate high enough to alter the structure of the galaxy significantly” lends itself almost literally to the nature of the performing ensemble who premieres the work, The Sphinx Virtuosi, and I wrote the piece with their dynamic in mind.

— Jessie Montgomery

Artist biographies

The united strings of europe
is shaped by a multi-cultural background and a drive to develop experimental and engaging programming.
Our guiding principle is very much about finding threads between different works and epochs, blending the familiar with the new, and hopefully delivering exciting and moving performances that encourage people to listen to works in different ways and to discover new repertoire.

Praised for our original programming and virtuosically expressive playing ( the times), we commission and arrange music from a variety of musical cultures and backgrounds, and perform regularly in europe and the middle east. Our recordings for bis records have been celebrated for their compelling programmes (bbc music magazine) and for being supremely executed (stereophile magazine).

To date we have released three full-length albums. Our album ‘renewal’ (january 2022) explores themes of loss and transformation with soprano ruby hughes, and was editor’s choice at presto music and one of apple music’s 10 albums you must hear in february. Our debut album in motion has been described as superbly played and vividly engineered’ (gramophone magazine). In november 2022 we released our latest album tchaikovsky which was bbc music magazines orchestral choice in february 2023.

We are continually seeking ways to re-imagine string playing and the concert experience. Our inter-disciplinary projects inspire us to move beyond our training, to stretch our thinking, and to find new ways to engage and enthral.
Our lockdown film ‘send back the echo’, a commission from composer jasmin kent rodgman featuring deaf actor vilma jackson, explores issues around disability and social alienation. It premiered on bbc arts and was selected for the london short film festival. In 2022 we produced a ground-breaking show ‘apollo resurrected’ combining music, mime, dance and juggling. A retelling of stravinskys ‘apollo’ with new music by joanna marsh, the show premiered at kings place on 28 october followed by a performance at northern ballet in leeds.

We believe in the power of music that connects, bridges divides and promotes cross-cultural understanding.
2022 saw us give our debut performances at wiltons music hall in london and the victoria hall in geneva, open the byline festival and festival on the close, and hold residencies at the southrepps music festival and hatfield house chamber music festival. We joined forces with sansara choir and syrian oud player basel saleh for a concert of sanctuary and solidarity at st martin-in-the-fields featuring music by caroline shaw, hildur gunadottir, buxtehude, a new commission by lebanese composer houtaf khoury, and the uk premiere of ‘a quiet night by ukrainian composer natalia tsupryk.

We are passionate about reaching new audiences, and engaging with different communities in the uk, across europe and the middle east.
Armed with the belief that music and ensemble playing can enrich peoples lives and promote cross-cultural understanding, we are committed to reaching new audiences through education work and initiatives that engage refugees and marginalised groups. We also seek ways to explore issues relevant to these communities through our artistic work.

Eleanor Fagg, director
Marie Schreer, violin
Rebecca Harris, violin
Phillip Granell, violin
Ariel Lang, violin
Jane Gordon, violin
Anna Tulchinskaya, violin
Christine Anderson, viola
Francesca Gilbert, viola
George White, viola
Raphael Lang, cello
Louise McMonagle, cello
Toby Hughes, bass

International “ultra-soprano” (second inversion, wa, usa) and “new music rising star” (the stranger, wa, usa) emily thorner is one of the highest sopranos worldwide and is equally at home in contemporary operas, mainstream opera, and contemporary ensembles, orchestras, chamber ensembles and with electronics. Known for her command of stratospheric high notes, ms. Thorner is highly sought-after for world premieres due to her unusual high range, fearless virtuosity, breathtaking characters, and ability to jump into roles that other sopranos have left. She will make her netherlands debut at muziekgebouw and tivolivredenberg at the gaudeamus festival this september 2023 as the solo soprano with asko|schonberg, singing “uma so divina linha” by jan van de putte which will be on npo radio.

Invited to relocate to london on a tier 1 exceptional talent visa, ms. Thorner was the leading soprano in hotel paradiso, a contemporary opera conducted by clement power in bolzano italy, gave the world premiere of crossing songs by laura shipsey written for her voice and containing a rare ab6 in the aldeburgh festival this june 2022, and was a winner of the nyiops international anon auditions, being the only vocalist to present contemporary opera. Upcoming performances in 2023 and 2024 lead her to scotland in a collaboration with the united strings of europe where she will sing a world premiere written for her voice by matthew whiteside and quatuor ii by betsy jolas at “the night with. ” 2024 brings her to california for state of being and an evening of world premieres. 2023 in total brings her to amsterdam, milan, and scotland for performances.

Her mainstage opera repertoire includes: leticia in the exterminating angel, ariel in the tempest (ades), and mollie in animal farm (raskatov. )

dedicated to the belief that the power of sound and vibration can heal, ms. Thorner is passionate about singing with the purpose of healing through the voice on the global stage, and is dedicated to bringing this purpose, extraordinary high notes, and fearless passion to every stage. She is the inventor and founder of www. Moonrising. Com, a sound powered healing platform.

Her discography includes the miller in rumpelstiltskin with guerilla opera on parma records and off latch press with three albums on spotify, apple music, itunes, and deezer.

Previous performances have included the role of queen of cans, a new opera inspired by her voice made into film with tete a tete festival by edward lambert, sisa in noli me tangere with kgb opera, flora in turn of the screw with opera brittenica, mary anning in new genus, the judge in cummings & goerings, and adel in behind god’s back, all at tete a tete, and all in one evening. Sophie de palma in masterclass at the nh music festival, and her role of the miller in rumpelstiltskin brought guerilla opera to opera america in new york, usa.

In new music festivals, she has been the star soprano in acht brucken festival in cologne (on wdr radio), the aldeburgh festival with jessica cottis, donaueschinger musiktage, bang on a can new festival, impuls festival, splice festival, the ruhrtiennale festiva with duisberg philharmoninc, bringing her to italy, usa, germany, austria, and england. She has collaborated with chroma ensemble (england), hub new music, sound icon, boston musica viva, sound energy, kin of the moon (usa) and is known for her recording of wolfgang rihm’s frage containing over twenty-two high f’s and beyond.

One of only two sopranos chosen in bang on a can and the first soprano in twenty years since claire booth to be chosen for the new music section of britten pears, she was invited to relocate to england from usa and germany on a tier 1 extraordinary talent visa. In the fall of 2022 she brings state of being, a world tour written for her voice and electronics beginning to life with four world premieres.

Originally from boston, ma, usa, she now resides in london and travels frequently all over eu and uk and is under representation by host talent group.

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