Xenia Pestova Bennett & United Strings of Europe


Xenia Pestova Bennett New workfor piano + quartet
Xenia Pestova Bennett – Atomic Legacies
Matthew Whiteside – Quartet No. 6
Dave Fennessy – Nebenstimme for viola and celeste

Xenia Pestova Bennett – Alegría (2023, world premiere) for piano, string quartet, objects, voice and pre-recorded analogue synthesiser

“…joy exists as a bright, insistent spasm of defiance within the darkness of the world. Seek it. It is there.”

– Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files, Issue #219, January 2023

“Joy (Alegria): Cultivate joy and focus on it to balance negative feelings. Connect with nature: seeds, plants, water and animals to overcome difficulties. Simplify your life. Reduce your workload and stop doing so many unimportant things that lead nowhere. Take only what you need. Plant trees. Plant what you eat. Give back to the earth. Take action to protect the planet. Focus on finding your purpose and direction to counter fear and anxiety, which come from uncertainty. Connect to your community. Share moments of joy together.”

– From the teachings of Benki Piyãko, September 2022

I would like to thank The United Strings of Europe for making this piece possible and co-creating the instrumental material with me: Jane Gordon and Rebecca Harris, violin; Christine Anderson, viola; Louise McMonagle, cello. This piece is dedicated to them.


Xenia Pestova Bennett – Atomic Legacies 2019

  1. Half-life
  2. Atomic Elegy
  3. Forbidden Mechanism
  4. Decay

“Atomic Legacies” builds on musical as well as extra-musical influences: I quote and deconstruct the first movement of Haydn’s “Sun” string quartet Op. 20 No. 1 (Hob. III:31) as an afterthought, as well as my own Actinium for solo Magnetic Resonator Piano. Some of the titles reference the work of visual artist Helmut Schweizer and environmental eco-artist Eve Andree Laramee. This work was created especially with the Ligeti Quartet in mind and I am grateful for their input and guidance.

Navigating nuclear nostalgia: three snapshots from the past

One: We live in a region famous for its university, rich natural resources and the country’s second nuclear reactor, built to manufacture weapons-grade plutonium. This facility is in a secret, “closed” city: it does not appear on maps and we are not supposed to know that it exists. There are multiple unreported leaks of plutonium during the countless major accidents at the plant, which release enormous quantities of radioactive material into the air and the surrounding area. Nuclear waste is routinely pumped directly into the ground and stored indefinitely in uncovered pools. Grannies pick mushrooms, berries and wild sorrel in the surrounding woods and sell them at the city market.

Two: Two decades earlier and several hundred miles to the east, Grandfather oversees the construction of multiple underground silos and the installation of ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. His wife and young daughter don’t know what exactly his job entails. He wears an impressive army-issue watch with a radium-coated dial and hands, which glow in the dark.

Three: Late one night, something wakes me. I look out from the window of our sixth floor apartment on the side of the city close to the nuclear plant and the chemical factories. I can see a gigantic truck with unnaturally massive wheels moving slowly on the wide, empty road. It is towing a very large cylindrical object with a conical snout. The next day nobody believes in my special secret missile truck and I have to convince myself that it was a dream.


Matthew Whiteside – Quartet No. 6
This piece was written while I was staying in an AirBnB in Tallinn, Estonia and began life when I picked up a set of windchimes the owner had left lying around. The piece is an orchestration of those chimes and imagines a great hand jiggling the quartet to initiate each gesture.
Recording released on Entangled on 25th October 2019.


Dave Fennessy – Nebenstimme for viola and celeste
A few years ago I composed a kind-of concerto, Hauptstimme, for Garth where the viola must battle against an unruly, amplified ensemble simply to be heard. Nebenstimme is a distant cousin of that piece. Or perhaps it could be thought of as it’s ‘negative’, in the photographic sense. What was before an incredibly loud, forceful rhythm in the percussion part, is here transformed into a delicate, ornamented chorale in the celeste. The viola remains the solo instrument but is in this case shy and uncertain.


Artist biographies

Described as “a powerhouse of contemporary keyboard repertoire” (Tempo), pianist and composer Xenia Pestova Bennett has earned an international reputation as a leading proponent of uncompromising music. Her work spans a wide range of sound worlds, styles and genres from classical to contemporary art music, free improvisation, experimental electronica and avant-pop.

Since receiving the unanimous First Prize at the Xavier Montsalvatge International Piano Competition in Girona, Spain and prizes at the Messiaen International Piano Competition in Paris and the KeriKeri Piano Competition of New Zealand, Xenia has performed in over 20 countries – at international festivals, in concert halls, tropical rainforests, caves, ponds and countless weird and wonderful venues and spaces. She explores classical music boundaries with electronics, toy pianos, synthesizers and the magical and mysterious Magnetic Resonator Piano.

Xenia Pestova Bennett is featured at festivals and venues around the world, including appearances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, National Concert Hall in Dublin, Sage Gateshead, Glasgow Royal Concert Halls, Philharmonie Luxembourg, Festival Archipel (Geneva), Approximation (Dusseldorf), Ars Musica (Brussels), Christchurch Arts Festival (New Zealand), Lanaudière (Canada), London Contemporary Music Festival, Musica (Strasbourg), Sonorities (Belfast), Spark (USA), Rainy Days (Luxembourg) and Voix Nouvelles Royaumont (France).

Pestova Bennett’s commitment to contemporary music inspired her to commission dozens of new works and collaborate closely with major innovators including Annea Lockwood, Karlheinz Essl and Gayle Young. Her nine studio albums to date include widely acclaimed recordings of core piano duo works by John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen with Pascal Meyer for Naxos Records, “Shadow Piano” (Innova) for piano, toy piano and electronics, a “terrific album of dark, probing music” (Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader), the complete piano works by Gayle Young (Farpoint), hailed as “a triumph” (John Eyles, All About Jazz), and “Gold.Berg.Werk” (Ergodos), a reimagining of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Karlheinz Essl described as “a sci-fi journey in the direction of 1741” (Luke Clancy, RTE Lyric FM).

Xenia’s own compositions are available on Diatribe Records and TakuRoku. Her full-length album “Atomic Legacies” features Ligeti Quartet and the Magnetic Resonator Piano. Highlighted in Bandcamp’s “Best of Contemporary Classical” in 2020, the album was reviewed as “boldly conceived and brilliantly realised… a foretaste of things to come” (Julian Cowley, The Wire), “intoxicating, extraordinarily eerie and evocative” (Bernard Clarke, RTE LyricFM), “melancholy… heart-swells and proper feelings” (Jennifer Lucy Allan, The Quietus) and “a nuclear musical reaction that produces great, irradiated beauty” (Tom Service, BBC Radio 3). Xenia’s subsequent “Atonal Electronic Chamber Music for Cats” takes an unexpected turn-around, using vintage synthesizers in an exploration of 1990’s techno-art-pop nostalgia.

Xenia studied piano and composition in New Zealand, the UK, the Netherlands, France and Canada. She holds a Doctorate from McGill University. During a twelve-year career in academia, she was Head of Performance at Bangor University in North Wales, Director of Performance and Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham and visiting Professor of Music at Gresham College, London. Her interest in health and optimal performance led to extensive accredited teacher training in yoga, breathwork and meditation practices. In addition to her performance career, Xenia is in demand as a wellbeing instructor, coach and lecturer for organisations and educational institutions around the world. In 2022 and 2023, she presented 66 workshops in secondary schools across Ireland reaching 580 participants in an ambitious “Befriending Anxiety” programme with The Music Network. She is a published author with a book on performance anxiety management and co-editor of the Living Music book series with Christopher Dingle.

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.

Jane Gordon, violin
Rebecca Harris, violin
Christine Anderson, viola
Louise McMonagle, cello

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