Session Report: Good as new

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The second album from the United Strings of Europe features original arrangements of existing works by artistic director Julian Azkoul – but more than this, the works are thematically linked by transformation and loss, as he tells Toby Deller

When the United Strings of Europe (USE) came to a residential part of north London in March 2021, it was to record their second album, Renewal. But they may have regretted the choice of title when the noisy reality of urban redevelopment suddenly intruded on the process.

‘We started recording and we were interrupted after about 45 minutes by some incredibly loud drilling,’ recalls Julian Azkoul, USE’s leader and artistic director, ‘or at least loud enough that it was disturbing the recording. This is the challenge of recording in the city, even at St Silas, a very nice church in Kentish Town where we also recorded our first album. It’s quite built-up around there. We had to put everything on hold while the engineer and producer went to talk to the guys who were working – they seemed to be cutting through the thickest piece of concrete anyone had ever come across.’

Fortunately, the negotiations were successful. After a few stressful hours of uncertainty, the group were able to resume work on Mendelssohn’s last quartet, as arranged for string orchestra by Azkoul himself, and complete it the following day, as planned…

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