Described as ‘a string duo bound for glory’ by Max Reinhardt (BBC Radio 3 Late Junction) Fran & Flora (Francesca Ter-Berg and Flora Curzon) are quickly becoming one of the capital's most sought-after bands. A duo with a distinctive improvisatory style and ethereal aesthetic, they draw inspiration for their material from their travels and mentors in eastern Europe and beyond. Their debut album Unfurl (released 15.2.19) is the culmination of three years creative studio work with producer and musician, Sam Beste (Hejira)
The overwhelming response they received from releasing Unfurl has accelerated their growing reputation across the UK, gaining widespread critical acclaim with attention from national radio, magazines, newspapers and many online publications. They have appeared live in session on BBC 4’s Woman's Hour, Radio 3’s In Tune, Cerys Matthews’ 6 Music show, Soho Radio and Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM.
Active contributors to London’s vibrant music scene and known as collaborators with many ground-breaking artists including Sam Lee and Talvin Singh, Fran & Flora mesmerise their audiences, selling out venues across the UK. Recent performances include Kings Place, The Vortex, Cafe Oto, Eastbourne Folk Club, Klezmer In The Park, Shambala Festival, Shtetl Neukeulln (Berlin), Corsica Studios and the EFG London Jazz Festival. Last summer they were selected by BBC Music Introducing to perform previews of Unfurl at Latitude Festival, which was broadcast live across the BBC network.
"It’s all about dynamics. Violinist Flora Curzon and cellist Francesca Ter-Berg take Eastern European / Eurasian folk and infuse it with the quiet-loud sense of post rock exploration that unites the likes of Mogwai and Jambinai. Opener Rockers is a border-defying wonder that could be stretched out way past the three-minute mark. Thrills and chills in equal amount." DH, 21 March 2019
"Fran & Flora are the London based string duo of Francesca Ter-Berg (cello) and Flora Curzon (violin). They’ve contributed to the sound of folk guru Sam Lee, Portico Quartet and, notavly, the Neo-prog of Charlie Cawood’s excellent album The Divine Abstract. Unfurl is the duo’s debut recording, and what at first glance might seem a pleasant collection of Eastern European melodies turns out to be aiming at something altogether more mysterious. Fran & Flora are pushing out into deeper waters than where their mentors have splashed.
Two Doina melodies allow space for melismatic improvisation to stretch out. The first is Jewish, originally on a wax cylinder - the kind of peasant style Bartok was transcribing in Romania in 1912. Ter-Berg’s cello passionately laments, while electronic echoes open up dub caverns behind. Later Curzon’s violin flickers and burns on a Doina learnt at the feet of Hungarian Roma violinist István ‘Kiscipás’ Varga. Curzon also delivers a warm unaccompanied vocal version of “La Obreja”, a Transylvanian song of loss. The album is at it’s most upbeat in “Geamporales”, a swaying Romanian dance in seven time led by guest Belgian fiddler Linde Timmermans.
The duo could undoubtedly unwind such tunes till the Caucasian cows come home, but intriguingly they’ve opted to stress the music’s other hues, extending their palette via improvisation and electronics. Here they’re mightily aided by studio collaboration with producer Sam Beste from London group Hejira. “Talking Trees” employs pitch-shifting and synth colours to devise a moody context for a Thracian tune, fiercely sketched by unison strings. Here the music veers most closely to the exquisite tree drawings of Alan Lee’s cover art. Equally successful is “Mayn Rue Platz”, a setting of lyrics by Yiddish poet Morris Rosenfeld, tackling the grim lives of sweatshop workers in 1900 New York. Ter-Berg’s vocals have a cool charm that sits well amid the pulsating, threatening arrangement. There’s more fine improvising on “Nubar Nubar”, an Armenian tune in a ten-beat groove. Both strings create a musky mood by the simple device of playing low in their respective ranges. The clashing of ghostly vocals on the devised “Departures” concludes an album of beguiling beauty." Clive Bell, May Edition 2019
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SONGLINES ENCOUNTERS FESTIVAL REVIEW, JUNE 2019 - Simon Broughton
"Kings Place has had an ongoing series of concerts called Venus Unwrapped exploring female creativity in music. In Hall Two were some rising stars. Fran & Flora released their debut album Unfurl earlier this year, mainly featuring music they’ve learned from traditional musicians in Eastern Europe and from archives. Francesca Ter-Berg plays cello and Flora Curzon violin although both also sang a couple of songs – in Romanian and Yiddish. It was very intimate creating a special aura."
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"A remarkable debut from the violin and cello duo."
"Flora Curzon (violin) and Francesca Ter-Berg (cello) demonstrate a symbiotic musical relationship in this at times remarkable debut album. The duo are part of London’s experimental folk and jazz scene, working with artists such as Talvin Singh, Sam Lee & Friends and Portico Quartet. Their own particular jam is music from south-eastern Europe and beyond: from Romania, Greece and Armenia. Theirs is not a passing interest, however; Curzon and Ter-Berg have studied with masters of the music traditions of these regions. A clue to their immersion in this music is the singing on Unfurl, which is in Romanian and Yiddish and sounds idiomatic. ‘La Obreja’ (the title refers to a town in western Transylvania), a solo vocal sounds timeless and pure. ‘Mayn Rue Platz’, an arrangement of a piece in Yiddish, is shone through a prism of electronics. But the string playing here is equally notable. ‘Romanian Fantasies’ is a simple duet of passionate violin tune and plucked cello accompaniment. On ‘Nubar Nubar’, the roles invert; a haunting, embellished cello melody is supported by low plucked lines on the violin, both instruments emerging out of the chimes of rustic bells." Tim Woodall, April Edition 2019
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"A new London-based string duo look set for great things. Tim Romain chats to them on the release of their debut album.
For a couple of years now, the London-based folk duo Fran & Flora have been pricking up ears on the UK scene for their innovative take on the traditional music of Eastern Europe. Through reinterpretation and experimentation they have developed a sound that is distinctively contemporary yet fiercely reverent, and which they perform with indisputable virtuosity and a down-to-earth gleefulness that is a pleasure to witness.
Individually, violinist Flora Curzon and cellist Francesca Ter-Berg have been highly sought-after musicians and have played with an impressively diverse range of acts including Sam Lee, Talvin Singh, Floating Points and Portico Quartet; meanwhile praise for their own compositions and arrangements has been flowing from the likes of DJs Max Reinhardt and Tom Robinson. Their debut album Unfurl, which interweaves musical threads from Transylvanian, klezmer, Romanian, Greek and Armenian traditions was released amid palpable excitement in February this year, and is just the latest stage of an epic “Eastern European musical journey” that the two Londoners embarked upon before they had even met.
Was it this that first drew them together? We had a shared passion, but it’s not just about liking the music,” Fran explains. “We liked how each other played the music - that’s really important. I think it’s got to do with the openness we both have, musically and in our personalities. We are quite empathetic, so it’s easy for us to immerse ourselves in other people’s world views, to get away from the sounds we grew up with.
Though both classically trained, they each credit learning by ear as a key part of their musical formation, something which proved crucial when delving into different folk traditions later on. This they undertook through musical pilgrimages to southern and eastern Europe to seek intensive instruction from a number of guru-like musicians (“all men with beards,” giggles Fran) including Tcha Limberger, Ross Daly and Alan Bern, who are the first to be thanked in the notes accompanying Unfurl. From them they learned to play the tricky doings (“a-rhythmic [sic] shepherd’s laments,” explains Fran, “a great brain work-out”) that appear on the album, as well as new stylistic and improvisational techniques that have shaped the way they play together. While eager to learn from different traditions, they retain a certain mindfulness of their own positionalities when it comes to the music they play, but they don’t let it hold them back. “Why are we playing this music? Do we have a right to do this, as neither of us comes from those traditions? What does it mean to be playing this music as people from London today?” These are unanswerable questions, but no less important, according to Flora: “Actually that keeps it alive. Rather than shutting it down and being like ‘it’s OK’ or ‘it’s not OK,’ you have to live in the grey area of ‘how are we doing this? Can we be more sensitive towards the tradition?’. As ‘grey areas’ go, they have managed to make theirs a fruitful one." Tim Romain, April Edition 2019
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SONGLINES "SIMON SAYS..."
"The violin and cello duo are classically trained, particularly Flora Curzon who completed a masters degree at the Royal Academy of Music, but they both have a long-held love of Transylvanian, Gypsy and klezmer styles which are the speciality as Fran & Flora.
Fran & Flora complement each other well, with Fran playing cello with deep concentration, looking pained with the intensity of the melodies, while Flora’s default expression is a radiant smile, as if bathed in the beauty of the music.
What’s impressive is how seriously they take this repertoire.
Of course, in the 21st century there are unprecedented opportunities to get transcriptions, hear archive recordings and access musicians online. But best of all, with the ease of travel across Europe, is access to the great masters themselves, Just like the musicians in She’Koyokh, another superb band who do things properly, Fran & Flora have been to the source. They have gone to Belgium to work with the brilliant Tcha Limberger and to the Transylvanian village of Beica de Jos near Târgu Mures to study with fiddler Marcel Ramba, half Jewish, half Gypsy. Flora also went to work with violinist Marin Bunea in Chisinâu, Moldova, who played in the excellent Other Europeans band. “Working with musicians like this is not about ‘unlearning’ anything,” she says, “it’s actually the opposite. It makes you realise just how much you’ve got to learn.”
Today’s opportunities may be better than ever before, but the art is the same - to create something new while still respecting the tradition." Simon Broughton, April Edition 2019
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'Other world music picks this month'
"…And the adventurous London-based string duo Fran & Flora (violinist Flora Curzon and cellist Francesca Ter-Berg)[sic] mix eastern European themes and electronica on the brave and classy Unfurl." Robin Denselow, 22 Feb 2019
"Any act citing the great Manouche violinist Tcha Limberger as a mentor and inspiration is worthy of further investigation. And the debut release from violinist Flora Curzon and cellist Francesca Ter-Berg does not disappoint. ‘London’s best-kept secret’ really should be more widely known, and even revered for its captivating, quasi-mystical, meditative summoning of landscape, tradition and beauty. This is a lost, often Eastern European, other world, of fragile and filigreed klezmer, Roma music and much else besides. And the whole is perfectly wrapped in a spectrally pencilled cover of bare trees by Oscar-garlanded Lord of the Rings artist, Alan Lee.
The album’s most significant achievement is its convolution of personal story and influence. Talking Trees is an appropriately organic excavation, from ‘a dark Thracian tune’ that the duo learned and connected with in Crete. Strings are washed in subtle electronically to create a low ebb and hum, above which gentle soloing and beseeching vocals recreate a warm darkness out of time. Listen to the trees talking with your eyes closed, the duo suggest.
In late-night experimentation and resignation, riffs and motifs rapidly circle out of the darkness and into an uneasy electronica calm of elemental weather and desperate melancholy. This approach unearths new and telling details in laments from Transylvania and in Jewish music recorded onto wax cylinder by lost violin and cimbalom maestros in early twentieth-century Russia. Romanian Fantasies is an example of the latter, two fragile experts from a larger suite played with a sweep of detail and invention, startling and percussive cello replacing cimbalom in a lyrical, emotionally broken and timeless reinterpretation. A compressed and arresting vision of love and death and nature and time.: John Pheby, April Edition 2019.
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SUNDAY TIMES CULTURE MAGAZINE
"The borders don’t exist any more. Violinist Flora Curzon and the cellist Francesca Ter-Berg go wandering across multiple genres, mixing Balkan modes with electronica and drone effects. The violinist Tcha Limberger is a role model, and the best of their pieces have the same light touch. Don’t be deterred by the austerity; by the time the duo reach Romanian Fantasies, the rhythms are dancing." 6 January 2019
'New Weird Britain: January’s Most Wonderful UK Underground Releases'
"Fran & Flora, our final London two-piece for today, are a cellist and a violinist who have done backing group/session work on many releases of varying relevance to this column. Fran Ter-Berg, for example, plays on the black metal album with the best artwork of 2018 (I just wanted an excuse to show you a picture of it). Unfurl, her and Flora Curzon’s self-released debut album, finds the pair performing their own material for the first time as well as interpolations of Romanian folk songs and the like. The results sometimes border on chamber music, as with ‘Geamporales’, while occasional pepperings of electronic tinkering don’t spoil the organic idyll – ‘Mayn Rue Platz’, a Yiddish poem from the early 20th century, is accompanied by all manner of glitches and backmasking, but proves a successful gambit. Fran & Flora do wordless sorrow especially well, ‘Doina 1’ sawing and droning with a giddy elegance which I think is rooted in Greek folk modes. Total Late Junction bait, this, but that’s no damning assessment in my book." Noel Gardner, January 29th, 2019
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'Song For Ewe'
"unfurl’ has an otherworldly, almost magical timeless quality, and Fran & Flora’s telepathy plays into this artful prestidigitation." Nick Hutchings, January 8 2019.
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‘Seedlings of the Mind Mixtape by Fran & Flora’
"Fran & Flora’s mixtape for Concrete Islands opens a portal and takes a journey across cultures and musical styles, through the Fourth World and beyond." Stewart Gardiner, April 29 2019.
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