5 Questions to Vulva Voce

You read that right: Vulva Voce. V.U.L.V.A. Voce. Say it out loud!

There are so many fine string quartets on the contemporary UK scene, and it is increasingly difficult for new ensembles to find a point of difference that really makes them stand out from the crowd. Vulva Voce is one such quartet – though they see themselves as a band rather than a classical ensemble. Formed at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, they are Julia Sandros-Alper and Georgina MacDonell Finlayson (violins), Nadia Eskandari (viola), and Lucy McLuckie (cello). In 2023, they won the Nonclassical Battle of the Bands competition, released their début single, and toured Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.

Recently I saw the group perform as the final act of a supersized 26-hour concert Let HER Music Play, organised by Donne: Women in Music, an event that aimed to achieve a Guinness World Record for the longest continuous acoustic livestreamed concert. The most remarkable fact about this event was that all featured composers were women or non-binary people. Vulva Voce’s set injected a welcome burst of energy at the end of this marathon: their performances combine a high level of musicianship with movement, improvisation, and imaginative repertoire, enabling them to connect with audiences in a fresh and dynamic way, even when viewed on a computer screen.

Vulva Voce say they want to bring “music composed by women and underrepresented voices to spaces beyond the concert hall.” In March, they made their US début at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, and on 18 May, they return to London to perform a set at The Jago for the innovative concert promoters, Through the Noise. l caught up with the quartet in advance of this show.

First of all… I have to ask you about the quartet’s name! Why this choice?

The name Vulva Voce actually came about very spontaneously. It started out as our quartet group chat name, but after six months of playing together, we realised more and more that it encompassed a lot of the values we shared as a group. Our main aims are to empower women and underrepresented voices in music and to create performances for a wider and more inclusive audience. Vulva Voce was, to begin with, a pun on the academic term viva voce, which served as a homage to our traditional classical backgrounds whilst also subverting and disrupting the stereotypes that come along with them. Voce is the Latin word for “voice,” so if people want to translate our name to mean “the voice of the vulva,” that sounds perfect to us!

You see yourselves as a band rather than a traditional string quartet. Why are you more comfortable with the “band” label?

When we found our identity as Vulva Voce, we made a deliberate choice to have a group name which didn’t include the words “quartet,” “ensemble,” or “strings.” As much as we, of course, are a string quartet, we feel like the term comes with a lot of assumptions, and the term “band” instead leaves us with greater creative freedom to be who we want to be. Bridging the gap between the classical and non-classical worlds can sometimes be difficult, as in the pop world, we are immediately labelled as “classical,” by virtue of the instruments we play; but in classical spaces, the way we present ourselves lands more in the pop or classical crossover category.

A lot of our creative choices are also more reminiscent of bands. We write our own music, we perform and compose music that spans across multiple genres, including folk, jazz, and even techno, and we have a strong identity as a group. Vulva Voce started out by performing at open mic nights in bars and pubs, where the organisers had never had a string quartet perform before, and today we always love performing in venues such as nightclubs and festival stages that usually lack classical presence.

Vulva Voce -- Photo by Rec Productions

Vulva Voce — Photo by Rec Productions

You play a lot of contemporary music alongside sometimes unexpected music of the past, for instance, your arrangements of madrigals by the late Renaissance composer Maddalena Casulana. How do you construct your programmes?

Our programme is a combination of everything we enjoy playing. The set list for each gig is tailored to fit the venue and audience, but it always keeps the same core principle of being music written by women and underrepresented composers, no matter the time period or genre. We all bring our own influences into the music we choose to play and write, and our programme has changed and developed over time. As we have continued to develop our artistic identity, we have carefully chosen which new pieces to memorise in order to make them part of our core repertoire. Most importantly, we want to create an exciting show for our audiences, so we curate programmes that are both entertaining and expressive. Some of the music that we perform, like Casulana’s madrigals, is largely unknown, and since playing together we’ve done lots of research into re-discovering forgotten music written by women throughout history. We really enjoy the fact that we can perform Italian Renaissance songs about love and heartbreak to a contemporary audience in a nightclub.

Your live performances include far more movement than is typical for a string quartet! It seems to be a great way of engaging with the audience. How do you devise the stage presentation of your performances?

We knew that we wanted to create dynamic and visually engaging performances, so we decided from the beginning to always play standing up and eventually to memorise our entire sets. This gives us much greater physical freedom on stage and allows us to connect both with each other, and with our audiences. Moving and dancing on stage comes very naturally to us, and it’s hard to stand still when so much of the music we play is really groovy. A lot of our movement also comes from interacting with each other and embodying the music. We want to have as much fun as possible when we’re on stage and we want our audience to feel that energy as well. We especially enjoy playing gigs where the audience is also standing up, and we want them to feel comfortable to dance along with us.

I’m looking forward to your London noisenight on 18 May, which is part of Through the Noise’s season. How does their approach to putting on concerts align with yours?

We’ve been fans of Through the Noise for a while, so we’re very excited to perform for them in May! Their line-up this season is spectacular, and we’re so grateful to be a part of it. It feels like a great collaboration, as the type of atmosphere that they aim to create in their gigs is very similar to ours. We love the kinds of venues they choose to showcase classical music in, and we believe this helps to bring in a more diverse and inclusive audience. In a venue like The Jago in Dalston, it’s possible to create an intimate performance experience for the audience, as well as a space where people can move around and dance. We also love how noisenights combine classical artists with bands and DJ sets later in the evening, which allows classical and non-classical music listeners alike to discover new, fantastic music!


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

You can support the work of ICIYL with a tax-deductible gift to ACF. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or