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Artistic Directors - Zahra Benyounes & Emily Holland

Zahra was the first violinist and founding member of the prize-winning Benyounes Quartet with whom she has performedand recorded for 15 years. With the quartet she has performed internationally at leading venues and festivals including Wigmore Hall, Vienna Konzerthaus, Verbier, Aldeburgh and given multiple radio broadcasts. The quartet’s diverse discography including their most recent album ‘Innovators’ for Champs Hill Records have received widespread critical acclaim.

Further experience as a chamber musician has led to collaborations with internationally renowned artists such as Nicky Spence, Tim Ridout, David Cohen, Awadagin Pratt and Julian Bliss, and as soloist she has performed with the BBC Singers live on Radio 3. With the Benyounes, Zahra has premiered numerous works for string quartet by pioneering contemporary composers such as Paul Ruders, Philip Cashian, Simon Bainbridge and John Woolrich.
Zahra lead the Chineke! Orchestra’s 2021 BBC Prom and the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall post lockdown with Sheku Kanneh-Mason as soloist. She has appeared as guest principal with leading UK ensembles including Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, BBCNOW, Riot Ensemble, Aurora and 12 Ensemble. Zahra regularly performs and records with the innovative London Contemporary Orchestra and has featured on film sound tracks Matrix Resurrections, Phantom Thread - Thom York, Alien Covenant - Jed Kurzel and on albums by Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean and Radiohead.
Her tutors have included Gabor Takacs-Nagy, Maciej Rakowski and Quatuor Ebene and she has participated in masterclasses with artists including Pamela Frank, Eberhard Feltz, Peter Copper and Andras Keller. As a teacher herself, Zahra is on the faculty of chamber music at the Royal Northern College of Music and she has given masterclasses at conservatoires and universities across the UK and Ireland.

Equally at home in the recording studio, Zahra spends much of her career working for film, TV and record producers at major London studios such as Abbey Road, AIR and RAK. She has recorded for a multitude of commerical artists primarily as part of Wired Strings. She has performed live at the Royal Albert Hall with Michael Kiwanuka, Stereophonics, Goldfrapp, Boy George and Bjork and live on ‘Later with Jools Holland’, The Brits and for London Fashion Week.


Emily was also a founding member of the Benyounes Quartet along with Sara Roberts and Kim Vaughan. In 2023 she joined the long established Piatti Quartet who are currently the resident quartet in Kings Place, London. She owes her formative music education to her violin teacher David Hadwen, the Staffordshire Music Service and a dedicated mother... Following her time at the Royal Northern studying with Benedict Holland and Maciej Rakowski, Emily spent two years at the Haute Ecole de Musique de Geneve with the Benyounes Quartet studying with Gabor Takacs-Nagy, they then returned to London and held a Junior Fellowship at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Emily enjoys a varied freelance career regularly performing with ensembles including The Philharmonia, Royal Northern Sinfonia, London Contemporary Orchestra, 12 Ensemble and TV/Film recording with the Chamber Orchestra of London.
She has been involved in outreach and education throughout her career, she worked for the Council for Music in Hospitals for many years and is qualified in the musicianship training programme ‘Dalcroze Eurhythmics’. Emily is currently Head of Strings at Oakham School.


Zahra and Emily have been Artistic Directors of SDSM since 2017 taking over the role from the festival founders, Jeremy Young and Daniel Bhattacharya.

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