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Onyx Brass, Brass Quintet

Biography

Niall Keatley (Trumpet), Alan Thomas (Trumpet), Andrew Sutton (Horn), Amos Miller (Trombone), David Gordon Shute (Tuba)

Having celebrated its 25th anniversary in the 2017-18 season, Onyx Brass continues to be the leading light in establishing the brass quintet as a medium for serious chamber music, inspired by the pioneering early years of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. To this end, the group has commissioned and performed the world premières of well over 150 new works, with many more in the pipeline for performance and recording.

It is a point of justifiable pride for the group to play authentic and sometimes challenging music, yet remain a group which is utterly accessible to audiences: there is no need to “dumb down” when programmes are presented in the entertaining and articulate fashion that has become the group’s trademark. A brief snapshot of the composers whose work Onyx has premièred includes David Sawer, Thea Musgrave, Stuart MacRae, Michael Nyman, Joe Duddell, John Tavener, Judith Bingham, John McCabe, Tarik O’Regan, Cheryl Frances Hoad, Timothy Jackson, Gabriel Jackson, Giles Swayne, Graham Lynch, Steve Martland, Jonathan Dove, John White, Paul Mealor, Julian Philips, Rory Boyle, Kenny Wheeler, Guy Barker, Gwilym Simcock and Trish Clowes.

During its first 25 years, Onyx has toured extensively: there are very few corners of the UK that remain unvisited! The group has also performed regularly at festivals and concert halls in the USA, Ireland, France, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Nigeria, Bermuda and Borneo to unanimous critical acclaim, acclaim that has been similarly forthcoming for its recordings. Its six CDs are notable for their innovative and entertaining programming: for example, pairings of Bach and Shostakovich fugues, contemporary music linked with the renaissance music that inspired it, and disc featuring a partnership with the extraordinary baritone voice of Mark Stone. BBC Music Magazine described the group as “easily the classiest brass ensemble in Britain”, Gramophone hailed “some of the most thrilling chamber brass-playing of its kind” and the Observer described “an eclectic ear opener of a disc, virtuosically played”. Onyx and its recordings are also regularly featured on BBC Radio 3.

Education is a large part of the remit of Onyx Brass: they have led workshops and masterclasses in an enormous variety of contexts that range from Primary School reception classes to the Juilliard School of Music in New York. They have held various residencies, including at Radley College, The Royal Welsh School of Music and Drama, Westminster Abbey Choir School and Imperial College, University of London.

Work with singers also forms a central part of Onyx’s work: the group recently recorded an album for Hyperion with the Westminster Abbey Choir, featuring the music of Parry, which reached the top spot in the specialist classical chart. In recent years the group has worked regularly with the BBC Singers and the Choir of St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, as well as superb amateur choirs such as the Brighton Festival Chorus and the choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge. Much of this work has been under the auspices of the remarkable John Armitage Memorial trust, with whom Onyx Brass has been affiliated since its inception.

The individual members of the group are also active orchestral musicians: they hold permanent positions in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of English National Opera, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra.

During 2014, Onyx Brass toured the country, bringing contemporary brass music to bandstands, parks and public spaces as part of the Tour de Brass! The project was generously supported by PRS for Music’s New Music Biennial Scheme, and the Tour passed through London’s Southbank Centre and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music for special performances coinciding with the Commonwealth Games. The featured commission, “Bronze and Iron” by David Sawer, was recorded live for the NMC label and BBC Radio 3.

Their Meridian disc, On an Overgrown Path, was released to critical acclaim in 2015 and the group released two new discs in the first half of 2018: the Chandos disc, Fanfares, celebrating four dozen British fanfares, and the NMC disc Onyx Noir, celebrating the best of the British jazz scene with 12 new commissions. The 2018 discs were launched at some of the most prestigious London venues - Milton Court, Wigmore Hall and the Vortex Jazz Club.

onyxbrass.co.uk

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Discography

On an Overgrown Path

Parry: I was Glad

Pavans Fantasias Variations

Time to Time

Trisagion

Canite Tuba

The Far Theatricals od Day

Programmes

From showcasing some of the best that baroque music has to offer through unique arrangements that bring out the quintet’s five voices, to works inspired by the baroque, this programme celebrates the era in Onyx’s unique way.

From Bach to Duddell, the programme brings together centuries of incredible music.

Charpentier arr. Wright – Te Deum​
Couperin arr. Hughes – Suite
Rameau arr. Gordon-Shute – L’ Entrée de Polymnie from “Les Boreades”
Bach – Two Fugues
Handel – Suite from The Water Music
Bach – Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland
Handel arr. Gordon-Shute – Eternal Source of Light Divine
Shostakovich – Two Fugues
Various – An Impressionist Selection
Joe Duddell – Still Life
Various – A Jazz Selection

The Golden Age is one of Onyx’s most popular programmes: the five plucky brass players take you on an illustrated journey from 1612 to 2012, featuring spectacular music from the English Renaissance including Monteverdi, Dowland, Tallis, Purcell, Gabrieli and Holborne and some colourful and, perhaps, surprising latter-day responses from some of Onyx’s favourite living composers. 

Monteverdi – Ritornello from the Vespers (1612)
Dowland – Three movements from Lachrymae (Flow my Tears)
Palestrina arr. Wright – Exultate Deo​
Tim Jackson – Seventeen Variations on a Theme of John Dowland
Byrd arr. Powell – Sellenger's Round
Holborne – Dance Suite
Byrd – Suite
Trad. arr. Jackson – Songs from "Romeo and Juliet"
Tim Jackson – Anything But
Tallis – Hymn Tune
Tim Jackson – Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis 

Onyx's jazz programme: inspired by the recent surge of excellent British jazz musicians, Onyx has commissioned some of the most exciting composers in the scene to write works for the quintet. Onyx Noir is a programme that blurs the boundaries between jazz and classical chamber music, and brings together these excellent new commissions with complimentary older works. Its tremendous variety guarantees audience enjoyment.

An album of the same name, featuring twelve works written especially for Onyx Brass, was released on the NMC label in 2018. 

Bach – Fugue in A flat major BWV 862
Mick Foster – Hamlet Stories
Shostakovich – Fugue in A flat major Op. 87 no. 17
Trish Clowes – The Mighty Pencil
Shostakovich – Fugue in G major Op.87 no. 3
Mark Nightingale – For Rosie
Bach – Fugue in G Major BWV 541
Kenny Wheeler – One for Five
Tim Jackson – Anything But
Mike Walker – Let Her Go
Bach – Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland BWV 61
Jason Rebello – Inevitable Outcome

This programme brings together great British composers who have written extensively for brass chamber groups. Combining famous works by Malcolm Arnold and Imogen Holst with works written especially for Onyx by the likes of Kenny Wheeler and Jason Rebello, this programme showcases the richness of British writing for brass.

This programme features the following works:

Malcolom Arnold – Quintet no.1
Imogen Holst – Leiston Suite
Jason Rebello – Inevitable Outcome
Kenny Wheeler – One for Five
Herbert Chappell – Hollywood Portraits

A programme showcasing music from key British and American composers from the last century. The startlingly original voices of Ives, Copland, Arnold and Bernstein are coupled with works written for Onyx by some fantastic composers around today. 

James Maynard – Fanfare
Bernstein – Dance Suite
Imogen Holst – Leiston Suite
Shostakovich – Two Fugues 
Bernstein – Suite from "West Side Story"
Copland – Dance Episodes from "Rodeo"
Malcolm Arnold – Quintet no. 1
Ives – Variations on "America" (God Save the Queen)
Tim Jackson – Anything But
Jason Rebello – Inevitable Outcome
Mark Nightingale – For Rosie
Various – A Jazz selection

The brass and organ combination has a special quality to it. With Bach as the central figure in the programme, Onyx has put together works from across the centuries to explore the different ways composers have worked with these forces. The programme occasionally scales down to a more intimate setting with two works for solo trumpet and organ.

This programme features the following works:

Alan Hohvaness – Prayer St Gregory (solo trumpet + organ)
Giovanni Gabrieli – Sonate Pian' e Forte 
Bach – Chromatic fugue
Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D minor 
Monteverdi – Deus in adjutorium from the "Vespers 1610"
Poulenc – Suite Francaise
Flor Peeters – Aria (solo trumpet + organ)
Mussorgsky – The Great Gate of Kiev

A programme of some of Onyx’s favourite arrangements of mostly Romantic Era piano works, complemented by arrangements of piano pieces by jazz masters including Scott Joplin and Dave Brubeck. The brass versions of the works bring out a special quality to the hand-picked programme.

This programme features the following works:

Giovanni Gabrieli – Sonata Pian' e forte  
Brahms – Intermezzo and Ballade, Op. 118
Chopin – 'Raindrop' Prelude
Schumann – Scenes from Childhood 
Scott Joplin – Maple Leaf Rag
Dave Brubeck – Blue Rondo Alla Turk 
Simon Lesley – Time Out 
Fugues by Bach and Shostakovich

Reviews

Onyx Brass, the sound, well, just listen!

BBC Radio 3

Easily the classiest brass ensemble in Britain.

BBC Music Magazine

Spine-tingling monumentalism.

BBC Music Magazine

An awesome majesty of sound.

The Telegraph

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