Onyx Brass, Brass Quintet
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.
On an Overgrown Path
Parry: I was Glad
Pavans Fantasias Variations
Time to Time
The Far Theatricals od Day
The Romantic Era was a time when intimate chamber groups and huge orchestras flourished – but what of the brass quintet? Onyx's programme of original arrangements of piano and choral works fills in the gap.
Through Onyx's performances, audiences are sure to appreciate these pieces from some of the 19th Century's most famous composers – such as Brahms, Mendelssohn and Chopin – in a new and exciting way.
Brahms – Intermezzo in E flat Op. 117 No. 1
Brahms – Intermezzo in A Op. 118 No. 2
Brahms – Ballade in G minor Op. 118 No. 3
Schumann – Scenes from Childhood
Janáček – On an Overgrown Path, Book 2
Brahms – Three Motets, Op. 110
Mendelssohn – Song without Words Op. 38 No. 7 ‘Duetto’ Chopin - Prelude Op. 28 in D flat ‘Raindrop’
Brahms – Geistliches Lied
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)
Purcell – Remember not Lord our Offences
Tim Jackson – Seventeen Variations on a Theme of John Dowland
Gabrieli – Ricercar del duodecimi tuoni
Montsalvatge – Questions & Answers on a Ricercar of Andrea Gabrieli
Purcell – Fantasia on One Note
Holborne – Dance Suite
Elliott Carter – One Note Fantasy
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 twelve 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. Its tremendous variety – beginning with a Stomp and ending with a Sweet Suite – guarantees audience enjoyment.
The programme is new for 2017, and will be recorded for the NMC label in 2018.
Gwilym Simcock – Stomper
Trish Clowes – The Mighty Pencil
Mark Nightingale – For Rosie
Mick Foster – Hamlet Stories
Mike Walker – Let her go
Jason Rebello – Inevitable Outcome
Kenny Wheeler – 1 for 5
David Powell – Symbols at your Door
Laurence Cottle – Holy Chalcedony
Guy Barker – Onyx Noir
Liam Noble – Imaginary Dance
Colin Skinner – Sweet Suite
From Bach to Shostakovich, many composers have risen to the challenge of fugue. Bach’s The Art of Fugue set the mark for exceptional craftsmanship and elegance, and a selection of the very greatest are presented in this programme, alongside Shostakovich’s equally powerful contributions. Peppered in are ripostes in a range of styles, all wonderfully elucidated by the quintet in their recent CD The Art of Fugue.
*Bruckner – Postludium
*Bach arr. D.G. Shute – Fugue in C major
*Shostakovich arr. Amos Miller – Fugue in C major
*A. Werkman – Partita no 1
*Shostakovich arr. Amos Miller – Fugue in D major
*Bach arr. Niall Keatley – Fugue in D major
*Malcolm Arnold – Quintet
Bach arr. D.G. Shute – Fugue in A flat major
Shostakovich arr. Andrew Sutton – Fugue in A flat major
A. Werkman – Partita no 2
Tim Jackson – Anything But
*Shostakovich arr. Brian Thomson – Fugue in G minor
*Bach arr. Wright – Fugue in G minor
*Bach – Chorale Prelude Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland
*lunchtime concert version
Based on Onyx’s CD Time to Time (2011), this programme features well-known classics such as Copland’s exuberant Rodeo, plus works by Charles Ives and Samuel Barber alongside newer pieces by contemporary composers James MacMillan, Joe Duddell and Stuart Macrae. It ends with an uplifting Broadway medley.
*James Maynard – Fanfare
Tim Jackson – Two Haiku
*Stuart Macrae – Two Cairns
*Ives arr. Howey – Variations on America
*James MacMillan – Adam’s Rib
Graham Lynch – Red Fuji
Tim Jackson – Anything But
*Copland arr. Hollings – Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo
*and including songs from Broadway
*lunchtime concert version
Onyx Brass, the sound, well, just listen!BBC Radio 3
Spine-tingling monumentalism.BBC Music Magazine
An awesome majesty of sound.The Telegraph
Easily the classiest brass ensemble in Britain.BBC Music Magazine