ARTISTS

Onyx Brass

Onyx Brass
Chamber Ensemble

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018, 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 premieres 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 premiered 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.
Onyx Brass 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 albums 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 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 master-classes 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.


Working with singers also forms a central part of Onyx’s work: the group recorded the music of Parry with the Westminster Abbey Choir, which reached the top spot in the specialist classical chart. 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, London Symphony 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 by BBC Radio 3 and released on NMC Recordings.

Image Credit: 
Benjamin Ealovega
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DESCRIPTION

Onyx Brass
Niall Keatley trumpet
Alan Thomas trumpet
Andrew Sutton horn
Amos Miller trombone
David Gordon-Shute tuba
 

Amos Miller writes ... The release of this album marks the 25th anniversary of Onyx Brass. During this period, we have premiered around 200 new works, and believe that new music is utterly essential both for the development of brass chamber music and to the wider survival and success of classical music. In 1994, I was a participant in the Banff International Jazz Summer School, where one of the tutors was Kenny Wheeler. I was completely smitten by both his music and his playing, and thought that, one day, I might have the courage to approach him to write a piece for our newly formed quintet. Fast-forward to 2012, where I was fortunate enough to be playing on Gwilym Simcock’s amazing album Instrumation, and this long-held idea was suddenly given life. Having persuaded Gwilym to agree to write us something, I was then chatting with the drummer Martin France at a tea break, and I mentioned my long-held dream to ask Kenny to write a brass quintet piece. Martin immediately gave me Kenny’s phone number, and said “call him now, and tell him I said so!” Kenny was grace personified, and agreed, with the caveat that it might take him some time. Less than three weeks later, he called back with the news that he’d already finished it! Having Kenny and Gwilym on board made it much easier to approach the other legends on this album, all of whom have also been astoundingly generous and enthusiastic about the project. This commissioning side of this project has been entirely self-funded by Onyx Brass, and we would like to put on record our heartfelt gratitude to the composers for their generosity, both of time and talent.

There is currently a golden era in British jazz, and we felt that it was important, not just from a brass chamber music perspective, but also from a wider classical music point of view, that this wealth of talent should be tapped to create music in a jazz idiom, using each composer’s unique understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm, but playable by classical musicians. The commissioning brief for each composer was simple: something around 5 minutes and do whatever you want! We are completely thrilled by the results, and hope you have as much fun listening to it as we have had playing it.

REVIEWS

'The composers move between jazz and classical music - terrific sound and playing' Gramophone

FUNDING

NMC is especially grateful for the support of Jeremy Marchant and an anonymous donor in memory of Hal Miller in making this recording.

RECORDING CREDITS

Recorded at All Saints East Finchley, London on 6-8 June 2017

DAVID LEFEBER Recording Engineer & Producer
SUSANNE STANZELEIT digital editing

Catalogue number:
NMC D237
Release Date:
18 May 2018