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Artists · Ensembles · Onyx Brass

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

Onyx Brass is one of the rare breed of chamber ensembles whose musical and technical virtuosity is matched by the accessibility and vitality of their presentation. Their mission is to have their extraordinary abilities at the disposal of the music at all times, and to play music of the requisite quality to reflect the status of the brass quintet as a serious medium for chamber music. The richness and warmth of their sound is remarked upon by all who hear them.

Onyx Brass performs concerts worldwide, offering programmes built from a vast repertoire. The group plays a wealth of music from original compositions to arrangements of religious music; from ceremonial fanfares to songs from the shows; from the beautiful simplicity of a Bach fugue to the stomp of a Copland ballet. Individual requests are preferred but, if asked to, the group can come up with a suitable programme sure to have broad appeal which, also manages to challenge its audience. Onyx has a particular commitment to commissioning and performing new works. This is exemplified by having the celebrated and critically-acclaimed Tim Jackson. as the ensemble’s composer-in-association. The group is also acutely aware of how daunting new music can be for an audience. Every step is, therefore, taken to ensure that pieces are palatable on a first listening and that the audience is furnished with as much relevant information as possible. Onyx would like people to enjoy listening to new music as much as the group enjoys playing it.

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Schools

Wherever their recital work takes the ensemble, a commitment to schools goes with them. A typical day sees the group giving a number of short schools concerts or workshops, followed by an evening recital. Onyx has a themed workshop day called A Sporting Chance. This is based on a piece written for the group by Bob Chilcott and involves a schools choir working with Onyx for the day. Each movement of the piece describes a different sporting discipline, including sprinting trumpets, a soccer rap and an ice skating trombone! Along with them an optional set of dancers and actors from the school may participate. The whole day is then directed by an highly experienced animateur and will include a performance to parents at the end of the day. This highly successful project began in 2000 in conjunction with Making Music (formerly National Federation of Music Societies) and toured over the U.K. After gaining sponsorship from ING Barings, Onyx repeated the project to great acclaim in schools within the London Borough of Hackney.

Higher Education

Onyx Brass are also very active and experienced in the field of music education, having conducted workshops and master classes for a huge range of people. They have directed educational days at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and have just relinquished their post as ensemble-in-residence at Radley College, Oxfordshire. More recently, Onyx went back to the National Youth Orchestra for a day and coached the talented young brass students for a cooperative concert that evening. International highlights were the invitations to host masterclasses for students at The Juilliard School, New York, The Boston Conservatory and The University of Idaho, during the ensemble’s 2006 Tour of the USA. The success of these sessions can been seen from the comments on the press page.

Choirs

Since 2001, Onyx Brass have focussed a lot more intently on repertoire for brass and choir. This is mainly due to their hugely beneficial partnership with the John Armitage Memorial charity. This organization promotes between 2 and 5 concerts a year which are held in churches and halls across the country. The programme is always based around a major commission and then supported by submitted entries from composers yet to break in to the mainstream. These are then assessed and selected by a panel of distinguished composers and musicians. In the past, Tim Jackson, Jonathan Dove, John McCabe and Paul Patterson, Judith Bingham and Tarik O’Regan have composed the featured commission. The concerts involve the BBC Singers and the choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge. Onyx are very proud to be part of an organization which fosters new compositional talent as well as commission major works each year from established composers.

Additionally, the music of John Rutter explores the repertoire for brass and choir with great success. Onyx are regularly asked to accompany choirs and choral societies in performances of his Gloria. The group has numerous other dazzling works in its repertoire should promoters be in need of more brass/choir repertoire to draw on.

Biography

Celebrating its 21st anniversary in 2014, 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 100 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, Stuart MacRae, Michael Nyman, Joe Duddell, John Tavener, Judith Bingham, John McCabe, Tarik O’Regan, Cheryl Frances Hoad, Timothy Jackson, Graham Lynch, Steve Martland, Arne Werkman, Jonathan Dove, John White, Paul Mealor, Julian Phillips, Rory Boyle, Kenny Wheeler and Trish Clowes.

During its first 21 years, Onyx has toured extensively: there are very few corners of the UK that remain unvisited! The group has performed regularly at festivals and concert halls in the USA, Ireland, France, Sweden, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland to unanimous critical acclaim, acclaim that has also been forthcoming for its recordings. Its five 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 conducted 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. The group is currently resident ensemble of 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. 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 various orchestras, including the 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, the Britten-Pears Foundation, the RVW Trust and the Leche Trust – 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.

They have a recording of music by Brahms, Schumann and Janacek in the pipeline for release by Meridian records, and are planning a disc of new commissions by some of the UK’s greatest jazz composers.

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Press reviews

"One of the most engaging concerts I have attended in some time. Their obvious enthusiasm for the repertoire was infectious. I’ve never heard contemporary music sound so accessible. The audience loved it." Tom Lewis, EMI Classics

"Onyx Brass come alive as responsive individuals most readily in the Shostakovich. The G major fugue is supremely virtuoso, the E minor resplendent and dramatic, the D major questing and deft. And then comes the urgency of the G sharp minor, the multi-layered A flat and the orchestrally-inspired struggle of the D minor (marked resonancesof the Fifth Symphony in its new guise) – all delivered with a liberated and characterful imagination…The real achievement, however, is the Shostakovich, already downloaded on my iPod as some of the most thrilling chamber brass-playing of its kind." Gramophone on Fugue, Sept 2008

"With its scrupulous attention to balance, timbre and nuance of phrasing, it is reminiscent of the Philip Jones quintet in its prime, where total integration of five musical personalities becomes an ensemble that is much more than the sum of its parts….five stars." BBC Music Magazine

"Their tone is clean and the phrasing well shaped, with intelligent application of slurs." The Times on Fugue

The Boys

Niall Keatley

Niall began his musical studies at the City of Belfast School of Music at the age of nine. While at the C.B.S.M he was a member of the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra and also played with a number of Brass Bands in the Northern Ireland area. In addition Niall was principal trumpet with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain performing in some of Europe’s finest concert halls. Niall was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music where his teachers included, Ian Balmain, James Watson and John Wallace. During this time Niall was a member of the European Union Youth Orchestra and also spent a short time with the Black Dyke Mills Brass Band. As a free-lance trumpet player Niall has performed with various orchestras including, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. In 2002 Niall performed Haydn’s trumpet concerto on BBC television with the Ulster Orchestra as part of the BBC Last night of the Proms, Proms in the Park series. As well as being a member of Onyx brass, Niall has performed with a number of chamber ensembles including, London Brass, LSO Brass, London Winds and the Wallace Collection.

Alan Thomas

Alongside his work with Onyx brass, Alan is also the Principal Trumpet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, probably most famous for its performances in the BBC proms season and most notably the Last night of the Proms. Previous to this appointment he was Joint-Principal Trumpet of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 2004-13.

Alan studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire between 1996 and 2000 where he gained a first class honours degree. During this time he won the Shell/LSO prize, playing the Hummel trumpet concerto with the LSO in the Barbican, and won the Brass prize in the Royal Overseas League. He was also a winner of the Musicians Benevolent Fund’s Charles Leggett Award.

Alan moved to London to study at the Royal College of Music under the guidance of Malcolm Smith, Andy Crowley and Paul Archibald. Whilst there, he gained experience freelancing with London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Opera House, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, London Brass and Ensemble Modern. He returned to the Birmingham Conservatoire in 2004 as a trumpet tutor and was awarded Honorary Membership in 2006 and a Fellowship in 2012. He is also a Professor of Trumpet at the Royal College of Music.

Andrew Sutton

Andrew began by playing the tenor horn at his local brass band in Bristol aged 8 but shortly swapped to the french horn, studying at the Royal Academy of Music with Derek Taylor and Richard Watkins. Like the other members of the quintet, while at music college he was a member of the European Union Youth Orchestra.

On leaving the RAM, Andrew has led a varied career in music. As well as being a member of the Orchestra of the English National Opera and the English Chamber Orchestra, he plays regularly with the Philharmonia, BBC, Royal Philharmonic, Royal Opera House, and London Symphony orchestras. With these groups he has worked with some of the worlds finest musicians and toured extensively around the globe. In addition to Onyx, he performs with other chamber ensembles such as London Winds, the Haffner ensemble, the Wallace collection, and the Ensemble Modern of Frankfurt.

Andrew also teaches horn at Eton College. He is a member of the group Campaign For Real Ale.

Amos Miller

Amos studied at Oxford University and the Royal Academy of Music, learning with John Berry, Eric Crees, Denis Wick and Ian Bousfield, and playing principal trombone for the National and European Youth Orchestras. Having gained the Dip.RAM, the Academy’s highest award for performance, he completed the Jazz Course at the Banff Center for the Arts in Canada, under artists such as Jim Hall and Kenny Wheeler. On leaving the RAM he was awarded the coveted Meaker fellowship.

He now combines the post of principal trombone with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia (to which he was appointed in 2003) with a busy freelance career in which he has worked as guest principal trombone with all the major London orchestras, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, as well as the English Chamber Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin’s, the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He has also appeared on more than thirty film soundtracks, including ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Terminator Salvation’, and ‘Inception’. Abroad, he has worked with Ensemble Modern of Frankfurt and is guest principal with the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada in Spain. He is also a member of the City of London Sinfonia.

He is the co-author of “Time Pieces for Trombone” for the Associated Board, and is the author of “A New Tune a Day for Trombone”, published by the Boston Music Company. He is a trustee of the Clarence Myerscough and Christopher Horn charitable trusts and is an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music.

David Gordon Shute

David trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Cambridge University and the Royal Academy of Music. Through the fantastic experiences of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the European Union Youth Orchestra came a passion for music: both playing and teaching.

David regularly freelances with the major London orchestras including the LSO, RPO, LPO, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the BBC Orchestras and has enjoyed playing on various soundtracks including The Two Towers and Zero Dark Thirty. David has been the tuba teacher at Eton College since 2001, receiving a promotion in 2009 to Head of Brass. In addition, he has coached the tuba section of the NYO, the brass section of the Herts County Youth Orchestra and given masterclasses all over the world with Onyx Brass including the Juilliard School in New York.

David currently holds the posts of Founder/Member Onyx Brass, Principal Tuba in the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, the Orchestra for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Head of Brass at Eton College.

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Sample programmes

On an overgrown path

This programme of Romantic music represents a new and exciting chapter in the Onyx Brass story. This carefully selected group of pieces have many common emotional threads: nostalgia, wistfulness, sorrow and tranquillity to name but a few.
The clarity of texture and melodic line in the originals means that we fervently believe that everything here makes the voyage to brass very successfully, and will enhance the listener’s understanding and appreciation of these extraordinary masterpieces.

Brahms (arr. Maynard) – Intermezzo in E flat Op. 117 No. 1
Brahms (arr. Maynard) – Intermezzo in A Op. 118 No. 2
Brahms (arr. Maynard) – Ballade in G minor Op. 118 No. 3
Schumann (arr. Miller) – Scenes from Childhood
Janacek (arr. Hollings) – On an Overgrown Path, Book 2
Brahms (arr. Gordon-Shute) – Three Motets, Op. 110
Mendelssohn (arr. Thomson) – Song without Words Op. 38 No. 7 ‘Duetto’
Chopin (arr. Maynard) – Prelude Op. 28 in D flat ‘Raindrop’
Brahms (arr. Thomson) – Geistliches Lied

The Golden Age

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 arr. Horn – Ritornello from the Vespers (1612)
Dowland arr. Jackson – Three movements from “Lachrymae” (Flow my Tears)
Purcell arr. D.G. Shute – Remember not Lord our Offences
Tim Jackson – Seventeen Variations on a Theme of John Dowland
A Gabrieli – Ricercar del duodecimi tuoni
X. Montsalvatge – Questions and Answers on a Ricercar of Andrea Gabrieli
Purcell arr. D.G. Shute – Fantasia on One Note
Holborne arr. Dart – Dance Suite
Elliott Carter – One Note Fantasy
Tim Jackson – Anything But
Tallis – Hymn Tune
Tim Jackson – Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis

Art of the Fugue

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

A special relationship

Onyx’s recent CD, Time to Time, released in 2011, and features well-known classics such as Copland’s exuberant Rodeo, plus Charles Ives and Samuel Barber alongside James MacMillan, Joe Duddell and Stuart Macrae, and ending on a lighter note with a selection of music from Broadway.

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

Programme performed at the Théâtre de Narbonne in May 2015 :

Shakespeare/Anon - Five Songs from "Romeo and Juliet" (arr Tim Jackson)
Giovanni Gabrieli - Canzon
Couperin - "Les Baricades Misterieuses" (arr. Bernard Hughes)
J. S. Bach - Chorale Prelude "Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland" (arr David Powell)
Oystein Baadsvik - Fnugg
J. S. Bach - Fugues in C major, Ab major and D minor (chromatic) (arr DGS, AM)
--entracte--
Brahms - Intermezzo no 2 op 118, Ballade no 3 op 118 (arr James Maynard)
Joe Duddell - Still Life
Timothy Jackson - Tout Sauf
Kenny Wheeler - 1 for 5
Jason Rebello - Inevitable Outcome
Gershwin - Two songs

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