Onyx Brass are one of the most acclaimed brass ensembles in Britain. On Thursday 24th May, 7:45pm at Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall they are joined by Baritone Mark Stone to showcase their talent in a concert of new works, premieres and arrangements of old classics from their new CD ‘Time to Time’ .
Catch up with the group as they answer questions about life inside and outside the music world.
You’ve been working together as an ensemble for quite a while now, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Andrew: It was probably our first ever performance at Wigmore Hall. Our reception brought me very close to blubbing!
Amos: We’re lucky enough to have had lots of highlights! Our Wigmore Hall début is definitely up there, but doing a masterclass and recital at the Juilliard School in NYC was great too (with a great meal after which also sticks in the memory…)
Two composers have commissioned works for the concert (Andrew Hamilton and Dan Jenkins). What challenges/rewards has each new commission presented you with?
Amos: Andrew’s piece looks simple on paper, but that’s highly deceptive! It’s completely original and full of emotion, and the challenge lies in achieving accuracy and pathos at the same time.
Niall: It’s always fun deconstructing a new piece. Usually new pieces look fantastically difficult and prove to be slightly easier than expected. The Hamilton was the opposite! It looked very simple at first sight and in fact proved to be quite difficult.
Dave: Without giving the game away, the Jenkins has a specific set of challenges centred around being extrovert, which has a different appeal to different members of the group. As in each new commission case we have had over the years, there is an inner satisfaction that we are able to help contribute to what is a relatively meagre repertory.
If you could commission a piece for Onyx from any one great composer of the past, who would it be?
Andrew: Beethoven! If we could have anything like the late string quartets, brass quintet as a medium would be so much more mainstream!
Niall: Well it’s a difficult because how can one imagine how Brahms or Beethoven would have written for that line up? I’d like to try a quintet by Haydn though – very difficult tuba parts I should think!
Great answers! Do you think anything is lost or gained from arranging these classic works from the repertory for brass ensemble?
David: The purists will say a lot has been lost but I would encourage them to wake up and smell the coffee! All the great composers, Bach especially, were happy to rearrange their music. If it means it appears in the public domain more often then it has to be in everyone’s interests.
For this project you are teaming up with the baritone Mark Stone. How would you describe Mark’s voice in one word?
David: I’d say Velvety…
Amos: Hmm. Bovril! (warm, smooth and meaty!)
So if you could do karaoke with Mark Stone, what would you sing?
Amos: It would be ignominious, but probably Burt Bacharach’s “Close to you”…
David: I’d have to go for “How Deep is Your Love” – the Bee Gees version.
That sounds like a great future collaboration! So do you guys have any strange pre/post-performance rituals that you go through?
David: We strip our clothes off and dance around a fire chanting to the Greek Gods of music. No that is a lie. We just relax and chat usually, taking the Mick out of ourselves and each other.
I was worried for a moment there, but it sounds fun! So when the concerts end and you get time off, what hobbies do you have outside of music?
Andrew: I enjoy cycling and Real Ale (not any old beer and certainly not mass produced lager!)
David: Well, trying to raise two children and see as much of my family as possible, combined with tuba playing, does not leave much time for other stuff. But when there is more time, I hope to go to the theatre a bit more. I love it.
What is your greatest fear?
Andrew: Leaving the bell section or mouthpiece of my horn at home…
Amos: My greatest fear is that I will never be able to persuade John Adams to write us a piece!
Niall: Probably watching an entire episode of Coronation Street!
Where do you see yourselves as an ensemble in 10 years time?
Amos: World domination!
David: Yes, and hopefully just chugging away at what we do best. Digging out new repertoire and performing it in a non gimmicky, but informative way
Ok my final question. What is your favourite ever piece of music?
Amos: Aaargh. I’m going to have to say ‘Daphnis and Chlöe’.
Niall: I don’t have one, and if I did it would change every week. But I know you’re simply dying for an answer so I’m going to say ‘Rite of Spring’!
For more information about Onyx, have a look at their website www.onyxbrass.co.uk, and catch a glimpse of their work below in a clip from their recent tour to Ireland.