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First and Best!

James Maynard
Tim Jackson

For the final week in February, our featured music has the distinction of being the first two quintet pieces we every listed on OBP and also coincidently happen to be our best selling from our whole catalogue. Written by good friends of Onyx Brass, both compositions also are regular features in the concerts that Onyx perform.

James Maynard’s Fanfare is a great number to kick of any recital and takes inspiration from the world-renowned film composer, John Williams, who James regularly performs music by either in the recording studio or concert platform. Included on Onyx Brass’ first ever recording, Trisagion, Fanfare is guaranteed to engage any audience right from the outset.

Tim Jackson’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, takes inspiration from two composers a little further back and the piece is a must for any lovers of Vaughan Williams’ piece of the same title. While similar in style, Tim subtitles it “with apologies to RVW”, and the music itself uses the same Tallis hymn tune but sees Tim develop the variations in his own way instead of copying or just arranging Vaughan Williams music.

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Two Baroque Masterpieces

For this week our two featured pieces are gems of the baroque from arguably the two most accomplished composers of the era.

First, is Eternal Source of Light Divine by Handel. Arranged by David Gordon Shute, it is taken from the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne and originally for a counter tenor and trumpet, it lends itself perfectly as a feature for the two trumpet players in your quintet. Recently it was made more famous by being performed at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.

Second is the Fugue in G major BWV 541 by Bach. Written c. 1712-1717 and arranged with panache by James Maynard, this is a tour de force for any quintet that’s guaranteed to captivate your audience with its sparkling contrapunctal lines and technical prowess.

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One Composer, Two Pieces, Multiple Challenges

This week‘s choice are two fugues by Shostakovich that we’ve picked for their technical demands and multiple challenges. Both arranged by former group member, Brian Thomson, each piece provides the individual performers with an examination of many differing facets of brass technique and the ensemble as a whole with task of then putting it all together seemlessly. Weak links are exposed mercilessly.

First is Fugue No. 17 in A flat major and on first listen a seemingly innocuous sounding piece that flows along like a burbling brook in the countryside. However think about the key and then the fact playing in any flat key on a brass instrument requires a secure finger technique due to the use of the third valve with multiple moments of valve crossing. Semitone semiquaver passages will challenge the trombonist’s slide accuracy and fluency. Phrases that are just a little longer than one would like add in breath control to the list of demands. It’s in 5/4 so counting never seems straight forward and as earlier described this piece flows along, it can’t really stop apart from the odd musical meander at a cadence point.

Second is Fugue No. 15 in D flat major. Now this is a technical showpiece par excellence. It sounds hard because it is hard! It travels along like a speeding express train, there is no meandering here and nothing stops this relentless piece once set in motion. Constant changes of time signature, irregular phrases and the register demands, top to bottom. This would be a feather in any quintet’s cap to have in their repertoire.

Good luck!

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OBP to publish Imogen Holst’s Leiston Suite

We are pleased to announce that Leiston Suite, composed by Imogen Holst in 1967, is soon to be published here at Onyx Brass Publishing. The story of bringing the music into print goes back five years to 2016, and we are very excited that the work is in the last stages of preparation.

Imogen Holst, the only child of Gustav Holst, was deeply involved in the English Musical establishment of the 20th Century. Being educated like her father at the Royal College of Music, she first worked at the English Folk Dance and Song Society, going on to create the music courses at Dartington College, before moving to Aldeburgh in 1952 to become assistant to Benjamin Britten. It’s here she stayed for the rest of her life and alongside Britten and Peter Pears, become Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival from 1956-77. She was awarded a CBE by Queen Elizabeth in 1975 and composed right up until her death in 1984.

Original Title Page of Leiston Suite

The Leiston Suite was discovered by David Gordon Shute, tuba player for Onyx Brass, while researching lost and unrecorded music for the 2018 recording of Fanfares. Along with a lot of Holst’s music, though catalogued, it remained unpublished and unrecorded so naturally piqued Dave’s interest. Along with two other pieces, Fanfare for Thaxted, and Fanfare for the Grenadier Guards, the manuscript was located with help from the Holst Foundation, and the archive of the Britten-Pears Foundation and prepared for the recording that was conducted by John Wilson and released to critical acclaim.

Imogen Holst, Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears

Written for the musicians at Leiston Secondary Modern School, the piece itself is scored for two trumpets and two trombones. In five movements, all of which draw on her lifelong influences of music of the Renaissance and English Folk and Dance, they all stylistically fit into the name of the recording, indeed, one could argue each movement is a fanfare in its own right. In addition to these, Holst also composed an alternative third movement that was to be performed by a bass trombone. In her manuscripts the fifth and alternative third movements in fact seem to have been composed a little later and clearly state bass trombone at the beginning of each movement, instead of tenor like the preceding four. In the recording Onyx Brass omitted the original third movement and performed the piece with permission using the tuba for the bottom part.

The music that will be presented in its original scoring with all six movements along with added parts for trumpets in C, and horn in F as an alternative to the 1st Trombone part. The 2nd trombone part is suitable to be read by a bass trombone or tuba. We hope you will enjoy this piece as much as we have and the history that is represented within its composition. We also hope to reveal another exciting development concerning this piece very soon.

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Introducing Dave Powell

This week our spotlight falls onto two pieces that have been arranged for us by tuba player, organist, composer, and good friend of the group, Dave Powell. A former member of the ground-breaking jazz band/collective Loose Tubes, Dave has also composed for Onyx Brass, most notably the large scale Symbols at your Door that is on the recording, Onyx Noir.

For his two arrangements though we fall back to more traditional styles and draw on his experience as a keyboard player.

First, is the ebullient transcription of William Byrd’s set of variations on Sellinger’s Round. Originally included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, Dave Transcription is a perfect piece to explore counterpoint for all intermediate or advanced quintets.

Second, is the sublime and ultimately uplifting chorale prelude by JS Bach, Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland. In what is an exercise in holding back the full glory of this piece until the very end, Nun komm has become one of our most popular works to perform. This arrangement uses each instrument perfectly to enhance the whole and when we presented our 25th Birthday Concert, this piece was chosen by three out of five us as our individual favourite to perform!

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It’s Flugelhorn Time

A Song of Guadalupe – Torbjörn Hultmark, Onyx Brass

For our two featured pieces this week, we have decided to show some music that uses the flugelhorn. The use of this mellow instrument is optional in both pieces however it will definitely add a new dimension to your concert. Why bring the horn along for just one piece when you could use it for two!

First, and featured in the YouTube video is Torbjörn Hultmark’s A Song of Guadalupe. A long time friend of the group, Torbjörn’s composition is a melancholic number based around Latin American harmonies and rhythm and is primarily a solo number that features the first trumpet or flugelhorn.

Second, is another Tim Jackson arrangement called Five Shakespeare Songs and is a suite of pieces composed around the time of the Bard for use during the performance of Romeo and Juliet. The second movement, Heart’s Ease, is the one of particular interest for the flugel and introduces a more contemporary tone into the renaissance sound world. Again optional, the last movement gives the trumpets a chance to pull another instrument out of the bag, this time the piccolo trumpet.

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Featured Pieces this week from Pavans Fantasias Variations

Album Cover Pavan Fantasias Variations

Our featured pieces this week are taken from the Onyx Brass recording, Pavans Fantasias Variations. Recorded over twenty years ago it was a juxtaposition of old and new, with music by Dowland, Purcell, Martland and Michael Berkeley.

The first piece is a transcription by Tim Jackson of five movements from John Dowland’s Flow my Teares, and features the hauntingly beautiful variations on Lachrimae Antiquae, contrasted with two sprightly galliards to lighten the mood.

The second is an arrangement by David Gordon Shute of Henry Purcell’s Fantasia upon One Note. In what is a fantastically simple concept, the one note is passed around the quintet while Purcell’s FantasIa is played around it.

I hope you enjoy our little trip to the Renaissance.

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OBP makes it to Instagram

Since we’ve been selling our music, we’ve slowly tried to increase our online presence so we are happy to announce that to add to out Twitter and Facebook presence we now have opened an Instagram account to go with them.

All three sites will now run more separately from the main Onyx Brass sites so not to put people off with sheet music related goings on here at OBP. Click on the icons at the bottom of the page to be taken to your preferred social media channel and keep up with new releases, offers and voucher codes.

To celebrate we are offering 10% off the C major fugues from Bach and Shostakovich, hard copy and download.

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Bach C major Fugue featured on BBC R3

On Sunday 3rd January, the Onyx Brass recording of Bach’s C major fugue was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Featured on the Sunday Morning programme, Sarah Walker, the presenter commented on the “lovely, sonorous arrangement” and the “fresh, organic growth” of the performance, making it so suitable to herald in the New Year. Visit the BBC website to listen again.

The music as always is available in hard copy and download. Click the Shop Now button below to purchase.