Onyx Brass: The sun is free to flow with the sea

Onyx Brass: The sun is free to flow with the sea

NMC Recordings
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Release date: 23 June 2023

Onyx Brass, described by BBC Music Magazine as "the classiest brass ensemble in Britain", celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2023 with their second release on NMC. Since its establishment the group have been pioneers in advocating the brass quintet as a medium for excellent new chamber music, and have commissioned over 200 new works. This new album, The sun is free to flow with the sea, perfectly epitomises Onyx and their values, as a compendium of new music written specially for the quintet by some of the most renowned composers working today.

Some works on the album have roots in conversations that took place more than a decade ago, such as Mark-Anthony Turnage's groovy but majestic ONYX30, and Errollyn Wallen's angular, profound ONYX. Other works owe their inception to much more recent events, like Roxanna Panufnik's early lockdown project, Fanfare for Broadway Tower, commissioned by Onyx trumpeter Alan Thomas who asked composers to write music inspired by a location that he could easily run or cycle to with his trumpet.

Charlotte Harding takes inspiration from architecture for her jagged Rhombus, while Emily Hall found her stimuli in poems by Arthur Rimbaud. Other composers were inspired by much more personal happenings, such as Yshani Perinpanayagam whose emotive Music for My Stolen Breath is built from transcriptions she made of her breathing rhythms whilst experiencing trauma in response to a racist attack in her place of work. She describes the piece as having a "climactic catharsis dissolving into a tiny green shoot of hope". Zoë Martlew's mischievous Kiss, Kiss has the players doing just that as they play with assorted percussive and vocal effects, such as blowing kisses, down their instruments.

Amos Miller, trombonist and founding member of Onyx Brass, writes: "Beyond ballpark timings (which in many cases have been generously exceeded), the composers were given a free brief as to content and we are thrilled by the freedom with which they have expressed themselves. They all have a sensational empathy and understanding as to the physical/technical challenges we face as brass players, and have also all imbued their works with a scintillating sense of themselves [...] I am proud of all our records over the years but, for me, this is the one that feels like it might be the most ‘us’ and true to the idealistic spirit we had back in 1993. We may have been slimmer and with more hair back then, but I feel that I can still recognise ourselves!"

Join Onyx for an album launch concert on 26 June to hear live performances of music from the album, and a composer Q&A. More info an tickets here


1. Roxanna Panufnik Fanfare for Broadway Tower
2. Zoë Martlew Kiss, Kiss
3-6. Mark-Anthony Turnage ONYX30
7. Yshani Perinpanayagam Music for MY Stolen Breath
8. Errollyn Wallen ONYX
9. Charlotte Harding Rhombus
10-12. Simon Dobson Brass Quintet No. 1
13. Bobbie-Jane Gardner Up on the toes (the slippery stair dance)
14. Emily Hall Blackcurrant River
15. Emily Hall Eternity

Check out other Onyx Brass on NMC - Onyx Noir (2018)




"It is musical diversity that makes for such an inspiring project and continues to be the lifeblood of this ensemble. Not just awesome chops and feel, but an ability to sound like so much more than merely five brass instruments. Altogether, it is an outstanding achievement." ★★★★★ BBC Music Magazine

"The performances all sound first-rate, captured by David Lefeber in splendidly rich sound, the acoustic of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Bradshaw Hall ideal." Gramophone

"What superb musicians they are," BBC Radio 3 Sunday Morning

"It is a disc that neatly encapsulates all that Onyx Brass has stood for over three decades of championing both new music and the medium of the brass quintet as a potent force in chamber music, with the clear empathy the players feel for the music coursing through every bar." Brass Band World Magazine

"Onyx Brass deliberately sends a musical projectile into the brass quintet future with their latest recording. Although celebrating their 30th anniversary, in essence it is a reaffirmation of a founding ethos delivered with a payload of repertoire targeting new horizons." 4 Bars Rest


All works were recorded in The Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, between 2-4 January 2023.

DAVID LEFEBER Recording Engineer & Producer


Onyx Brass would like to thank the following people and organisations for their huge contributions to this album: David Lefeber, Susanne Stanzeleit, NMC Recordings, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (with particular thanks to Libby Surplice and Simon Hall), the Vaughan Williams Foundation, the Ambache Trust, the John Armitage Memorial Trust, and all the wonderful composers.


Catalogue no: NMC D276
Release date: 23 June 2023