Young Artist Interview: A4 Brass Quartet
Multi-award winning A4 Brass Quartet comprise principal players from the UK’s top brass bands – Grimethorpe Colliery, Brighouse & Rastrick and Foden’s. This summer, the quartet will perform their unique style of chamber music at venues across the UK, before heading to Finland for a concert and masterclass weekend with Toolo Brass. We spoke with A4 baritonist Michael Cavanagh to find out more about their music following a year of remarkable success.
When and where did it all begin?
We formed A4 Brass Quartet in 2013 during our first year at the Royal Northern College of Music. As an unconventional brass set-up – cornet, tenor horn, baritone horn and euphonium – we couldn’t just go to the RNCM library and pick out music; it simply didn’t exist. Luckily, Jonny was studying composition at the time and Chris was (and still is!) a talented arranger so we started developing our own repertoire and unique sound. Seeing our potential, a couple of tutors really helped us in the early days and suggested we enter external competitions, which we did. Winning competitions has helped increase our exposure and establish ourselves as one of the leading chamber ensembles in the country.
Describe your music in 3 words
Unique, fresh and exciting! Our unique blend of instruments and repertoire mean the audience will always be treated to something different, especially in the second half of a performance. For the 2019 season our tenor horn player, Jonny, has put together a fantastic set called Alone at the Opera which we are using for the second half of our concerts. We have performed it all over the UK, from Helensburgh to Cornwall, and our audiences are loving it – the feedback has been truly excellent.
Which type of venue do you most enjoying playing?
As a group, we thrive on variety and perform in everything from major concert halls and festivals to schools, hospitals and care homes. We’re all in agreement that the variety is what makes us enjoy every single performance so it is hard to choose just one! We recently played a lunch time concert at St George’s Bristol and that is definitely one of the best venues for chamber music we have played in, on a par with Wigmore Hall in my opinion. I did my placement at the RNCM with the fantastic Music in Hospitals & Care which I loved so much I ran in support of them in the Great Manchester 10k in 2015! We now perform as a quartet for the charity and currently run weekly workshops in a school for the visually and hearing impaired. We also work for various county music services and Live Music Now to bring the joy of live music to people across the UK. See our ‘Education’ tab on our website to find out more. One school we recently did a workshop for on behalf of LMN had an impromptu visit from Ofsted. Needless to say, we soon had the inspectors tapping along to some tunes!
Any standout moments from this year?
2018 was an incredible year for the quartet. We won the Royal Over-Seas League Chamber Music Competition and became City Music Foundation (CMF) Artists, who are helping us hone our skills as professional musicians. Later in 2018 we became the first brass ensemble to ever win the Royal Philharmonic Society Henderson Chamber Ensemble Award. We found out just before our Musicians’ Company concert as Maisie Lewis prize winners in the Purcell Room, making the day extra special. We also completed our RNCM International Artist Diploma in Chamber Music as John Fewkes scholars and subsequently accepted the invitation to become Honorary Associate Artists of the College. We are proud to maintain our partnership with the RNCM as they provided amazing support at the start of this incredible journey!
Tell us about your forthcoming recording?
In summer we’re recording our second album which will be a culmination of fresh repertoire and those pieces our audiences always request at concerts. We’re delighted to be recording a new piece from the pen of Bramwell Tovey, which we commissioned for our Wigmore debut. We’re working with CMF to release it on a classic music label so we can reach out to a wider audience, rather than just issue another CD. We believe this will be an excellent addition to our recorded portfolio following our debut CD released with Word of Sound in 2016, which features original music composed by Martin Ellerby, Edward Gregson, Oliver Waespi and Nigel Clarke, to name a few. As honorary artists of the RNCM we’ll be using the college’s fantastic studio facilities.
What are your future plans?
We’ve a busy year ahead, including our second album recording, numerous UK-wide concerts and a trip to Helsinki to work with Toolo Brass – the invitation came after performing as guest artists at Lieksa Brass Week last summer. Interestingly, the Nordic countries are big on traditional British-style brass band music and they attract quite a lot of British brass talent. Competition is definitely increasing between the different nations as The European Brass Band Championships becomes more competitive year on year. However, our focus is on crafting our own unique sound and travelling the world as A4 Brass Quartet.
You can find out more about A4 Brass at – http://www.a4brassquartet.co.uk/
Interview by @suzywillmott