Young Artist Interview: Connaught Brass

Connaught Brass was brought into existence in 2016, by a group of friends who had known each other for several years through UK national orchestral courses. Each of our members currently study at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

This summer we have spent a week in Manchester to take part in the inaugural Philip Jones International Brass Ensemble Competition, organised by Ursula Jones and John Miller. After competing alongside 12 other international quintets, we are incredibly excited and honoured to have won the first prize (£10,000).

Reflecting on this recent win, our group have realised that playing well together takes more than just polishing the notes. From the perspective of the diversity of our outside interests and activities, our friendships seem quite unlikely from the outside. This is considered to be a large part of what makes the group so vibrant to be in. To give a glimpse into the dynamics of this quintet, Aaron loves to visit the occasional trampoline park as well as watching Ru-Paul’s drag race on the rare evenings that he’s at home from professional music engagements. Harry is a massive football fan, runs regularly and is interested in becoming the Student Union president for Guildhall next year. I (Robyn) am an avid rock-climber, and aim to train as an Alexander Technique teacher for performing artists when I graduate. Chris is massively into travelling and has a keen eye for photography and any dog he spots in the street. And Aled is an artisanal coffee drinker, rugby follower and all round cinema buff.

With all of our different backgrounds and interests, learning how to navigate the fine line between getting what we personally want and what will make the group as a whole sound great can be a challenge. The more time we spend together during rehearsals, the more we learn how to really listen to each other as human beings and not metal machine wielders. And we’re always grateful when this approach is noticed by audiences.

In an ideal world, we would get together twice a week for rehearsals which are evenly spaced out. However, as everyone in the group also juggles their own way through music college and freelance external work/development, the amount of rehearsal time can lean one way or another. Last year, the group managed to schedule 23 hours of rehearsal within a week containing many other musical engagements, and we would rehearse from 7-9am and 9-11pm during extremely busy weekdays. This scheduling is largely to be avoided in the future for the sake of sleep and sustainability, but every now and again it’s necessary in the lead up to performances.

This August the quintet will return to France to take part in the music festival Ferrandou Musique for a second time. We will be performing four contrasting programmmes including original works for brass quintet as well as arranged piano and vocal works. As well as various recitals in the UK this year, discussions are underway for future engagements in 2020. These include a recital at Wigmore Hall, London in May, and a performance in the Lucerne Festival Debut Series 2020 in September.

Quintet members: Aaron Akugbo – Trumpet | Harry Plant – Trumpet | Robyn Blair – Horn | Chris Brewster – Trombone | Aled Meredith-Barrett – Tuba