5 Browns brings classical to the next generation
The 5 Browns are a blast, with talent and charm to take their act beyond novelty to winning artistry.
The five siblings, ages 20 to 27, are all pianists who studied at the Juilliard School of Music before embarking on a career that is classical music's most unusual and hot ensemble. They record for Sony/BMG Classical, producing chart-topping recordings, and are already exclusive Steinway Piano artists.
The 5 Browns come to Pittsburgh on Wednesday for a concert presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, playing solos, duos, a trio and several pieces for all five pianos, the type of programming featured on their "No Boundaries" recording that was released earlier this year. .
Dallas Morning News music critic Scott Cantrell had the interesting experience of hearing concerts during the same week by 24-year old piano superstar Lang Lang and The 5 Browns. Lang Lang didn't come close to the artistry of the siblings.
"The 5 Browns proved that classical music can reach teens and twenty-somethings on their own ground, but without posturing or cheapening the product. Send them out to schools from shore to shore, with piano teachers on hand to sign up students afterward, and the future of classical music will look a lot brighter," wrote Cantrell.
The Browns have irresistible personality, on and off the stage. Desirae, 27, Deondra, 25, Gregory, 23, Melody, 21, and Ryan, 20, do group interviews filled with exuberant sincerity, identifying themselves by name before answering a question.
Social life is another matter. "My sisters Desirae and Deondra live with their husbands and don't have to worry about the whole dating scene. We do hang out with each others' friends, but as far as dating goes we're mostly individual," says Ryan.
The young artists know how lucky they are.
"Steinway has been so cool," says Gregory. "They picked out five concert pianos for us and truck them around the country for our concerts. It really makes it easier not to have to get used to a new piano. Each piano is different even though all are Steinways. The touch is always a little bit different, and the balance of sound is too."
Steinway has lent the Browns another five Steinway grands for practice at their homes. Each would cost as much as a high-end luxury automobile.
The Browns were all born in Houston, but moved to Alpine, Utah, when the oldest child was 12.
"Our mom has a trained operatic voice, but because of all the time invested in us hasn't been able to go out and perform," says Deondra. "She started us on piano lessons at age three to keep our minds working. She used to say, 'I've got five little kids and have to keep them from drying on the walls.'"
Sibling rivalries can be excruciating, especially when children are clamoring for the same activity. Buying more pianos helped relieve some of that pressure, but the young pianists say parental smarts was decisive.
"Even at a really young age, our parents tried to make everything equal among the five of us. That's why we all got lessons," says Gregory. "But you know, we understand first that we love each other and are each others best friends. We all realize how hard it is to be a classical musician, how much work goes into it, and what it feels like to come home from a bad lesson."
Even the best of aspiring musicians have bad lessons from time to time.
"Sometimes you don't play that well in a performance or a lesson and the teacher has a lot of criticism, so you come out feeling pretty low and discouraged. Playing music is almost like a journal of your emotions and thoughts," Gregory says. "Someone criticizing something so personal can be emotionally discouraging and hard to deal with. It's nice to have siblings who been through the same experience and are supportive."
The Five BrownsWhen: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Admission: $20 to $32
Where: Benedum Center, Downtown